Creating an interesting character is my favorite part of writing. Writers like to obsess over dialogue, while important to fleshing out a character, is like judging a person solely on their shoes.
Action informs the character more so than the things he says, in my estimation. Words can deceive or have double meanings, but a choice is honest. You can say that you love your wife, but when the ship sinks and dive after your mother, leaving her to drown, we know where you allegiances really lie.
In the film, American Psycho, Patrick Bateman says all the right things, but he brutally murders people (or at least fantasies about doing it). Which reveals more about him, his words or actions?
Thanks, Patrick. I'd love some.
Bateman walks in with a bottle of wine and a corkscrew in
his hand and hands her the sorbet.
Jean is eating the sorbet.
Want a bite?
I'm on a diet. But thank you.
You don't need to lose any weight. You're kidding, right?
You look great. Very fit.
(Weighing the corkscrew examining the point for sharpness)
You can always he thinner. Look...better.
In the critically acclaimed film, Boyhood, you get the impression that dialogue is supposed to serve the purpose of action.
INT. BOWLING ALLEY CAFE - EVENING
The family sits around a table enjoying their snacks, while
Dad smokes a cigarette.
Alright, let me tell you what's
happening in Iraq, alright? Exactly
what every thinking person in the
world knew was gonna happen before
they got started. Bush and his little
numb-nut fanatics he's got around
him, they don't give a rat's ass.
That's a quarter.
What's a quarter?
You said a-s-s.
Oh, sorry. My bad.
And my teacher says it's a good war,
because it's better to be safe than
That's what they're teaching you in
school? Alright, listen to me.
Listen to your father, okay? That
is the lie. That's the big lie.
Iraq had nothing to do with what
happened at the World Trade Center.
You know that, right?
Alright. Who are you gonna vote for
next fall, MJ?
I don't know.
He can't vote. He's not eighteen.
Yeah, oh -- alright, who would you
Anybody but Bush! Okay?
Are you gonna move back?
Uh... I'm plannin' on it. You know,
I gotta find a job.
Are you and mom gonna get back
I don't know. That's not, uh...
entirely up to me, you know?
I remember when I was six, you and
mom were fighting like mad. You
were yelling so loud and she was
That's what you remember, huh?
You don't remember the trips to
Galveston, camping in Big Bend, all
the fun we had?
You ever get mad at your mother?
You ever get mad at your brother?
Yeah. You ever yell at him?
Yeah. Doesn't mean you don't love
Look, the same thing happens when
you're grown up, alright? You...
You know, you get mad at people.
You know, it's not a big deal.
What'd you do in Alaska?
I worked on a boat for a while. Um,
I tried to write some music.
Did you see any polar bears?
No, but I saw a Kodiak bear. It was
Dad! That's fifty cents for the F-
Dad reaches into his wallet.
I'm sorry. Here, take a dollar,
alright? Keep the change.
You guys are gonna be seein' a lot
more of me. Okay? I missed you two
real bad, while I was gone. Okay, I
want you to know that. I just needed
to take some time. You know, to...
Just... Your mom and me, okay...
Well, your mother, okay, is a piece
of work. Alright, I think, I think
you know that by now. Alright? And
I'm just, I'm so happy to be with the
two of you. Okay. And I'm sorry
about that bumper business. Alright.
I'm gonna get better at stuff like
As a token of reconciliation, Dad high fives them both,
In a fragment from American Psycho, you learn more than an entire scene from Boyhood. Why?
Boyhood is full of noise, but it doesn’t really tell us anything. You should be able to flip to random page and understand the point of the piece. Is this movie about Dad? Samantha? Our protagonist (Mason) is so passive that it could be easy to forget about him all together.
Consider action more than empty dialogue next time you write something. Sometimes silence (or even just less words) really is golden.
Thanks for reading! I hope it was helpful.
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