Today’s one awesome thing comes from the Internet Archive: Herbert Case Hoagland’s 1912 book How to Write a Photoplay:
To write a photoplay requires no skill as a writer, but it does require a “constructionist.” It requires the ability to grasp an idea and graft (please use in the botanical sense) a series of causes on the front end of it and a series of consequences on the other end. An idea so grafted will surely bear fruit; and to learn the art of this sort of mental horticulture it is necessary first to understand, in a general way, how motion pictures are made and what is done in the studio, in the field and in the factory. Let us learn something of these things and begin at the beginning—in the office of the Scenario Editor.
The photoplay was the precursor to the screenplay. It’s essentially a list of scenes, designed for silent films. Without dialogue, it can be challenging to establish the relationships between characters:
The scenario writer must bear in mind that the first thing to do is to introduce his characters on the screen in a way that almost immediately determines their position in, and relationship to, the story. Many photoplays are failures because a proper beginning has not been arranged.
If, for example, the scene opens in a young woman’s home and her lover is coming to see her, the fact that he is her lover and not her brother or husband should be clearly shown in the action, and the action of the play is the thing to write.
Scene geography and narrative sequence are extremely important. So are hats.
If a man is to go from a room in one house to a room in another, there should be a scene showing him entering the second house, but it is unnecessary to have him leaving the first because in the first room he can be made to catch up his coat and hat and exit. Obviously he is going out, and when one sees him on the street and entering the second house the entire thought is conveyed to the spectator.
The question may arise, if his action of putting on his hat and coat suggests leaving the house, why his entering another room and removing them doesn’t mean the reverse. The answer is simple—because he may have simply gone into another room in his own house and the man in the theatre seat wonders, “Why, in thunder, did he put his hat and coat on to go along the hall or just from room to room.” Seems farfetched, but it isn’t. The spectator asks just such questions.
Hoagland’s scenario writers are now called screenwriters, but many of the issues remain the same.
Revising is the hardest part of a writer’s work. The first copy flows from the inspired pen like the proverbial water from a duck’s back and under the influence of watching the story grow the writer finds incentive to continue, but oh! the drudgery of rewriting and revising. Inclination may writhe and squirm and plead to go away and leave the work undone, but Determination must grab Inclination and club it into submission if the writer ever expects to flirt with the elusive Goddess of Success. Revision is imperative. All the big fellows in the literary world do it. Only by careful rewording and rewriting can any production of this nature be flawless. A good way to do this is to read your scenario aloud to members of the family or to friends; better still is it to have some one read it to you that you may hear the words with another’s intonation and vocal shades.
Hoagland’s book has a list of all the major motion picture studios, few of which exist today. But his warning sounds familiar:
Don’t send Biblical stories to a manufacturer who makes a specialty of western stuff. Study the needs of the firms producing pictures and direct your scenarios accordingly. On another page the class of story most sought for by the different studios is touched upon, and ambitious writers cannot do better than to subscribe to The Moving Picture World or some other trade paper and carefully study the comments on the films as they appear week by week.”
You can read the whole thing here.