Character, Action, and Dialogue

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?

JEAN 
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.

JEAN 
Want a bite?

BATEMAN 
I'm on a diet. But thank you.

JEAN 
You don't need to lose any weight. You're kidding, right? 
You look great. Very fit.

BATEMAN 
(Weighing the corkscrew examining the point for sharpness) 
You can always he thinner. Look...better.

In the critically acclaimed film, Boyhoodyou 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.

                      DAD (O.S.)
          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.

                      SAMANTHA
          That's a quarter.

                      DAD
          What's a quarter?

                      SAMANTHA
          You said a-s-s.

                       DAD
          Oh, sorry.   My bad.

                      SAMANTHA
          And my teacher says it's a good war,
          because it's better to be safe than
          sorry.

                      DAD
          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?

                       SAMANTHA
          I guess.
                                        23.

            DAD
Alright. Who are you gonna vote for
next fall, MJ?

            MASON
I don't know.

            SAMANTHA
He can't vote. He's not eighteen.

            DAD
Yeah, oh -- alright, who would you
vote for?

            MASON
Kerry?

            DAD
Anybody but Bush!   Okay?

            SAMANTHA
Are you gonna move back?

            DAD
Uh... I'm plannin' on it.   You know,
I gotta find a job.

            MASON
Are you and mom gonna get back
together?

            DAD
I don't know. That's not, uh...
entirely up to me, you know?

            SAMANTHA
I remember when I was six, you and
mom were fighting like mad. You
were yelling so loud and she was
crying.

            DAD
That's what you remember, huh?

            SAMANTHA
Yep.

            DAD
You don't remember the trips to
Galveston, camping in Big Bend, all
the fun we had?

            SAMANTHA
Nope.
                                                    24.

                      DAD
          You ever get mad at your mother?

                        SAMANTHA
          Yeah.

                      DAD (O.S.)
          You ever get mad at your brother?

                        SAMANTHA
          Yeah.

                        DAD
          Yeah.    You ever yell at him?

                        SAMANTHA
          Oh yeah.

                      DAD
          Yeah. Doesn't mean you don't love
          him, right?

                        SAMANTHA
          Mmm...

                      DAD
          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.

                      MASON
          What'd you do in Alaska?

                      DAD
          I worked on a boat for a while.     Um,
          I tried to write some music.

                      MASON
          Did you see any polar bears?

                      DAD (O.S.)
          No, but I saw a Kodiak bear.     It was
          fuckin' huge.

                     SAMAMTHA (O.S.)
          Dad! That's fifty cents for the F-
          word!

Dad reaches into his wallet.

                     DAD
          I'm sorry. Here, take a dollar,
          alright? Keep the change.
                     (MORE)
                                                          25.

                       DAD (CONT'D)
           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
           that, okay?

As a token of reconciliation, Dad high fives them both,
smiling.

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.

Make sure to follow the blog and subscribe to my email list to never miss a post!

My First Screenplay

Hi guys! I’ve been dealing with a pretty rough migraine this week so I couldn’t really write anything too extensive this week.

However, I did find the first screenplay I ever wrote.

An Eye For An Eye is a Sin City-esque revenge film I wrote sometime in 2014 while I was in community college. It is approximately 16 pages and hopefully it isn’t too horrible to read.

An eye for an eye-page-001An eye for an eye-page-002An eye for an eye-page-003An eye for an eye-page-004An eye for an eye-page-005An eye for an eye-page-006An eye for an eye-page-007An eye for an eye-page-008An eye for an eye-page-009An eye for an eye-page-010An eye for an eye-page-011An eye for an eye-page-012An eye for an eye-page-013An eye for an eye-page-014An eye for an eye-page-015An eye for an eye-page-016

“The Analyst” – A Short Story

NOTE: I tried getting this story published in a few journals, but it was declined. This is probably because of one line in particular. However, I am completely open to the idea that it was simply terrible. I decided to share this story with you anyway, because I am fond of it and I thought you all might enjoy it.

This is not an overtly political tale because I do not believe the themes explored in this work are political. I view them as issues of philosophy rather than issues of government.

The Analyst

by Ethan J. Hatchett

Rain fell on his black coat, each drop numbing his shoulders further. He approached the door of the hulking, concrete fortress that was his workplace. He swiped his identification card through the reader and the door creaked open. “Morning, Analyst,” the nurse greeted him dryly. The Analyst nodded in passive acknowledgement and continued his march forward. He removed his coat and hung it up on the the rusty hook in his office. He shook his computer awake from its slumber and the monitor lit up at a creeping pace. He studied the file of James Thomas, the patient he would be seeing this morning. Thomas had been diagnosed with an Antisocial Personality Disorder and has been experiencing Manic Depressive episodes. The Analyst had not seen this patient, Thomas was transferred from  another facility last week, but he already had a sense of the issue. Thomas was raised in a rural area, far from the reach of the Community and was probably indoctrinated by that uneducated, Neo-Reliant philosophy.  The Analyst did not believe in insanity. Everything had a logical explanation that could be deduced with well phrased questions or the simple implementation of the Scientific Method.

