Analyzing East of Eden – 1/17

EastOfEden

It’s been a while since I talked about writing, as my mind has been more consumed with film production. I took a few minutes today to read a brief excerpt from East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, and analyze it. I think this is a great practice because it helps me understand the techniques great dramatists employ in order to have the most emotional impact on viewers. Here is the excerpt, followed by my thoughts:

***

Ethel tried to keep her fingers from grabbing at the money. [Kate] fanned the bills like a poker hand – four tens. Her mouth began to work with emotion.

Ethel said, “I kind of hoped you’d see your way to let me take more than forty bucks.”

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you get my letter?”

“What letter?”

“Oh!” said Ethel. “Well, maybe it got lost in the mail. They don’t take no care of things. Anyways, I thought you might look after me. I don’t feel good hardly ever. Got a kind of weight dragging my guts down.” She sighed and then she spoke so rapidly that Kate knew it had been rehearsed.

“Well, maybe you remember how I’ve got like second sight,” Ethel began. “Always predicting things that come true. Always dreaming stuff and it come out. Fella says I should go in the business. Says I’m a natural medium. You remember that?”

“No,” said Kate. “I don’t.”

“Don’t? Well, maybe you never noticed. All the others did. I told ’em lots of things and they come true.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I had this-here dream. I remember when it was because it was the same night Faye died.” Her eyes flicked  up at Kate’s cold face. She continued doggedly, “It rained that night, and it was raining in my dream – anyways, it was wet. Well, in my dream I seen you come out the kitchen door. It wasn’t pitch-dark – moon was coming through a little. nd the dream thing was you. You went out to the back of the lot and stooped over. I couldn’t see what you done. Then you come creeping back.”

“Next thing I knew – why, Faye was dead.” She paused and waited for some comment from Kate, but Kate’s face was expressionless.

Ethel waited until she was sure Kate would not speak. “Well, like I said, I always believed in my dreams. It’s funny, there wasn’t nothing out there except some smashed medicine bottles and a little rubber tit from an eye-dropper.”

Kate said lazily, “So you took them to a doctor. What did he say had been in the bottles?”

“Oh, I didn’t do nothing like that.”

“You should have,” said Kate.

“I don’t want to see nobody get in trouble. I’ve had enough trouble myself. I put that broke glass in an envelope and stuck it away.”

Kate said softly, “And so you are coming to me for advice?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll tell you what I think,” said Kate. “I think you’re a worn-out old whore and you’ve been beaten over the head too many times.”

“Don’t you start saying I’m nuts-” Ethel began.

“No, maybe you’re not, but you’re tired and you’re sick. I told you I never let  friend down. You can come back here. You can’t work but you can help around, clean and give the cook a hand. You’ll have a bed and you’ll get your meals. How would tht be? And a little spending money.”

Ethel stirred uneasily. “No, ma’am.” She said. “I don’t think I want to – sleep here. I don’t carry that envelope around. I left it with a friend.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I thought if you could see your way to let me have a hundred dollars a month, why, I could make out and maybe get my health back.”

“You said you lived at the Southern Pacific Hotel?”

“Yes, ma’am – and my room is right up the hall from the desk. The night clerk’s a friend of mine. He don’t never sleep when he’s on duty. Nice fella.”

Kate said, “Don’t wet your pants, Ethel. All you’ve got to worry about is how much does the ‘nice fell’ cost. Now wait a minute.” She counted six more ten-dollar bills from the drawer in front of her and held them out.

“Will it come the first of the month or do I have to come here for it?”

“I’ll send it to you,” said Kate. “And, Ethel,” she continued quietly, “I still think you ought to have those bottles analyzed.”

Ethel clutched the money tightly in her hand. She was bubbling over with triumph and good feeling.

***

*Let me preface my analysis by confessing I have not read this novel in its entirety. Nevertheless, I’d like to share my insights and you can correct me in the comment section if I’m wrong.

This scene is great in so many ways. It is really a mini-story, and clearly demonstrates Steinbeck’s dominance as one of the greatest writers of all time. I remember when I first started studying writing, I read somewhere that Steinbeck preferred to use one syllable words. I had always thought his style of writing made him a legend, but now that I have a better understanding of some of the more abstract writing concepts, I can see his ability to play with the emotions of readers is what makes his pen so devastating.

Right from the start, we can see that Ethel is desperate for money, so clearly this is her objective. But it is not enough for her to simply accept the original offering, and that is what makes her courageous here – she wants every nickel she can squeeze out of Kate.

