From Aaron Sorkin's MasterClass

Developing Characters: Part 2

Your characters don't have to be like you—or even likeable. Drawing on examples from A Few Good Men and Steve Jobs, Aaron explains why he always empathizes with his characters even if he disagrees with them.

Topics include: Writing characters unlike yourself • Writing anti-heroes


Your characters don't have to be like you—or even likeable. Drawing on examples from A Few Good Men and Steve Jobs, Aaron explains why he always empathizes with his characters even if he disagrees with them.

Topics include: Writing characters unlike yourself • Writing anti-heroes

Aaron Sorkin

Teaches Screenwriting

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I think that if you are writing long biographies of your characters, of fictional characters, and this character when they were five years old they did this and when they were six years old they did that, things that have nothing to do with the story you're telling, I think that you're getting involved with magical thinking and that it's not going to work. I think that especially when you're beginning to script, anything that isn't in tension an obstacle is going to mess you up. I don't say here's what this character would have eaten for breakfast when they were five years old. OK because it's not the character was never five years old. The character was born at the age that they are when the lights come up. The character was only gets to be five years old if the character says when I was five years old, I saw my father kill himself. It's then and only then that the character was five years old. I wouldn't take out a yellow legal pad and a pen and start writing down character traits. Let's see. He likes baseball and he likes creamy peanut butter, but not chunky peanut butter, and he likes this and he doesn't like that many parts his hair on the left side and that kind of thing. I don't think that any of that is going to come in handy. I don't think there is a use for any of that. I think that what it's doing I think you're doing it because you feel like you're supposed to do it. I think you're doing it because you feel like the more human character traits you write down on this legal pad, the more human the character is going to be. What's going to happen is you're going to have a scene where a guy or a girl needs to convince their parents to loan them money for something, and you've got the yellow legal pad next you and you're figuring out how to work in creamy peanut butter into the scene because these are the things that are going to make your character more human. Forget that, OK? Forget that stuff. Get this guy to get money from his parents. Obviously, if the parents if the first line of the scene is Mom, Dad, I need money, and the second line of the scene is no problem, how much? You've kind of overcome the obstacle a little quickly. But make him or her have to play their intention and things are going to come up. You might stumble across a joke about creamy peanut butter and that's when your character likes creamy peanut butter. Oh, it was because there's this joke about it. Put the yellow legal pad aside. Believe it or not, the properties of characters and the properties of people have very little to do with each other. I know it seems like the goal should be to have a character be as human as possible. And that's not the goal, or at least not my goal. That's something for critics to talk about. That's something for audiences to talk about. It was such a human moment when they did this. It was so human when they did that...

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. In this class, you’ll learn his rules of storytelling, dialogue, character development, and what makes a script actually sell. By the end, you’ll write screenplays that capture your audience’s attention.


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

Intention & Obstacle factor to create drama,, very useful..!!

My goal in taking this Master Class was to peer into the mind of someone I consider a master screenwriter. I wanted to unlearn bad habits in my writing. And, Mr. Sorkin provided several useful and valuable nuggets of information and techniques which are helping me. I believe I will be a better writer because of this class. Much appreciated.

Charisma, knowledge, humor, vulnerability, ambition, openness & passion make the best artists/teachers, thank you, Mister Sorkin!!

Great story is about two things: intention and obstacle. My intention: to get my screenplay/pilot produced My obstacle: I don't know anyone in the industry. While watching this class hasn't made me an automatic success, it has given me the tools and resources to compete on a "level playing field" and to do my best work. As a writer of color, I can ask for nothing more.


Hector L.

I wrote my scene about two people, who have been friends for a while, one wants money, the other doesn't want to give it. For my scene, I have it between two old friends that now have to factor business in. I'd love some feedback.

Eva P.

Amazing!!! Thanks for clarifying many important points about the characters, specially about the bios, and how to write characters not people.

Walter R.

I really enjoyed this class, really helpful. This is my scene, I 'd appreciate any feedback, Thanks :

Michael L.

The Colonel's speech was right on point as far as being a Marine. This does not give him license to commit the crime. The road to hell... And I really think that's one of the best kind of villains. One that is actually right in their intentions, but utterly evil in their execution. The failure to encapsulate one good intention inside the framework of a more important social contract.

A fellow student

How many times have teachers told me - "if you don't know what they had for breakfast, you don't know the character." How many times I would write these details down and found my self perplexed with how complex the story is becoming, and it serves no purpose in the long run. Yet, here is an experienced writer saying the truth, none of that matters until it matters. Intention and obstacles are the goals! Fantastic.

Dante P.

The PDF download links for chapters 4 and 5 aren't working. Please fix. Thank you.

Claire M.

I thought this was a fantastic class, and my interests are not in screenwriting/playwriting. But the way that he got me thinking about how to write characters who are different from myself, even very different, who have different points of view and different ways of expressing their points of view was extremely helpful. His examples were excellent and, for me, really helped to get the point across. Extremely useful. Thank you.


The topic in this session seems like he is directing the actor of how to play the character, rather then giving the character certain traits that lead to conflict depending upon the flow of the scene


Grated this Master Class is with a notable writer. And respect his knowledge. However it does take Mr, Sorkin tends to delay his point. Am distracted by his nervousness in his vocally bringing his point forward.

Judi P.

I am not sure what twirling he mustache means in this context? He is taking about the actor not knowing the character or he is talking about the writer not writing a more authentic character because the writer does not empathize with the anti-hero?