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Arts & Entertainment

Writing Captivating Dialogue

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 12:48 min

If you want to write Aaron Sorkin-worthy dialogue, learn from the master himself on how to make music with your words and put them to the test by performing your own scenes out loud.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.


Once we start talking about dialogue, we are talking about the least teachable part of writing. It's not completely unteachable. But there are a couple of things that you can teach. It's also the most personal part of writing. So everybody's going to do it a different way. Everybody's going to cross the finish line a different way. So all I'm going to talk about is the way I do it. I'm not suggesting that this is the way it must be done. [MUSIC PLAYING] My first experience witnessing great dialogue was, I think, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. My parents took me to see plays all the time. And often, they were-- I was too young to understand what was going on onstage. I saw Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf when I was nine years old. There was no way I could understand what was going on up there. But the dialogue sounded like music to me, just these fantastic actors. Singing, it sounded like Edward Albee's dialogue. David Mamet, for instance, who is a virtuoso at dialogue and a particular type of dialogue. There's no one better than David Mamet at writing a conversation between two people who don't know how to communicate with each other that if you look at Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, American Buffalo, those always feel like allegros, very sharp, kind of violent duets playing off each other. It's not just that dialogue sounds like music to me. It actually is music. At any time someone is speaking for the purpose of performance, whether they're doing it from a pulpit in a church, whether it's a candidate on the stump, or an actor on a stage, any time they're speaking for the purposes of performance, all the rules of music apply. Cadence and tone and volume, all of the rules of music apply to this. So when I'm writing, what the words sound like are as important to me is as important to me is as what the words mean. It's a lot about rhythm. The actors will know if they have dropped a syllable or added a syllable accidentally. They'll know that something was wrong the same way if you're playing music, and there's a time signature at the beginning of it, it says 4/4 time. That means there are four beats in a measure. And a chordant note gets one beat. There can't be five beats in a measure. There can't be three beats in a measure. And the actors know if they've dropped something, like I said, if they've dropped a syllable. And I know when I'm writing if that didn't quite work, what I was doing. So it-- and then if you look at the whole piece, say a two hour play, a two hour movie, a one hour episode of television, it follows along the-- it has a lot of the same properties as a long piece of music like a symphony does or an opera. It's got solos and duets. It's got allegros and adagios. It's got arias. And sometimes they're good. And sometimes they're bad. But it is music nonetheless. [MUSIC PLAYIN...

About the Instructor

Aaron Sorkin wrote his first movie on cocktail napkins. Those napkins turned into A Few Good Men, starring Jack Nicholson. Now, the Academy Award-winning writer of The West Wing and The Social Network is teaching screenwriting. In this class, you’ll learn his rules of storytelling, dialogue, character development, and what makes a script actually sell. By the end, you’ll write screenplays that capture your audience’s attention.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

This class was the best way to learn how to do screenwriting. And learn about screenwriting from a genius like Aaron Sorkin. This class has helped me to feel more confident to continue screenwriting for my projects.

Terrific insight from one of the most impactful writers of the last 30 years. Aaron was masterful in giving just enough information to teach you how to think, vs. telling you what to think.

If a class really has an impact with a student, a deep, perspective-changing, mental and practical impact, there is simply no way to put it succinctly enough for a format like this. This class has been a gift, so thank you Masterclass and Aaron Sorkin.

Excellent class, full of insight and wisdom from a master of the craft. Thank you.



Quick update, you should now be able to access the full class - so sorry for that inconvenience!

Zannah F.

I'm having the same issue. All of the group lessons (West Wing Writers room, etc) are missing.

Brian G.

If anyone is still having difficult finding the "missing video lessons" on here like myself, I've confirmed that they're available on the Master Class Apple TV app. I don't know why this is but neither the Master Class website nor the Master Class iPhone app have the table read videos listed. I've reached out to support and submitted a request for this. I doubt this is intentional. Hopefully a technical error that can be easily fixed. As of now, I can only view those table read videos on the Apple TV app.

Alejandro O.

Lástima que aquello por lo que es famoso Sorkin sea lo menos "enseñable". En el fondo tiene toda la razón. Hay una parte en la escritura de diálogos en la que tienes que tener oído musical, y con eso se nace o no se nace. Lo que Sorkin tiene es un don.

Nicky M.

Hi all. On the advert for this class, Sorkin is teaching a group of students and they're coming up with ideas for The West Wing. Where is that in the actual class? Thank

A fellow student

Hi, does anyone remember who did Aaron recommend to study if we were writing dialogue between people that don't understand each other?

Billy T.

Hi everyone, Billy Tsiolis here. I have a question for some of you. For those who do know music theory as it applies to dialogue, how did you go about learning that? Please let me know, especially if you have any specific recommendations for websites or organizations to check out. Thank you.


Loved breaking down Bartlett/Ritchie scene & analysis of Bush/Gore contest having similar dynamics. I keep thinking @ Trump, & hearing his post-impeachment speech today and listening to his amazingly inarticulate, mob-like language, and that he would have come off like a cartoonish, too dumb to be elected, character in a script. If even 10% of Sorkin's brilliance rubs off on me, I'll be happy.

Śmigły .

When writing dialog, I have found myself writing it specifically to reach an end-point for a scene. I go back and read it outloud. ------ THEN, I go back and adjust the dialog to the characters' bio that I've developed. ----- Would HE say it that way? Or, would it be more rude? Or more gentle. ----- THEN, I go back over it again, reading it outloud, checking for cadence and rhythm. ----- There have been scenes I've TOTALLY rewritten because I've included the wrong characters in the entire dialog..

Glen G.

Is there a bit of contradiction between leaving space for actors to improvise and writing down every idiosyncratic tic. Other books I've read seem to advise against overdoing the dialog. I wonder if that's something the writer has to earn - of if it just needs to be done well enough that it doesn't distract.