How Aaron Sorkin Creates Musical Dialogue In ‘The Social Network’ | 10 Minutes Of Perfection

Mark: I wasn't making a
comment on your parents. I was just saying
that you go to BU. I was stating a
fact, that's all. Narrator: This is the opening
scene of \"The Social Network.\" And this is what that dialogue
looks like in a graph. Mark: You don't
have to study. Erica: Why do you keep saying
I don't have to study?! Mark: Because you go to BU! Narrator: "The Social Network"
was written by Aaron Sorkin, a writer whose scripts
are often described as "rhythmic" or "musical." But those descriptors
are vague, and I wanted to find out exactly why Sorkin's writing
sounds so distinctive. Administrator: I
don't understand. Mark: Which part? Narrator: So I
counted every syllable in each line of dialogue
and put it in a chart.

I did my best to pick several
other two-person scenes with similar attributes
and compared the graphs of these scenes to the one
from "The Social Network." And what you end up
with is pretty amazing. You can actually
see the rhythm of how Sorkin writes
compared to other writers. I also compared this particular
"Social Network" scene to other pieces that
Sorkin had written and found similar patterns
across his writing.

So, what exactly are
these rhythmic elements? And why does Sorkin incorporate
them in his writing? Well, the first
thing that stands out when comparing this
scene to others is that Sorkin uses
longer lines of dialogue. In the opening scene for
"The Social Network," Sorkin has nine
lines of dialogue that are over 45
syllables long, more than twice as many
as are in the opening of "When Harry Met Sally," one of the film scenes most
similar to "The Social Network." The upside of sprinkling
these mini-speeches throughout this scene
is that it creates more variations in the
rhythms of the dialogue.

By pairing these
longer lines with the quick and witty banter
that Sorkin is known for… Erica: I'm sorry you're not sufficiently impressed
with my education. Mark: And I'm sorry I don't
have a rowboat, so we're even. Narrator: He prevents
the exchanges from getting too repetitive. If every line in the scene
was roughly the same length, the exchanges
would get dull. You can also see
just the sheer amount of dialogue in
this one scene.

Sorkin fits considerably
more lines of dialogue into this five-minute scene than other writers'
scenes of the same length. While part of this
is due to the fact that Sorkin likes
to write characters who naturally speak fast,
he tailors his scripts to ensure faster
dialogue in several ways. First, he writes
very few action lines compared to other writers. And Sorkin also controls
the speed of the dialogue by frequently having
characters interrupt and speak over each other. Mark: I'm sorry, I mean it. Erica: I appreciate
that, but I have to go— Mark: Come on. You
don't have to study. You don't have to
study. Let's just talk. Erica: I can't. Narrator: So, why increase
the speed of dialogue? Obviously, it's
entertaining to listen to, but there's more
to it than that. Having faster dialogue
allows for more variation in the tempo of the scene. For a good example, take
a look at this clip: Mark: You don't
have to study.

Erica: Why do you keep saying
I don't have to study?! Mark: Because you go to BU! Narrator: The blurring
exchange of dialogue between the characters increases the impact of
the subsequent pause, making the moment
much more jarring. The syllable chart
is great for looking at the broad patterns of
rhythm in Sorkin's writing, but to understand how
he composes his words to give his dialogue
a musical quality, I took a closer
look at his writing.

pexels photo 9786304

While it is
natural for words to repeat themselves
in dialogue, Sorkin has an
extreme amount of repetition in his scripts. Take a look at the opening
of "The Social Network." Everything that's
highlighted is a word or phrase
that's repeated. In fact, out of the 141
sentences in the scene, 22 of them are repeated
essentially verbatim. That's 15% of the
sentences in the scene. When looking at the
scenes from other films, they have nowhere near
as much repetition. By listening to these
lines of dialogue, you can tell that Sorkin
is intentionally repeating these specific
words and phrases to create a rhythm that
simply sounds good.

Erica: I think we
should just be friends. Mark: I don't want friends. Erica: I was just
being polite. I have no intention of
being friends with you. Mark: I'm under
some pressure… Narrator: This repetition
is fun to listen to, regardless of if you
pick up on it or not. As Sorkin aptly puts it,
"What the words sound like is as important to me
as what the words mean." If you can believe it, there's actually one
more literary trick that Sorkin embeds
in his dialogue: writing in meter. Meter is a poetic structure
that was famously used by Shakespeare in many
of his plays and sonnets. There are several
types of meter— I won't get into
the details here— but one of the most famous
versions is iambic meter, which is the repetition
of one unstressed and one stressed syllable.

Romeo: But soft! What light
through yonder window breaks? Narrator: Because iambic
meter naturally sounds so appealing, some say it
sounds like a heartbeat. A number of famous lines from film history
are written in it. Gertie: E.T. phone home. Elliott: E.T. phone home. Dorothy: You
had me at hello. Maverick: I feel the need… Both: The need for speed. Narrator: And some of
Sorkin's own characters in "The West Wing" discuss the
merits of writing in meter. Toby: He wrote a
dissenting opinion in what I'm almost certain
is trochaic tetrameter. Narrator: So it should
come to no surprise that Sorkin incorporates
meter into his own writing, especially for some of
his most memorable lines, to give his writing
a little more rhythm in important moments. Sean: A million
dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool? Narrator: Using meter is a
small way to make a sentence naturally sound
more pleasing. As Sorkin describes it: And that's the whole point. The key to why Sorkin's writing
is so exciting to listen to is that it literally
sounds like music.

Almost any song will
do, but one song that is a particularly good
comparison to Sorkin's writing is "Anything You Can
Do (I Can Do Better)" from the musical
"Annie Get Your Gun." The parallels are
pretty obvious. No, you can't. Yes, I can. No, you can't. Yes, I can. No, you can't. Yes, I can. Erica: There are really
more people in China with genius IQs than
the entire population— Mark: The Phoenix
is the most diverse. The Fly Club— No, you can't. Yes, I can. No, you can't. Yes, I can. ♪ No, you can't ♪ ♪ Yes, I can ♪ ♪ No, you can't ♪ Erica: I have to go study. Mark: You don't
have to study. Erica: Why do you keep saying
I don't have to study?! Mark: Because you go to BU! Anything you can
do, I can do better Sean: A million
dollars isn't cool.

You know what's cool? Eduardo: You? Narrator: Sorkin's
melodic dialogue is just plain
fun to listen to. The rhythm and the
pulse are engrossing. At times I don't understand
the technical jargon that he uses in
his scripts… Mark: They have 10
minutes to get root access to a Python web server,
expose its SSL encryption, and then intercept all
traffic over its secure port. Narrator: But it's still
completely entrancing. And this is what I think makes
Sorkin's writing so special.

By putting in the extra
effort to layer his dialogue with rhythms and melodies,
he ensures that his scenes are incredibly
entertaining to listen to. And I would have to agree
with Sorkin when he says: "It's not just that dialogue
sounds like music to me. It actually is music.".

As found on YouTube

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