Dialogue and storytelling go hand-in-hand. We can learn about a character by what he says, which reflects on what he does, proving if he’s really a Hero or simply a braggart. And good dialogue can advance the story and add depth to any scene. And few can pull magic out of words like the playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.
One quote of his, I think, best captures his talent for the Word:
For me, the writing experience is very much like a date. It’s not unusual that I’m really funny here and really smart here and maybe showing some anger over here so she sees maybe I have this dark side. I want it to have been worth it for everyone to sit through it for however long I ask them to.
And then there’s this quote, which might explain his eye for drama, as anyone who’s watched A Few Good Men can testify to:
[T]he trick is to follow the rules of classic storytelling. Drama is basically about one thing: Somebody wants something, and something or someone is standing in the way of him getting it. What he wants—the money, the girl, the ticket to Philadelphia—doesn’t really matter. But whatever it is, the audience has to want it for him.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about Sorkin is that his dialogue is musical in its quality. It’s a treat to recite, but that doesn’t mean it’s empty of content. And it helps that he tends to find some great actors who can carry his words off, especially if he’s throwing out SAT words and Shakespearian monologues that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere on TV or the silver screen.
He also makes his characters come alive in a way that speaks to their basic desires, whether it’s a President’s inner struggle with his intellect and his political intuition, or a TV producer wanting desperately to make a quality show while trying to appease the executives above him/her. Everyone struggles to succeed, and to do so without sacrificing their integrity. As President Bartlet of The West Wing puts it: “They want to win. So do we. The only thing we want more is to be right. I wonder if you can‘t do both.”
So here’s to you, Mr. Sorkin. Keep showing us what Shakespeare is the way it was meant to be heard.
Here’s a quick list of Sorkin’s films, plays, and TV shows:
Removing All Doubt (1984 play)
Hidden In This Picture (1988 play)
A Few Good Men (1989 play)
Making Movies (1990 play)
A Few Good Men (1992 film)
Malice (1993 film)
The American President (1995 film)
Sports Night (1998-2000 TV series)
The West Wing (1999-2006 TV series; wrote for Seasons 1-4)
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007 TV series)
The Farmsworth Invention (2007 play)
Charlie Wilson‘s War (2007 film)
Join me for the next installment, when I launch myself into madness while reviewing that zany postmodernist writer and producer of a million headaches, Thomas Pynchon.
This is the Scriptorium signing off!