The Analyst arrived in the plexiglass chamber where they held therapeutic sessions. On the other side of the glass was James Thomas. Nineteen at most, Thomas was barely a man. He had short hair, clean shaven, and his clothes were awash with bright,  garish colors. Thomas was a stereotypical Neo-Reliant in almost every way, the only thing that was distinct was his young age. That movement tended to appeal to old men who had nothing to lose and were, in essence, dead already. They grow up before the Restoration and had faint memories of a world gone.

The two men sat in silence for sometime. The Analyst had learned over the years to put the patient off balance.  The Analyst took meaningless notes and every so often glanced sternly at Thomas. Almost half an hour elapsed before Thomas finally spoke. “Can I go now?” The Analyst looked up from his notes.

“Why would you want to do that, James? Everything is provided for you. No one has hurt you.” Thomas rolled his eyes. “Why are you so disrespectful, James? You went to school, correct?” Thomas nodded. “Well, then you knows as well as I, that respect is the foundation of human interaction.”

“Is that why you people have no doors? Respect?” Thomas chuckled.

“Do you not value transparency, James?” Thomas leaned closer to the glass.

“I prefer to shit alone.” The Analyst smiled. He closed his eyes,  took a deep breath, and recentered himself.

“Why haven’t you been taking your medication, James?” Thomas had no answer. “You need to take your medicine in order to feel better,” The Analyst continued in his calm tone.

“No,” Thomas replied curtly. The Analyst was taken by surprise.

“No?”

“I refuse.” The Analyst leaned back in his chair.

“I’m afraid you do not have a choice. We are doctors, our authority supersedes yours in this matter. You are a danger to yourself and others.”

“How am I dangerous?” Thomas asked in a mocking tone.  The Analyst was losing his patience.

“Do you remember July 5th, Mr. Thomas?”

“This again? I’ve explained this a hundred times.” The Analyst had enough.

“Do you really think that anyone would believe that an officer of community assaulted you and withheld food from you?” The Analyst stood up. “Why did you kill him? He had a family. Have you no empathy for your fellow man?” Thomas stood up and they met eye to eye.

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” The Analyst stared in Thomas’ eyes. They were two brown balls of fiery emotion. There was no logic, no rational thought. He was hopeless.

“Where are you taking me?” Thomas asked, half curious, half scared. The Analyst did not answer. He held Thomas’ wrist and walked as fast as he could without bursting into a sprint. “I’m sorry.” The Analyst kept moving, barely acknowledging his admission of guilt.

“It’s too late for that now.”

The Analyst waited in the brightly lit room for some time. It was nearing midnight, but he was still restless. The metal door in front of the room swung open and the Physician approached him. “Congratulations. Another successful conversion, thanks to the Scientific Method.” The Analyst smirked.

“The praise belongs to you and yours,” The Analyst replied with anticipation. “May I see him?”

The two men entered the dimly lit ward. The Physician gestured towards a figure hunched on a bed. The Analyst rushed towards him. Thomas was bald with freshly made scars running down his skull, his eyes searching blankly for something. “James,” The Analyst began, “do want to take your medication?” Thomas nodded silently.

 

 

Novlr

I have been trying Novlr recently and I really enjoy using it. Novlr is a browser based program for novel writing. Many of us have tried writing on normal word processors, it can be done, but Novlr makes it a lot easier.

Novlr has constant saving so you don’t have to worry about having to interrupt your writing to save. They also have Google Drive integration, so you can back up your files to a reliable source. I really like the Focus Mode, which fades out the headers, toolbars, etc. so you can focus on the writing. and I like reading the statistics to keep me motivated.

If you interested in using Novlr, they were kind enough to set up my audience with a special discount and free trial.

If you go to: http://app.novlr.org/signup/ejhatchett and use promo code: EJHNOVLR

You will receive a third off an annual subscription to Novlr (normally $10/month) and all of November for free.

Check out Novlr, it’s great!

Anatomy of A Screenplay

The formatting of your screenplay will determine the fate of your screenplay, No one will take you seriously with a script that does not look professional.

Script1

On your title page, you should have a title, who wrote it, and which version of the draft it is currently. Additionally, if it is based on something else, you should put that under the authorship.

Note: Only state it is based on a book, comic, etc., if it is published.

Script2

The meat of the screenplay is the slugline, character, dialogue, and action.

The slugline is essentially a short description of the scene. INT (Interior) and/or EXT (Exterior), the location (i.e. THE MALL), and time (i.e. DAY or NIGHT) are mandatory for a complete slugline.

The character is the person in the scene. The character’s name is capitalized over the dialogue and it is also capitalized in the action line when the character first appears.

Dialogue is simply what character speaks in the scene. It is located under the character’s name.

The action line describes the action in the scene (i.e. The wind was blowing, John runs, etc.).

Here are some screenwriting resources that have helped me:

John August

Good in a Room

The Script Lab

ScreenCraft

Mastery by Robert Greene

The Art of Dramatic Wrting by Lajos Egri 

Internet Movie Screenplay Database (IMSD)

Formatting your screenplay can get complicated, but luckily you can use software to minimize to effort.

Final Draft is the industry standard software for screenwriting and, as I write this, Final Draft 10 is $249.

Celtx is a popular alternative to Final Draft. It is a free, browser-based program that a lot of people (including me), swear by.

Note: There are different subscription tiers you can get with Celtx that include shot lists, scheduling, and more, but the free version is great also.

I hope this was helpful!