Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sorkin Screenwriting

Photo from: Dominick D

"Whether it's 'The West Wing' or anything else, my first thought is always, 'What's a good story?'"- Aaron Sorkin

A few months ago I stumbled on a set of online class offerings from a company called Masterclass. These courses cover a variety of subjects and are taught by recognized 'masters' in their respective fields. Steve Martin teaches comedy, Frank Gehry teaches architecture, Kevin Spacey teaches acting and so on.

Then I saw one on screenwriting by Aaron Sorkin - a supremely accomplished, award-winning writer and storyteller - and was instantly drawn to it.

Screenwriting is the act of writing a screenplay or script. A script includes dialog, actions and directions for telling a story in an entertainment medium such as film, tv or plays.

Human beings love to hear and tell stories. This is not a revelation. In fact there may even be scientific proof behind how and why humans are optimized for storytelling (and 'storylistening' I suppose) as this Harvard Business Review article discusses. It's just neurobiology...

There are many quotes on this subject too: "People don't remember statistics (data), they remember stories." Maya Angelou said “At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”  Story is an impactful way to communicate meaning and feeling to our fellow humans.

Even successful blog posts, ones that have gone 'viral', are the ones that tell a story - usually a very personal one. On my OnMentoring blog I've written that when interviewing for your next role you need to be ready to tell your stories. Don't just list out your accomplishments. It's vital to have a narrative for your achievements. What did you struggle with and how did you overcome? What did you learn in those struggles on your way to achieving your successes? Those tales will most certainly increase the chances for a successful outcome.

So when I saw Aaron Sorkin's class on screenwriting pop up I immediately registered. Aaron Sorkin has written some of the most powerful and moving scripts the world has seen - from movies such as "A Few Good Men" to TV shows such as "The West Wing".

Sorkin teaches that the core of any story must have two things: Intention and Obstacle. Intention is simply about your protagonist wanting something. An Obstacle (or two or three) is the barrier he/she encounters along the way to obtaining that something. The more intense the Intention, the more pressure to get to the something and the more imposing the Obstacle the better the story you'll tell. Not a single one of us escapes each day without having something we desire and obstacles that attempt to prevent us from achieving those desires.

I cannot convey in a single posting all that I've been absorbing watching this master describe concepts and techniques. I can say without equivocation that this course is fantastic and recommended.

I have zero plans to write any movies, plays or TV scripts in the near future....but stories...I tell them every day. We all need stories as they help us to partner with customers, inspire our teams, teach our friends/relatives/loved ones and, frankly, to make life that much more interesting. Even the mundane can be made intriguing in the hands of an eloquent storyteller. So any way to increase one's skills in this area is worth the journey.

"Stories, more even than stars or spectacle, are still the currency of life." - Adam Gopnik