Meaningful Dialogue

“This guy’s walkin’ down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole; can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey, Joe, it’s me. Can ya help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are ya stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”

– Leo McGarry, The West Wing (scripted by Aaron Sorkin)

Aaron Sorkin already knows he’s a mastermind when it comes to dialogue. He writes as a playwright and script-doctor, not as a fiction or background-heavy genre artist. His dialogue is so swift, witty and poignant that it doesn’t need external details. If a woman storms into a room and storms back out again, Sorkin says, “I’m not going to describe what she’s wearing. It couldn’t be less important.” Pace and flow trump those kinds of details.

A preliminary search on Sorkin reveals the same details over and over: that he’s penned the best sorts of stories and movies, bathes in accolades and awards, and is probably hoarding the original scribbles of A Few Good Men on those legendary cocktail napkins the interviewers keep raving about. Great. That’s cool. J. K. Rowling conceived Harry Potter on a napkin, too. Is that the magic factor? King Midas brand napkins?

What I would really like to read is Sorkin’s writing philosophy. Nowhere is there a concise discussion on his relationship with writing. I’ve gleaned a few details about his tortured technique:

  1. He likes to rehearse the lines aloud, to himself. Recording and replaying with a tape recorder doesn’t suit him. (Matthew Perry commented on this in an interview. Seems legitimate.) Sorkin will practice in his car or on a walk in the studio, perhaps even in the restroom (though any eavesdropper on that occasion would probably not admit it in a public interview).
  2. He prefers old technology (as of 2004, anyway). The clack of a typewriter is his labor song. I picture him as a man who stashes pens in every crevice. Or maybe hand-writing isn’t his forté. His signature seems to say “Always Sorry”:
    Sorkin's Autograph
  3. He craves the audience. I attribute this to his theatre training. Sorkin is not a writer by degree, but he loves it and pines to write and seems to have pushed acting to the background. Well, almost. His recent spot on 30 Rock shows that he doesn’t mind stepping in front of the camera making fun of himself.

I would love to observe Sorkin at work. I’m at that perfectly ripe season where I admire his work, but I don’t worship him as an invincible deity. He’ll probably shrug it off as a boring endeavor or as a nuisance, but if there’s a contest out there where the grand prize is to shadow him for a day, people best watch out for me.

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Published by

KTC

KT is an avid foodie/gamer/SFF reader with expertise in a variety of bizarre fields. Her love for technology, science, and internet media is only matched by her fondness for music, language and art. Karen is an aspiring writer with a meandering past. Her law and engineering books make wonderful counterweights to her fiction collections. She hopes to one day publish a novel, most likely in the young adult genre, but the future is an open book.

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