Friday, August 12

Aaron Sorkin On How To Write A Gripping Monologue

Today I want to talk about how to write a gripping monologue. And who better to turn to than Aaron Sorkin, master of the monologue.



Aaron Sorkin


Sorkin's resume includes “A Few Good Men,” “Malice,” “The American President,” “The West Wing,” and “The Newsroom.” One of the things Sorkin is known for is his terrific, fantastic, get-out-of-your-seat-and-cheer, monologues.

Which seems like nothing short of a magic trick since monologues are often boring. They tempt a writer to dump a bunch of not-necessarily-wanted facts on her audience. Then readers become bored and irritated and meander away in search of something more gripping.

An Example of a Gripping Monologue


The first time I saw one of Aaron Sorkin's monologues I was watching “A Few Good Men.” At the time I had no idea who Sorkin was, but was captivated by Jack Nicholson’s performance—he played Colonel Nathan R. Jessup—when he took the stand at the end of the movie.

Tom Cruise’s character, Kaffee, attempts to get Colonel Jessup to admit he ordered a code red. This is what the entire movie has been leading up to:

Kaffee: *Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?*
Judge Randolph: You *don't* have to answer that question!
Col. Jessep: I'll answer the question!
[to Kaffee]
Col. Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to.
Col. Jessep: *You want answers?*
Kaffee: *I want the truth!*
Col. Jessep: *You can't handle the truth!*
(From: Quotes for Col. Nathan R. Jessup )

It’s a great scene. So, how did Aaron Sorkin do it?

Aaron Sorkin’s Tips For Writing A Gripping Monologue


1. Make Your Audience Want The Information.


Sorkin writes:

“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.” (How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin)

The idea is to make your audience want the information the protagonist uses in his rant. In Jessup’s case, this was the information that he did in fact order the code red. It’s the information we’ve been waiting for all movie long. It’s the information that will save Kaffee’s hide.

2. Have The Monologue Reveal That The Character Is Exceptional


Chances are, your character has hidden depths. He can do things that none of your other characters can do. Jessup says:

“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom.”

Whatever you might think of him, Colonel Jessup is, in his own way, an extraordinary individual.

3. Have The Monologue Reveal That The Character Is Human


Yes, Colonel Jessup made mistakes. Big mistakes. But he is also, in his way, honorable. He is committed to defending his fellow Americans. Jessup’s monologue brings out aspects of the man that humanize him. For example, here’s a line from Jessup’s speech:

“We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it.”

And that’s it!

I’ll talk to you again on Monday. Till then, good writing!

Other articles you might like:


What Writers Can Learn From Aaron Sorkin
The Key To Being A Productive Writer: Prioritize
12 Tips On How To Write Antagonists Your Readers Will Love To Hate

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