The Social Network (2010)TWITTER/LOSTINFILM

Aaron Sorkin is an American screenwriter, playwright and director. Making his stage-writing debut – on Broadway – in 1993, Sorkin’s performed writing includes the play A Few Good Men, television series including The West Wing and films including The American President, The Social Network, Steve Jobs, Molly’s Game and The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Over the last eight months of isolation, I have been kept company by Sorkin’s writing. Sorkin’s characters have consistently made me feel less alone, hopeful about the possibility of changing the world after the pandemic, have kept my brain active, and have made me laugh.

Yesterday, I watched Sorkin’s most recent film, The Trial of the Chicago 7. (I would recommend it: it is one of the most eye-opening films I’ve seen this year.) The film put front and centre one of the devices that draws me so strongly to his work, namely, the permission the viewer is given to get to know well the drama’s characters and their relationships with one another through the use of an ensemble cast.

Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men (1992)TWITTER/DWLUNDBERG

Another Sorkin-esque quality of the film was the contrasting of ‘on stage’ and ‘backstage’ spaces in the drama. In the case of this film, in addition to another courtroom drama written by Sorkin, A Few Good Men, the contrast was between the performing space of a courtroom and the working space of the defendant’s counsel’s house.

Space is another important factor for me in Sorkin’s work. The West Wing, A Few Good Men and The American President take place predominantly in Washington D.C.; Molly’s Game, The Social Network and the television series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip all take place either partially or entirely in Los Angeles.

Having never been to America, such a focus on specific places entrances me greatly, especially in combination with the wall-to-wall US election coverage that we’ve been experiencing over the past few weeks. The West Wing and The American President allowed me to walk and drive around the centre of the capital, their characters lending a special quality to the geography that I know will have special meaning if I am able to visit Washington in the future.

Rooney Mara and Jesse Einsenberg in The Social Network TWITTER/LOSTINFILM

The empathy that I am able to feel with all of Sorkin’s characters brought me to a place where I was interested and invested in topics in which, previously, I had had little interest. His characters are committed to doing the best job possible; I am invested in his characters; I care about what they care about. Besides this empathy, something that features often in Sorkin’s character writing are father-daughter relationships. I can relate to these, but not (or at least, not only) because I am the daughter of a father: as I start to have friends who have children, I am able to appreciate in a new way what a child means to a parent.

“There is rhythm in the dialogue between characters. There are solos and duets.”

Aaron Sorkin’s writing is also incredibly appealing to me. Sorkin himself has said that ‘dialogue is like music to [him]’. And it’s true: devices from some types of music are seen in Sorkin’s writing. There is cadence: ‘America did not invite, nor did we provoke, a confrontation with evil’. There is rhythm: ‘from time to time’ is a phrase Sorkin uses frequently both when he gives interviews and in his writing. There is rhythm in the dialogue between characters. There are solos and duets: a character might speak a line alone, or two characters might speak their lines at once, the script specifying that the lines should be delivered in this way.

The West Wing (1999-2006)TWITTER/GOLDENSCRIPTNET

There is borrowing from other writers, as happens in some types of music – and is referenced by another character – ‘We did not invite, nor did we provoke’ is borrowed from the musical Camelot, as the speechwriter character who has written this line tells us.

On a personal level, I relate to Sorkin’s writing reasonably strongly. In Sorkin’s words, he likes, and his aim is to write, ‘the sound of two clever people arguing’. For better or for worse, cleverness was a large part of my identity at school, and, post-Cambridge, when family or friends refer to me as clever, it still makes me feel good.


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I relate strongly to Sorkin’s characters because we share intellectual intelligence and share some of the sometimes hard-to-cope-with side effects of this, which I hope I have come some way towards learning to deal with during my time at Cambridge (a place in which, for me at least, intelligence was taken out of the equation because it was either meaningless or depressing).

Andrew Garfield in The Social Network (2010)TWITTER/LOSTINFILM

In addition to intelligence, something I feel like I share with Sorkin’s characters is a desire to do good in the world and commitment to working to do so. I am still working on the final quality, which means that Sorkin’s characters provide an inspiration to me because they are ahead of where I am.

I wanted to write about what Sorkin’s writing means to me because his writing has kept me company and happy during these past few long months of social isolation. If writing can help me in this way, I hope that it might be able to help at least some others. From Sorkin’s astoundingly well-rated work, such as The West Wing and The Social Network, to his less well-rated work such as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, I would recommend everything that I’ve seen.