aaron sorkin screenwriting tips

I’ve rarely felt this annoyed in a movie theater. Next to me, during a screening of Steve Jobs, an elderly couple loudly whispers comments to each other every few minutes. With each line of dialogue they distract me from basking in, the more frustrated I grow. I’m afraid to ask them to keep quiet — not because I care how they’ll react, but out of fear of missing another line from the movie.

Aaron Sorkin writes anti-bathroom break movies. You don’t want to miss a scene or a line of his, especially in the case of his latest piece of work, the breathless, unrelentingly paced, and intricately structured Steve Jobs. By now, such an exciting piece of drama seems like a foregone conclusion from one of Hollywood’s most prolific, acclaimed, and all-around successful screenwriters. But past and present interviews with him have revealed not only how he pulls off these feats of genius, but how to start if you’re trying to create your own.

After the jump, learn writing tips from Steve Jobs screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.

The writer behind The Social Network and Moneyball got his start in theater, after studying the art form in college, and once even gave acting a shot. He also studied music in college, which shouldn’t a surprise considering as there’s almost always a musical quality to his dialogue. In fact, he thinks of music while writing.

Want to learn more about screenwriter’s process? Here are a few Aaron Sorkin screenwriting tips from interviews and discussions of his from the past:
social network 4

Throw Your Audience Into the Deep End 

“We started at 100 miles an hour in the middle of a conversation [in The Social Network], and that makes the audience have to run to catch up. The worst crime you can commit with an audience is telling them something they already know. We were always running ahead.”

The opening of The Social Network shows us everything we need to know about Mark through dialogue, while Moneyball accomplishes that through silence. Sorkin rarely ever begins his stories on the wrong note.

Steve Jobs

What Does the Protagonist Want?

“There is no one way to [approach character]. Everybody does it differently. For me, rather than tell the audience who the character is, I like to show the audience what a character wants. It all boils down to intentions and obstacles: somebody wants something and something is standing in their way of getting it. They want the girl, they want the money, they want to get to Philadelphia — it doesn’t matter, but they have to want it bad. Something formidable is in standing in their way, and the tactics that character uses to overcome the obstacle is going to define who the character is.”

Sorkin’s characters are always clearly defined. When you think of anything he’s written, whether it’s the short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip or one his films, the protagonists’ goals immediately come to mind.

studio 60

Characters Aren’t People, Exactly

“The properties of people and the properties of character have almost nothing to do with each other. They really don’t. I know it seems like they do, because we look alike, but people don’t speak in dialogue. Their lives don’t unfold in a series of scenes that form a narrative arc. The rules of drama are very much separate from the properties of life. I think that’s especially true of Shakespeare.” 

There are Aaron Sorkin characters in the real world, but how many people do you actually know who speak as well as Sorkin writes?

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