October 1, 2018

Watch: How Aaron Sorkin Creates Compelling Characters

Aaron Sorkin may be famous for his dialogue, but this video argues that his character development goes deeper than just talk. 

While Aaron Sorkin is considered one of the greatest writers of dialogue in Hollywood history, this video from Jack's Movie Reviews argues that "just focusing on his dialogue takes the conversation away from all the other elements that make his films so great...specifically his character development." 

During an interview when asked about his process of writing dialogue, Sorkin himself said that dialogue is "the last thing" he considers, and Jack puts forward the hypothesis that in Sorkin's films there is a "larger than average emphasis on the protagonist." It should also be noted that the focus here is on Sorkin's work since 2007, films like Charlie Wilson's War, The Social Network, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs, rather than his previous work in TV.

Sorkin, to be sure, is not a severe outlier when it comes to dramatic structure, but he does have specific quirks that Jack sees as falling into an overarching pattern. To wit: Sorkin's work often opens on characters at low moments, rather than in a state of homeostasis that is then disrupted; from the first moments, his characters are up against a wall.

Of his protagonists, Sorkin has said that "the characters that I write are going to be kind of quixotic. They're going to fail a lot, and fall a lot." Many of them are also strikingly unlikeable, "far from good people" in Jack's words, but by seeing them on what is often their worst day, the audience is able to develop empathy for them.

Sorkin's characters are also almost always strikingly ambitious, e.g. Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, and his characters tend to pursue their ambitions "in less than normal ways," i.e. starting social networks, or upending the conventional wisdom of baseball.

 "The characters that I write are going to be kind of quixotic. They're going to fail a lot, and fall a lot."-Aaron Sorkin

As his characters work towards their goals, conflict is generated (as is the case in all drama); in the middle of the films, forces align against them. In Sorkin's films, though, the unsympathetic protagonists must succeed while "mean[ing] harm for someone else," rather than battling a clear-cut, malicious opposition. The morality is less than black and white, which makes Sorkin one of the more unconventional writers in Hollywood; even in 2018, heroes are still heroes, and bad guys are often bad to the bone; this nuance is part of what makes his characters so powerful.

Of course, dialogue drives most of the conflict (dialogue for which he is justly famous), and this dialogue is often, in Jack's opinion very much about "power dynamics." Essentially, the point here is that Sorkin is not just using one-liners and comebacks for their own sake.

This video is a good look at how Sorkin uses words to explore themes that are apparent across his career, so check it out if you're a fan, or writer, or just an unsympathetic character yourself (you know who you are...)      

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