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Arts & Entertainment

Film Story Arc

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 11:33 min

Page numbers don't sound exciting, but they're a great tool for tracking the act-structure and pacing of your story.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.


We've been using the word "story" a lot. Story and drama are two slightly different things. Start with what a fact is, OK? The queen died. That's a fact. The story is the queen died, and then the king died of a broken heart, OK? But it's still not drama. There hasn't been conflict yet. What would make it drama, our queen and king story? Probably a million things. Off the top of my head, OK, the queen dies, and now the King is alone. And it turns out the queen was the brilliant one. She was the brains behind in the outfit. She was the brains behind the king, and now the King has to go it alone in the face of people who are trying to get him off the throne because everyone knows he's dumb, and the queen was smart. That kind of thing. [MUSIC PLAYING] Generally we think in three acts. A play is two, usually, and an episode of television is like six. But thinking of the three-act structure for a movie, act one, you chase your hero up a tree. Act two, you throw rocks at him. Act 3, you get him down. Or not. It's OK if they die in the tree, as long as they die trying. If they're going to get down from the tree in the third act, you have to have introduced the way down in the first act, OK? There's an old saw that you can't use a gun in the third act unless you've introduced it in the first. A gun can't appear from nowhere. You have to open a drawer and see that a gun is there, or somebody's got to mention, I'm packing, or something like that. Conversely, you don't introduce a gun in the first act unless you use it in the third. In other words, if we open a drawer and see a gun there, and then nothing ever comes of it, that was bad writing. So, whatever that escape out of the tree is going to be has to have been introduced to us in the first act. You can't all of a sudden in the third say, we forgot about our magic rope that gets us out of the tree. That magic rope needs to be introduced in the first act. [MUSIC PLAYING] You want the stakes to be high. I do think in those terms. Whether somebody wants the girl, or the money, or to build a computer that is better than they are, you want the stakes to be as high as possible so that we're sitting forward in our seats. Sometimes, the stakes are automatically as high as they can be. A Few Good Men, two guys are on trial for murder, OK? You don't really need to hype up the stakes there for everybody involved. Steve Jobs, you need to understand why it's so important to Steve that a product be perfect, that the rectangle have rounded edges, that the thing that everybody else is making fun of in terms of his perfectionism, you need to understand why that's so important to him so that we care if he fails or succeeds. [MUSIC PLAYING] Exposition is the first part of drama, and before you can do anything else, you have to tell the audience what they need to know in or...

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.

A tour de force on the beautiful craftsmanship of writing and structure. Exquisitely executed with ease and charm, from a man who is without peer

Aaron's masterclass was incredibly helpful. I thought his knowledge, lessons, and advice really resonated with me and my writing style. His help was invaluable. I would highly recommend his Masterclass to others. Thank you so much Aaron!

Not finished with it but I love how he gets to the heart of the matter.

I feel like I've gained a year of writing experience just by doing this class, a lot of helpful information which I know will be helpful down the road. Masterclass and Aaron, thank you!


Reme P.

Perhaps we'll get more of the page cadence when we go into the community forum, but I've adopted the assumption that for a three act screen play each act should be about 40 pages. I'd like to understand how much goes into Aaron's rewrites. For example, does he sometimes get to act three and realize he didn't introduce a gun in act one, precipitating a need to go back to act one and write it in?

A fellow student

Interestingly, he repeatedly disowns his vast knowledge in what seems to be purposeful humility with the intent to not insult our lack of knowledge which is a lovely quality. However, he discussed that very same dynamic earlier in the class between Toby and Jed on The West Wing. We're here to learn, our lack of knowledge, for the most part, is understood. Still, a lovely quality.

Fernando P.

The first 15 pages are the most important in a screenplay. The last 15 minutes are the most important in a film. I think the 60 - 90 pages in between are what will separate your story from the masses. I'm loving this insight, thank you Aaron Sorkin for sharing! :)

Ivette D.

I love this lesson. I think its pretty clear and I appreciate it more after you've listening to other people teaching. Great style!


Hi everyone! Message from the MC Community team -- make sure you join Aaron Sorkin's Class Community! There you can discuss writing techniques and other class material, network with other students, trade tips and reviews, and stay up to date on class contests & activities. Link here: Also, FYI! We recently launched a contest to win 2 tix to Sorkin's latest screenplay adaptation on Broadway, To Kill A Mockingbird. Learn more and enter here: Contest closes this Sunday, Nov 24 at 10pm PT. Can't wait to see your submissions!


Another great lesson! The first 15 pages of a script and the last 15 minutes of a movie are the most important. I'll definitely remember that!


You don't show the gun in the first act, but what about a new character comes in act 3 with a gun?


How do we manage to find the equilibrium exposition during the writing process , that prevents to fall in the trap of having the jury know more than the audience ?

Graeme R.

Such excellent advice. Thanks to Aristotle for his contributions to the art.

Nina T.

WOW! Thank you Mr. Sorkin! The first 15 pages of a Screenplay must be Kick-A** in order for a studio executive to take notice of your script! I leaned this theory many years ago when I first began to write magazine articles - their advice even then was the first 2-3 sentences MUST be what they call a Grabber! It’s what causes the reader to want to read more! Very similar to what Aaron is saying in this session, along with the importance of the last 15 minutes of a movie must not disappoint. Hit a home run? Make sure you run all the bases! Thanks again for your expertise.