Good Writing is Timeless

Recently I stumbled upon How To Write for Moving Pictures: A Manual Of Instruction and Information, by Marguerite Bertsch, copyright 1917.  In skimming through the book I noticed that much of the writing advice applied not only to the silent films of the time period, but to any sort of writing in any era.  This is one of my favorite passages:

What is common to all audiences will be found to lie very close to those principles and ideals which actuate a people in the affairs of everyday life.

Regardless of those successes that have had their day through a risque element which the author and producer handled with a delicacy that brought it just this side of the offensive, there is perhaps no factor in the public mind which can be so banked upon as its response to what is pure and elevating. Realising that the human soul is so constructed that goodness attracts it like a magnet while evil repels, and that those individuals in whom this is not true are classed by all others as abnormal, we have the basis of the first great requirement,—a wholesome atmosphere.

By this we do not mean that the audience prefers to be fed upon a milk and sugar diet, and that it has not a deep and abiding interest in all those phases of life which it knows to exist, whether of good or evil. On the contrary, the darker side of life, the mistakes, the soul upheavals, present a light and shade to an audience that is fraught with the keenest dramatic interest. It is only in the manner in which he handles such a theme that an author can offend. So long as the author's point of view regarding his subject coincides with that of the audience, his work will be a serious, wholesome exposition of life's facts, be they dark or light. Too often, however, an author gets the notion that an audience's clamouring after knowledge is a hankering after vice. Working under this misguided judgment, he presents vice to the audience, loving it; crime, excusing it, and the dark, unpleasant side of life, bringing out no larger truths to justify its introduction.
Nothing is more quickly detected, nor more keenly resented by an audience than such an attempt to set at defiance those principles on which their beings are founded, and in opposition to which there is no life.

This still rings true for me.  Bravo Marguerite Bertsch!


  1. Interesting! Amazing that the advice from nearly 100 years ago still is valid. Thanks for sharing.