Arts & Entertainment, Writing

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.

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

Topics include: The 3-act structure • Exposition • Inciting action • Page numbers


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...

About the Instructor

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.

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Aaron Sorkin

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

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