Showing posts with label Aaron Sorkin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Aaron Sorkin. Show all posts

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

Saturday, July 20

What Writers Can Learn From Aaron Sorkin

What Writers Can Learn From Aaron Sorkin


Aaron Sorkin is a genius.

A while ago I blogged about an article he'd written that dissected the first few minutes of the opening scene of The Newsroom, explaining the effect he'd wanted to create in the viewer and what he did to create it.

Here is a clip of the opening scene of The Newsroom:



Here's Sorkin's article: How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin.

One of the reasons I'm posting about Aaron Sorkin's dissection of his own wizardry has to do with Stephen Pressfield's blog articles:

Art is Artifice, Part 1
Art is Artifice, Part 2

Stephen Pressfield writes:
In a nutshell:

Real = unpublishable.

Artificial = publishable.

When I say “artificial,” I mean crafted with deliberate artistic intention so as to produce an emotional, moral, and aesthetic response in the reader.

What do I mean by “real?”

Real is your journal. Real are your letters (or these days your texts, tweets, Facebook postings.) Real is that which possesses no artistic distance.
Great articles.

Giving the artificial, giving one's art, a semblance of reality requires the kind of talent that only comes from many, many, hours of practice.

Here's an example of talent that comes from practise. This video (see below) was taken behind the scenes at the Tony Awards during the opening number. It's only 2 minutes long:



That director was using instinct. I'm sure that when he first started directing he had to think about it, but now he's like a musician carried away by the score or an athlete on a runners high.

Both Arron Sorkin and folks like the above director, folks who have worked in their chosen profession for decades, have put in the time.

They've worked, they've practiced, they've sacrificed, and now, at the pinnacle of their careers, they have these moments of unparalleled excellence.

Sorkin's opening scene was amazing, startling. Completely artificial and, possibly, absolutely true.

Artificial, because Sorkin crafted that scene: no one is that smart, that eloquent, that directed.

Completely true, because--through art--he extracted the underlying reality and presented it in a way that startled and entertained.

Did I mention that Aaron Sorkin in a genius?

My point in writing this long meandering post is that writing is supposed to be hard, it's supposed to take a lot of work, but you can do it.

Let me leave you with a video sent to me by a friend, it's a conversation Neil Gaiman had with Connie Willis at the World Fantasy Conference in 2011:


Photo credit: "Three trees" by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, May 15

What Do Aaron Sorkin, Stealing, And Advice About Writing Have In Common?

What Do Aaron Sorkin, Stealing, And Advice About Writing Have In Common?
"Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright," Aaron Sorkin.

What do Aaron Sorkin, stealing, and advice about writing have in common?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Yesterday Gwen sent me a clip of Aaron Sorkin's cameo appearance on 30 Rock where he pokes fun at himself, at his quirks.

After I watched the clip I thought, 'Huh, I wonder if Aaron Sorkin has written anything about the art of writing?' And, guess what? He has!

In How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin Mr. Sorkin gives advice about how to introduce crucial (but possibly boring) information and make it all seem interesting and clever rather than contrived and boring.

BUT, before I get to that, I'd like to talk about stealing.

And by "stealing" I don't mean plagiarism—which is bad, very bad—but the sort of outright stealing Aaron Sorkin was talking about in the quote at the beginning of this article.

In her post Develop Your Narrative Voice By Stealing From Bestselling Authors, Elise Abram teaches writers how to steal. But first, a caveat. Elise writes:
How I found my voice was by “stealing” from other writers, trying on different points of view, tones and styles until I found one that was my own.

Note: Modelling, which is what I mean by “stealing”, is very different from plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined as using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization, and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own.
So, plagiarism is nasty while 'creative stealing' or modelling, is perfectly fine.

The other day someone compared modelling to the way a musician learns to play an instrument. They play a song someone else wrote over and over again until they get it right, then move on to another song. This is the writer's version of that.

I'll leave you to read Elise's wonderful article, but I would like to share her #2 way of stealing.


Steal the setting


Elise writes:
[A] way you can model is to use a setting from popular literature.

As you read these passages, see if you can spot the similarities:
“A large cask of wine had been dropped and broken, in the street…the cask had tumbled out…the hoops had burst, and it lay on the stones just outside the door of the wine-shop, shattered like a walnut-shell…The rough, irregular stones of the street, pointing every way, and designed, one might have thought, expressly to lame all living creatures that approached them …Some men kneeled down, made scoops of their two hands joined, and sipped…Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even with handkerchiefs from women’s heads.”
And…
“The driver had been coming out of the turn on the inside when the wagon had tilted and gone over. As a result, the kegs had sprayed all the way across the road. Many of them were smashed, and the road was a quagmire for twenty feet. One horse…lay in the ditch, a shattered chunk of barrel-stave protruding from its ear…Wandering around the scene of the accident were perhaps a dozen people. They walked slowly, often bending over to scoop ale two-handed from a hoofprint or to dip a handkerchief or a torn-off piece of singlet into another puddle. Most of them were staggering. Voices raised in laughter and in quarrelsome shouts.”
Did you catch the comparisons?
.  .  .  .
The first passage is from a scene in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the second from Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman. In the modelling of this passage, King and Straub use Dickens’ setting, making it their own by serving it up with the dark and graphic horror their readers know and love.

Aaron Sorkin on How To Steal From Aaron Sorkin


Which brings us back to Aaron Sorkin's article in which he, basically, invites us to 'steal' one of his tricks, which is how to give an information dump--or a 'fact-dump' as he calls it--but make it witty and interesting. He 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. In the pilot of The Newsroom, a new series for HBO, TV news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) emotionally checked out years ago, and now he's sitting on a college panel, hearing the same shouting match between right and left he's been hearing forever, and the arguments have become noise. A student asks what makes America the world's greatest country, and Will dodges the question with glib answers. But the moderator keeps needling him until...snap.
And then comes a fact-dump/information dump, but it works and it's interesting.

In his article Aaron Sorkin demonstrates what he means by giving a short scene with commentary both about the effect he wants his words to create in the audience and how he creates that effect. It reminds me of a magician giving away one of his tricks. A wonderful read.

Who is your favorite author to model? Is there anyone you're currently modelling?

Other articles you might like:

- 4 Ways Outlining Can Give A Writer Confidence
- 4 Things To Keep In Mind When Choosing A Title For Your Book
- Beware Damnation Books

Photo credit: "Burglar Alarm Box" by taberandrew by Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.