Film & TV

Intention & Obstacle

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 10:11 min

Every great story is born from intentions and obstacles. Learn how to build the "drive shaft" that will set your script in motion.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting in 35 exclusive video lessons.
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What I need before I can do anything is an intention and obstacle. OK? Somebody wants something. Something's standing in their way of getting it. They want the money. They want the girl. They want to get to Philadelphia. It doesn't matter. But they've got to really want it bad, and whatever is standing in their way has got to be formidable. I need those things, and I need them to be really solid, or else I will slip into my old habit, back when I was 21 with the electric typewriter, of just writing snappy dialogue that doesn't add up to anything. We won't be moving forward. So let's say, for instance, that you and a friend, you and a couple of friends, one summer, or after you graduated from college, you drove cross country. OK? And on that trip, some weird and cool stuff happened. And you think this is going to be a good screenplay. You want to write a screenplay inspired by this cross-country trip that you took with your friends. Great. I want to hear your stories. I'll bet they're good. But you can't start yet, because you don't have an intention and obstacle. So let me give you one. It's not like we haven't seen this before, but just as an example. It can't just be a leisurely drive across country. Somebody in that car has-- you're going from New York to Los Angeles-- somebody in that car has to be in Los Angeles at a certain time on a certain day six days from now. It's super important. It's a job interview. It's their friend's wedding. It's something. They have to be in Los Angeles. Things are stopping them from getting there. They had a whole plan. We're going to take this route and that route, we're going to do this, and we're going to get there with plenty of time. But there are now going to have to be flat tires along the way, and weather, and getting lost, and anything else you can throw at it. Once you have that intention and obstacle, now, like a clothesline, you can start hanging those cool stories from the real trip across the country that was the reason you wanted to do this whole thing in the first place. You have to build the drive shaft first. And that drive shaft can only be intention and obstacle. That's what creates friction and tension, and that's what drama is. If you don't have that, then it's journalism. [MUSIC PLAYING] How do you know if the intention is strong enough? How do you know if the obstacle is formidable enough? You do what's called pressing on it. You press on it. The intention. If the intention is, OK, we're driving from New York to LA because we've got some friends in LA that we want to see. Well, that doesn't seem very urgent. It doesn't seem like you have to be there on Tuesday. You can see your friends on Wednesday. You're driving to LA because you've always wanted to see the Dodgers play in Dodger Stadium. Again, i...

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.

Loved listening to Aaron lecture, share his experiences, and engage with his students around the table. Feedback on writing needed.

Watched it hile working on my first feature project. Great classand highly recommended.

The dynamic workings of a team of writers. Know your characters, bring them to life by feeling them. Research, prepare, focus. Do study Aristotle's Poetics for a Screenwriter - I do have a copy. :) Thank you, Arron Sorkin. It has been an inspiring joy to follow your Masterclass. Karmen

The collaboration sessions were brilliant. Learnt a great deal from them. Thank You Master Class!


Brandon J.

From what I can see here, the intention and obstacle method in screenwriting is an easy tool for beginners (such as ourselves) to kickstart the narratives from our heads onto our papers effectively. And, from what I can also gather, most stories follow this sort of method. Are there a few exceptions? Of course there is! As with any body of people who are given rules, there will always be those who try their damnedest to experiment; its only natural! Once I completed the required materials for this lesson, I found myself more aware of this rule in the different forms of media. Such as, in television (and I watched The Office [S7 Ep. 5 “The Sting”]), the “I & O” is introduced immediately as if you were struck against the head with a baseball. This is for the purpose to hook the viewers just as Sorkin said. And with theatrical productions (I watched The Man Who Came to Dinner [2000]), the I & O comes in the second act: a mere thirty minutes after the raise of the curtain. A slow lull into the jaws of the narrative, sure, but with this sort of platform it is okay to have build up before the actual story begins. Then, of course, movies are the in between. In Butch Cassidy the I & O is introduced maybe ten to fifteen minutes after the opening. But then there are movies like the one I watched, Gerald’s Game (2017), where it is introduced maybe seven minutes... tops. And what I found most interesting-and, please, correct me if I am wrong-is that there could be multiple I & O’s throughout a singular narrative. Such as with The Office episode that I watched. There are different I & O’s for the different characters that can mingle with other intentions or obstacles to create a complicated web. Or, just like the original starting intention of one character can morph like a blob into a completely different intention by the end of that story. Example, at the beginning, Michael wants to win the sale over his company’s rival competitor. He lost the sale. What now? He wants to learn the sales techniques that make his rival salesman better than he. Well, that doesn’t work out too well. What now? Michael wants to hire him. See? The starting objective for Michael at the beginning of the episode is the opposite from what Michael wants at the end of it. So that is something that I have found interesting and will take away from this particular exercise. There CAN BE multiple intentions and obstacles. What are some of the more interesting things that you have taken away from our homework?


A strong clear intention and a formidable obstacle! I can already tell that this class is going to be great!

George B.

So far, so good. We seem to be fertilizing the pasture... (an Indiana thing?). Hope something good comes up!


This helps clear up ideas that need ironing out before you can start. And I like that it's very relatable, many times I've heard the friend who says "We should write that story," but they haven't got a story, just a few connected events from a drive. Having a handle for the intention and obstacle will definitely help with the timing of stories and plot.


She can't get there a day late because the surgeon is going on a four week vacation on Friday and the patient only has until Thursday live without the operation. Press on it.

Product D.

I & O huh Aaron ? What would that be in the Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds ? What would that be in the Matrix ? Your formulaic cookie cutter approach to writing scripts is a paradox. The #1 Rule about writing is, there are no rules.


Very simple and insightful lesson! An intention and obstacles approach is a very handy way to look at building stories! What I really liked about the this lesson is that its simple enough for anyone to follow and that there is an assignment to get us started to practically writing things down in a screenplay format. So I did the homework assignment on writing the 'first ten scene screenplay based on an existing story...' where do I submit it ? Do we get graded on these assignments? And does this translate into any certificate of completion? Any chance of getting a feedback from Aaron? Thanks for reading this and do let me know:)

Kimmie F.

I find Aaron's teaching real and honest and I appreciate that! As a beginner in this realm of screenplays, I feel the information is very clear and concise, easy to grab on to - I am eager for the rest!

Amy Y.

What would you say for stories that naturally have lower stakes / less external conflict. For example, do you reckon for, say a dinner party: intention of just having a nice evening with friends, obstacle of someone you don't like being invited, that sort of thing? It feels pretty weak and like it doesn't hold up to what he says about pressing. I'd be interesting to hear thoughts!

A fellow student

I really liked this real first session ! I'm looking forward to see if/how Sorkin developpe the repercussions of I&O on the personnalities of the protagonists. Very excited to continue this lessons.