From Aaron Sorkin's MasterClass

Intention & Obstacle

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

Topics include: Intention and obstacle • Pressing your intention and obstacle


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

Topics include: Intention and obstacle • Pressing your intention and obstacle

Aaron Sorkin

Teaches Screenwriting

Learn More


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.

My purpose was to hear the point of view of a complex and accomplished creator. I'm not a dramatic writer but I write dramatically. I heard a great many interesting points that will help me write. And I'm a BIG FAN of "The West Wing."

Tremendous value! Brainstorming ideas is a lot easier now.

Great class with Mr. Sorkin. I appreciated the analysis of his work most of all. The writing room was an excellent learning experience too.

Thank you Mr Sorkin. Your masterclass has reinforced my commitment to chase and capture the muse. Peter Pillitteri



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.

Noah H.

It's interesting how well he describes what I have been understanding without any sort of context. It's refreshing to hear somebody actually say it and give what I know a name.


I love the analogies of intention & obstacle being a clothesline on which to hang your stories neatly or a driveshaft which underpins the plot and moves it forward. Thanks for the clarity.


Can intention be discovered once a threat is apparent? ie. When faced with danger, the intention is to for the protagonist to save herself/her son. And the obstacle is the danger.... Or does the intention need to be something that's there immediately from page 1?


And yes that wonderful learning of in this age of short attention span don't lose the audience. I have seen this exemplified beautifully in his own "The west Wing" or very nicely done in " Dr.House" or some cases in "Grey's Anatomy". Another example of great writing " The Boston Legal" impressed me a lot in this context. I can now place that into this framework