Chapter 4 of 35 from Aaron Sorkin

Developing Characters: Part 1


Aaron shares some of the decisions he made to develop some of his most unforgettable characters—like The Social Network's Mark Zuckerberg and The West Wing's Toby and Leo.

Topics include: Mark Zuckerberg case study • Starting with intention and obstacle • Toby and Leo in The West Wing

Aaron shares some of the decisions he made to develop some of his most unforgettable characters—like The Social Network's Mark Zuckerberg and The West Wing's Toby and Leo.

Topics include: Mark Zuckerberg case study • Starting with intention and obstacle • Toby and Leo in The West Wing

Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting

Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting in 35 exclusive video lessons.

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Your script starts here.

Aaron Sorkin wrote his first movie on cocktail napkins. Those napkins turned into A Few Good Men, starring Jack Nicholson. Now, the Academy Award winning writer of The West Wing and The Social Network is teaching screenwriting. You’ll learn his rules of storytelling, dialogue, character development, and what makes a script actually sell. By the end, you'll write unforgettable screenplays.

Watch, listen, and learn as Aaron teaches the essentials of writing for television and film.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Aaron will also critique select student work.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

It was a precise introduction. Makes me hopeful for the best

As someone who has not written for stage for nearly two decades, this masterclass from the Master is a welcome kick-in-the-butt!

He's and excellent teacher and I appreciate his honesty about the craft.

I am not a screenwriter nor will I ever be one but I'm a big fan of Sorkin's work. Just to get a glimpse into his process is worth it to me.


Anthony N.

I have a 6 page script I wrote where a character ask for money and is denied by the other character in the scene. I don't see where I can upload it to get feedback from some of you out here. Should I just copy and paste all 6 pages here?

Steve P.

The most ingenious uses of the phrases "Here it comes" or "Wait for it" stem from the pen of Aaron Sorkin.

Rik C.

While the entire content was interesting the thing that struck me most is that he let the actual character of the actor have at least partial dominion over the character they were playing...not wanting to lose or smooth out inherent earned personality!

A fellow student

While I can't say the same as far as where characters come from (It seems like a DMV in my creative space sometimes, with characters waiting in line to be introduced.), it's good to finally make sense of where all of my antagonists come from. I often find that they begin off as an obstacle, and I then have to work backwards to flesh them out more.

Vickie R.

Embarrassed to say I never really saw this show. Don't know where I was at the time, but I must rent on Netflix. I love the actress but don't recognize her from anywhere? Anyone know her name? That's exactly how me and my dad talk to each other. EXACTLY!! So funny it makes me laugh out loud. I just wish I was as thin as her (or is it she?). Excellent, snappy dialogue. I wish I could have met Aaron when he was writing the West Wing because I went on a fun personal tour of it and met some pretty cool people. I'll have to look up the year it was aired. I must work on more quick, snappy dialogue for sure.

Julio J. I.

Brilliant dialogue! This is great. As an aspiring writer/director it's starting to click more and more for me with each class. Excited to continue on and learning from the assignments.

Don McHaney

It looks like when Aaron was writing snappy dialogue on his typewriter, way back really paid off.

Nicolas C.

I love how inarticulate Aaron is and then he shows us a fucking amazing dialogue lesson between Leo and the new girl.

Kelvin R.

I've written a couple of books, but I'm new at screenwriting. I have "the" idea, but thinking along the lines of intention and obstacles has me excited.


The approach of forming the character out of what tactics they would use to solve an obstacle is really interesting and so much simpler than what I have read about character building in the past. Great lesson!


I don't have characters in my head. It's not like that. The character is born from the intention and obstacle. They're born from the intention and obstacle. And then the tactics that the character uses to overcome that obstacle, that's what the character is going to be. With "The Social Network" what I had was Mark Zuckerberg's blog post from the Tuesday night when he was a sophomore at Harvard, from the Tuesday night that he invented what they called Facemash. And it's a very angry blog post. He's very angry at a woman. I changed her name in the movie. I called her Erica. So he's very angry at Erica because he's just, in his opinion, been treated badly on a date. He's kind of been broken up with, or blown off, or something like that. And he writes a blog post where he narrates the rest of the night. He narrates that he's drinking and that he's drinking to get drunk. He narrates that he needs some kind of act of revenge to rid himself of this anger that he feels toward this girl. So he's just had a great idea. I'm going to create a website that compares women to farm animals. You get to vote who is hotter, this woman or this farm animal. That morphed into, wait a second, we'll put actual two women up there, two Harvard undergrads, and you get to vote who's hotter. One is only slightly less misogynistic than the other. I'm not even sure which though. But so I had that whole blog post. I wanted to start the movie by imagining the scene that came before that blog post. And in that scene we see what Mark wants, OK. And it's something we can all identify with. He wants to be one of the cool kids. OK, he wants to be socially accepted. He wants to date girls. And he wants to get into the exclusive clubs as a way of doing all that. So his sort of macro intention, his I want is I want to be accepted. I want a social life. What he ended up doing was building a virtual one, an artificial one that he was sort of the mayor of this world. The obstacles to doing that, there are a lot. What's the obstacle toward building the most successful website in the world? There are a ton of them. Toby gets around obstacles. For Toby if the obstacle is the president, Toby is a lot more direct with the president than most of the other characters, if not all of the other characters, save his wife, Stockard Channing. Toby is the one very early on, it's in the episodes The Crackpots and These Women, which I think was episode four or five of the series, Toby is the one who basically said-- Well, actually, now that I think about it, it's in a number of episodes, where Toby says you are not fulfilling your potential. You don't pretend to be dumber than you are to pander to all of the dumb people in America. You are the smartest person in the room. Be the smartest person in the room. Toby dresses down the president, whi...