Not everyone can afford to pay for HBO -- and there's a good number who just prefer not to watch it -- but if you've been living under a rock for the past five or ten years, some of the best writing anywhere is happening on pay TV. If there has ever been a golden age for writers, it's right now, and it's on TV. For most movies the director is the auteur, but TV is the medium of the writer. They are allowed to take more chances and spread their wings over 10-12 hours of content in a pay TV season. Academy Award winner (The Social Network) Aaron Sorkin's new HBO show, The Newsroom, is pure Sorkinese (fast dialogue). Though that may not be everyone's cup of tea, his ability to sculpt characters with language cannot be understated. If you missed the first episode, it's now available online from the link below:
Though you've got to leave the site to actually play it (since the embed is disabled), it's worth a watch. This is obviously has NSFW language -- you know -- since it's HBO:
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=1U4ZhFDFYvE&feature=player_embedded
Aaron Sorkin's style might not be for everyone, but there's no doubt that he is masterful at playing with language to weave in and out of the relationships between characters. You could certainly copy the style, but the main takeaway should be how well his dialogue works in pressure situations for the characters. He is always raising the stakes (which is what any great script should do), and he even does it within each conversation. Raise the stakes, create drama and conflict, and you'll keep people on the edge of their seats. There's also another side effect of spitfire dialogue: you've got to pay a little more attention to make sure you don't miss anything.
If you want to be a screenwriter, you can't go wrong with the character development and story arcs on pay TV. But remember, the style of TV is slightly different than movies, and if you want to become a better feature film screenwriter, it's important to read scripts, watch movies, and write pages.