Kate, on the other hand, begins the scene by desiring Ethel get out of her hair. After Ethel all-but threatens to turn in evidence that could potentially put her behind bars, Ethel changes her tune and her new motivation becomes doing whatever it takes to keep Ethel quiet.

What I like most about this scene is how Ethel goes about manipulating Kate to fork over more dough. She never explicitly states that she knows Kate is responsible for the death of Faye, but she implies it through a most devious way – by slyly feigning to have psychic abilities, and almost comedic-ally stating she had a dream where she witnessed Kate’s crime.

Once Kate gets the hint, Ethel has her over a barrel – and knows it. After a brief outburst of her true anger at the situation, Kate presents Ethel with a much more generous offer than the original forty bucks. But this still isn’t good enough for Ethel(rising tension!). Ethel requests a hundred dollars on the first of every month, then has the audacity to requests that it be delivered, so she does not have to go out of her way to retrieve it.

I believe that Kate threatens Ethel when she tells her that her biggest concern should be how much the night clerk, who “never sleeps”, costs. She appears to be implying that she could always pay him enough money to look the other way while Kate has somebody eliminate Ethel.

This scene features two foes with clashing objectives. Their dialogue, at the surface, appears to remain cordial – but the truth is always written in the subtext. This is one area of writing I need to improve upon. I have a bad habit of allowing characters to state their objectives outright, and go about getting their way through direct and obvious threats. This is fine for characters who maneuver through life this way, but it is so much more fun and engaging when characters behave in ways that force viewers to read between the lines in order to keep up with their motives and ploys.

I hope these insights have helped you in some way. I already know these realizations will benefit me in my own writing. See you tomorrow at 7:00 am PST.

  • Thomas M. Watt
  • Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. New York: Penguin Books, 1952. Print.
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For the love of good Brandy – Part 2

(part 1)

FOR THE LOVE OF GOOD BRANDY – PART TWO

“Tom, wait!”

Tom lowered his meat cleaver at Brandy’s approach. He had been fighting with Mike, who had come to his home in an effort to win back the gorgeous blonde woman.

“Don’t hurt him!”

Tom looked at Mike, who was still holding his switch blade and breathing intensely. He wanted to kill the man for coming to his property and trying to take back the woman whose heart he had crushed; the woman who Tom had given his heart and soul to piece back together. Tom turned around and called out to Brandy.

“He’s not going leave without you, doll. He’s come for a fight, so that’s what he’s gonna-“

Tom stopped his sentence short when he felt a sharp pain in his gut. His mouth came open and he struggled for air. He slowly looked to see Mike’s smiling, twisted lips tugging up his long rolling beard.

“That’s my doll, not yours,” said Mike.

Brandy screamed. “You monster!”

Mike ripped the knife out of Tom’s stomach, leaving the handsome man to crumble to his knees. Brandy turned around and stormed back inside, locking the door behind.

Mike looked down at Tom as blood puddled on the ground around him.

“Suck it cunt,” said Mike.

He spat on Tom then stepped on his side as he walked over him. He licked the blood off the switchblade with his tongue, then smeared the sweat from his beard with his sleeve. He proceeded towards the front door. Brandy was his, and he was going to make it known.

* * *

Brandy sat on a stool inside. She needed to hide, and she knew it. Mike was coming, and he was going to be violent.

But she couldn’t think clearly. Tom, the love of her life, had just been stabbed in the gut. He was dying, and there was nothing she could do about it. The best she could do was call the police.

Brandy got up and raced over to the phone. She dialed 9-1-1 and waited for the operator.

“Hello?”

“Operator! Oh my God, thank God!”

“Mamn, what’s wrong?”

“My husband!” Brandy got too choked up to go on.

“Mamn? Is there a problem with your husband? Did he do something to hurt you?”

“No, no, I just,” she lost her words again. Tom was outside bleeding to death. She needed to be there for him. She needed to tend to his wound.

“MAMN! Is this a prank call?”

“NO!”

“What did your husband do to you, mamn? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, no!” Brandy paused, took a deep breath, then gathered her words. She opened her mouth then tried to explain what happened as calmly as she could. “He just got-“

Before she could get in another word, the line cut out.

“Hello? Operator!”

Nothing but the humming tone of a dead line was left to comfort her. Brandy covered her mouth and her eyes went wide.

“Operator?”

The window from the back door exploded to fragment. Mike punched out the pieces that remained. He stepped into the living room then flipped out his switchblade.

