How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin

June 21st, 2012 by

Lots of folks tipped me off to this yesterday, a first-person article in GQ by Aaron Sorkin on how to write and “Aaron Sorkin script”. An excerpt:

A song in a musical works best when a character has to sing— when words won’t do the trick anymore. The same idea applies to a long speech in a play or a movie or on television. You want to force the character out of a conversational pattern. In the pilot of The Newsroom, a new series for HBO, TV news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) emotionally checked out years ago, and now he’s sitting on a college panel, hearing the same shouting match between right and left he’s been hearing forever, and the arguments have become noise. A student asks what makes America the world’s greatest country, and Will dodges the question with glib answers. But the moderator keeps needling him until…snap.

Will
It’s not the greatest country in the world, professor, that’s my answer.

Moderator
[pause] You’re saying—

Will
Yes.

Moderator
Let’s talk about—

Start off easy. First get rid of the two noisemakers.

Will
Fine. [to the liberal panelist] Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paychecks, but he [gesturing to the conservative panelist] gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn’t cost money, it costs votes. It costs airtime and column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fuckin’ smart, how come they lose so GODDAM ALWAYS!

The use of inappropriate language has a purpose—the filter’s off.

And [to the conservative panelist] with a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America’s so starspangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. Two hundred seven sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.

Always wanted to know how Sorkin approaches those monologues of his? He’s thinking of them like an aria. For more, you can go here.

3 thoughts on “How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin

  1. Certainly, Sorkin is known for his flowing dialogue (or monologues, as it were). And as for the substance of those words intended to be spoken, there’s this: The New Yorker – Broken News: The artificial intelligence of “The Newsroom.”

    And yet, all sorts of experienced speechwriters could have written Will’s dialogue. Indeed, standing alone, much of the dialogue that Sorkin crafts – especially the speeches like that one – is over-the-top, even comical, and any actor who can sell that dialogue as serious dialogue is earning his/her pay.

    The irony of Sorkin, “the master of dialogue”, is that the make or break of his writing isn’t the dialogue, it’s the story, it’s how he gets us to this moment and then the next one.

    1. Scott says:

      A similar critique I’ve read and heard about Sorkin’s dialogue is it all sounds the same. I suppose one could counter-argue that the characters in his stories all pretty much inhabit the same set of backgrounds, live in the same subculture, so it would be natural for them to sound alike.

      To your last point, while most focused on the biting dialogue of The Social Network as its most prominent creative achievement, I think it was Sorkin’s surfacing of the idea of using the dual depositions as a narrative device to be the smartest writing choice in the story because it enabled him to ping around from three points of attack: Deposition 1, Deposition 2, the Past. Similar to the narrative device of Citizen Kane if you think of the reporter interviewing all those characters, each as its own little ‘deposition.’

      Thanks, No, Other Ira, for that link. “The Newsroom” does seem to be getting some mixed reviews. I look forward to checking it out firsthand.

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