Aaron Sorkin on Revealing Character


Studying Aaron Sorkin's (Steve Jobs, Newsroom, The Social Network, West Wing, A few good men, The American President) scripts and watching how in the hands of a good director goes from the script to screen, is one of my favorite things to do. This is what he said about character writing during one of his interviews at the Aspen Institute with David Brooks:

“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; 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. If they need it, that’s even better. Something formidable is standing in their way, and the tactics that character uses to overcome the obstacle is going to define who the character is. It’s like having a Christmas tree and then hanging ornaments on it…I worship at the temple of intention and obstacle. That’s the drive shaft of the car.”

Also during the same interview he mentioned this about Toy Story, the Pixar movie:

“If you look at the characters in Toy Story, beginning with Woody on down, they had one big desire which was to be there for Andy. To fulfill their essence of a toy, which is to make him happy. A ton of obstacles were thrown at them. And their characters were defined by how they overcame them.”

To me, that is the essence of character writing...intentions and obstacles of the characters leads to conflicts, conflicts and more conflicts. These conflicts lead to drama that can only turn out to be more interesting when sewn well together into an emotionally charged plot.

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