“When Words Don’t Do The Trick Anymore”

A song in a musical works best when a character has to sing— when words won’t do the trick anymore. The same idea applies to a long speech in a play or a movie or on television. You want to force the character out of a conversational pattern. In the pilot of The Newsroom, a new series for HBO, TV news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) emotionally checked out years ago, and now he’s sitting on a college panel, hearing the same shouting match between right and left he’s been hearing forever, and the arguments have become noise. A student asks what makes America the world’s greatest country, and Will dodges the question with glib answers. But the moderator keeps needling him until…snap.

I really like this breakdown of a speech in the new Sorkin show, by Sorkin. The idea of the dialogue as music appeals to me, especially seeing how it affects Sorkin’s construction of said speech. “To resolve a melody, you have to end on either the tonic or the dominant. (Try humming ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ right now, but leave off ‘snow.’ You’ll feel like you need to sneeze.) So Will ends where he started.” Makes me want to try and get better at everything I write; I want to claim music in my writing, even though it’s just words.

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