West Wing and the writer

Right now I’m a little obsessed with watching West Wing–you know, that early-2000’s TV show that starred Martin Sheen as the President of the United States. I’ve always been inspired by TV and movies as well as books and WW is tripping those triggers left and right. Watching a show as a writer isn’t much different from reading a book as a writer; the medium is different, sure, but a lot of the same lessons can be learned. Here’s what I’ve picked up on so far:

1. Dialogue. Sorkin really kicks ass at this. All his characters have unique ways of speaking and personalities all their own. In the visual medium we don’t have internal dialogue to tell us about a character, so the actor and the verbal dialogue have to do that for us. Witty repartee is the norm for this show.

2. Tension. Sorkin has this in spades. It comes on several different levels: macro tension from, you know, world and American politics; micro tension when skirmishes between characters blow up on a daily basis; internal conflict (for example, when the press secretary wants to date a reporter but won’t allow herself). There’s also great conflict resolution on display. Yes, the characters fight and express their own opinions and sometimes go off the rails on each other, but in the end they’re all working together for a common goal.

3. Strong female characters. They are all over this show. I can’t think of a single female character that backs down from fight or agrees with someone just because the person they’re talking to is a man. The women are opinionated, feisty, intelligent, and driven individuals that also acknowledge that they want someone to kiss them. They are interesting and complex.



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4 responses to “West Wing and the writer

  1. The two-part episode at the beginning of season 2 is on my top ten list of favorite episodes of any tv show ever.

  2. Love the WW, especial for dialog as character development. Another of the things Aaron does well is he doesn’t talk down to the audience/reader. He expects that you are able to keep up and have an understanding of what is gong in in the world. For instance the espiside “Red Mass”, when the team goes to the opera as a part of the opening ceremonies for the Supreme Court. There’s a problem at a Russian ICBM site, and the word is passed in that a fire happened as they were drawing fuel from a missile and everyone’s faces go dark. You really need to know what that means (they were preparing to remove the warhead, unscheduled, probably for sale on the black market). So, if you know the tension comes from “how are they gong to handle this?” If you don’t know, there’s the added tension in the audience from, “something serious is happening, but what.” Just frickin’ excellent story telling (which kinda went to hell after Aaron left).

    Also love the cliff hanger on if Bartlet would run for re-election. Just masterful writing, pacing, and one of the best ghost scenes in tv I’ve ever scene.

    • I just watched that episode!

      So good. I’ll have to power through the non-Sorkin episodes to get to the Sorkin ones at the end. I stopped watching it when Sorkin left when it was on TV.

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