Arts & Entertainment, Writing

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.

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Topics include: Dialogue as music • Being physical when writing dialogue


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.

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Aaron Sorkin

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

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