Sorkin on Sorkin: Learn Dialogue Techniques from the Man Himself
Speaking of Aaron Sorkin, if you haven't seen the first episode of The Newsroom, you should go check it out right now, or at least watch the first scene. In a recent GQ article, Sorkin writes about his own material, specifically how he arrives at the dialogue for the first scene in that episode of The Newsroom. Writing good dialogue is not easy, but knowing the real purpose of the scene and having a deep understanding of your characters will help the words flow out of you. Check out some excerpts from that GQ piece below.
Aaron Sorkin has long talked about the fact that dialogue sounded like music to him when he was younger, and there's no question he's always trying to achieve a certain rhythm with his dialogue:
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.
He goes into a bit more detail about another lengthy bit of dialogue:
Now we slow down and get a glimpse into his pain. The oratorical technique is called "floating opposites"— we did, we didn't, we did, we didn't... But rhythmically you don't want this to be too on the money. You're not just testing the human ear anymore; you want people to hear what he's saying.
We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right! We fought for moral reasons, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world's greatest artists and the world's greatest economy. We reached for the stars, and we acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn't belittle it; it didn't make us feel inferior. We didn't identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn't scare so easy. And we were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one—America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.
Whatever your opinion of Aaron Sorkin and his work (and most of you have one), he's a maestro with words. It's always interesting to hear a screenwriter talk about their craft, but especially interesting when they go in-depth about their technique and what they are trying to achieve with specific pieces of dialogue. Be sure to watch that first scene, and then head on over to the GQ article to read the analysis from Sorkin himself. Thanks to Scott Myers over at Go Into The Story for the link. Again, if you're a screenwriter and you're not following Scott's blog or his twitter feed, you're really missing out.