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.

I have always thought of Aaron Sorkin as the perfect screenwriter, who just sits at his desks and writes the most sharp-witted scenes in movies, with no trouble. So it has been challenging to learn that he is first a man like many others, that with perseverance, passion and a study you can find your path.

It was an amazing masterclass. Really surpassed my expectations.

I think we're excited and committed to be motivated, directed and inspired to believe in our writing. I'm ready. :)

Aaron's methods on stressing the importance of creating writing meant to be performed and not read was very vital. I loved seeing the real action of the writer's room with the five other writers. Hearing his feedback on their pitches and their scripts was amazing and then hearing him give his own pitch really cleared up the mystery of how to turn an idea for a movie or tv show into a reality.


A fellow student

I love that he confesses that his speaking may wander and he would much prefer to communicate with the world on paper. To me, that is the sign of a wonderfully creative and stimulated mind that sees the abundance of exciting possibilities surrounding us all but his unique skill is to capture the core elements of what he sees and hears and chisel it into a story well told. I'm delighted by this opportunity to learn from such a remarkably skilled craftsperson. It's a privilege.

Jess J.

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!

Maxim O.

Great lesson. Intention & Obstacle is the root to any worthwhile story. I can tell that this will be a good class.

Tayyib M.

this was amazing. I am basically writing about a short film in which contains elements of horror and drama within 2 locations, a bedroom and a living room. This lesson was crucial to understand what an intention and obstacle is.

Javier D.

This is key in writing a story for film! I have to watch it several times. Beware is a hard part constructing the plot. Right now I have a very good sci-fi set up but trying to find a conflict long enough for the characters that is not a short story.

Meik F.

The thing with the moat and the castle and the princess...uhm no way...back then it was always about man power...what I mean is if u want to teach people stuff u always got to choose something that will not give the pupil much of a choice when it comes to symbolism...the imagination is a powerful if u as a good teacher wants to tach something in this manner u got to do better with your choices. Please don't be mad it me. I have a crazy wild imagination . If you create an obstacle that my imagination can overwhelm in an instant, well, then maybe u should be paying me?..oh you know know what I mean. You're the guy talking and I am the guy paying, soooo, I listen very closely and let my mind react to everything u say. So far, Just started and am at lesson 2 or 3? Like I said my mind does the wandering....I believe I am paying too much so far...but the thing how you control certain situations...well, that would take 50%, still paying 50% too much so far...

A fellow student

Perfect that this is the first real lesson. It defines drama. However, although it sounds simple it gets complicated quickly. I have come back to this lesson several times and each time I hear it, I get something new.

Stanley S.

I think this is on point, for it creates conflict and though drives stir purpose.

Yael H.

Dear Aaron and Everyone here, I had a question: How does this work in superhero movies? I mean, only later on in the story, are they opposed with the villain/obstacle. They have to get their powers first and develop them etc. Is it possible, that we only see their true intention later in the movie? Or do we have to see it from the beginning? Is it possible that their intention changes throughout the movie? Thank you so much for your response! Cheers, Y.

Joy H.

Does anyone where the worksheets/lesson plans are? Or how to download them?