“Excited to see me?”

Brandy’s bottom lip shook as she spoke. “What do you want?”

“To get another taste.”

“I’d rather die.”

Mike laughed, then started walking slowly towards her. “That’s fine with me.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

Scene Fun: Keith fights for his wife – Part 1

Let’s craft a scene together. Before we begin, however, let’s establish some scene necessities, so we know not to go astray.

Protagonist: Let’s call him Keith.

Objective: Keith needs to get to his cell phone to call his wife before she boards a plane and flies to a different continent, to live with her mother. (Notice the stakes – if Keiths fails to get a hold of her, he will lose her forever. This could appropriately be considered a ‘psychological death’. The threat of dying, in one form or another, is necessary to keep the viewer involved in the protagonist’s journey. Increasing the stakes will always add weight to your story. Stakes should be regarded as the torment your protagonist will endure should they fail in attaining their objective.)

Antagonist: Floyd, the two-faced scumbag who is friends with Bethany, Keith’s beautiful wife. He told her that Keith had been cheating on her, when in fact Keith hadn’t been. *The reason Floyd told Bethany this has yet to be determined, but will eventually come out.

Sound ridiculous? It is. In fact, I have no idea how to string all these items together. Oh well, let’s see what develops: 

*Motivation for the antagonist is incredibly important. The antagonist CANNOT be a character who exist solely to make fun of the protagonist then laugh loudly with their henchmen.

* * *

Keith couldn’t believe it. Twenty-two years. Twenty-two years of blissful marriage, until this brought it to a screeching halt – Bethany had somehow been convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that he’d been cheating on her. she’d already booked her flight out of the country. He had only minutes before she’d be boarding and turning off her phone. After that, there’d be no way to get a hold of her – Once she got to the village of Checkistan, she’d have no access to technology or international mail. That’d be it – the end of a blissful marriage, all because Bethany’s schmuck friend named Floyd had convinced her that she’d been played.  And Floyd, who Bethany had said was a ‘kind, sweet-hearted man’, was unfolding to be the biggest nut-job Keith had ever met in his life. 

“Why are you doing this?” Keith asked him.

“Why did you cheat on Bethany? She deserves better than you,” said Floyd. He pressed the button to the drill and gave the bit a quick spin.

Keith stared in disbelief. Here he was, roped to a chair, and bound by his hands and feet. Facing death. Why? That’s what he couldn’t figure out. What compelled this sicko to destroy his life? Keith had run into him on a couple of occasions, but was never made aware that he’d done anything to upset this wack-job. 

“I never cheated on her. You made that up.”

No response.

“Why?”

“Because you DON’T DESERVE HER, Keith. You’re a despicable, vial human being. She told me all about those women she caught you flirting with. Don’t tell me you don’t masturbate to them whenever you’re taking a crap!”

Keith winced his eyes closed. This was the man who was destroying his life – this absolute moron. “What do you want? What can I do to prove how much I love my wife to you?”

“It’s too late for that now. You failed her. She must leave you and visit her mother.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“What’s in it for you?”

“I get to teach Bethany’s tormentor a lesson.”

“Tormentor? Notice the ring? She’s my wife. That means she’s married to me, not you.”

“None of that matters anymore. After today, you will be dead, and I-” 

“She’s got no love for you. You’re nothing but a shoulder to cry on.”

“Ha!” Floyd said. “After today, I’ll be Bethany’s penis to cry on.”

Keith shook his head. “Your understanding of sex bewilders me.”

“Quiet!” Floyd spun the drill again. He approached with a twisted smile, and held the grinding construction tool with a flamboyant wag near his shoulder. 

“You’re a strange man.”

“You’re one to talk,” said Floyd. “A few moments from now you won’t be a man at all.”

“What?”

Floyd stuck the tip of his tongue through his teeth, then dropped down to his knees. He placed his hand on Keith’s knee, then crawled his fingers up his thigh like they were the legs of a spider.

“I’m going to make it so you never cheat again.”

“What are you talking about,” said Keith. He was scared now. Keith gulped, then tried to rip his knee into Floyd’s face. Unfortunately, the most movement he could manage was little more than a wobble. 

“I’m about to unscrew the screw that made you screw.”

Keith stared at him. Floyed smiled back and continued to rev the drill bit.

This wasn’t a joke anymore. This was serious. 

* * *

I don’t like my daily posts to run a full chapter length, and unfortunately this one looks like it’s got a long ways to go. I’ll resume this another day, sorry to cut it short.

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom