Chapter 2 of 35 from Aaron Sorkin

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

Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting

Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting in 35 exclusive video lessons.

Learn More


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. You’ll learn his rules of storytelling, dialogue, character development, and what makes a script actually sell. By the end, you'll write unforgettable screenplays.

Watch, listen, and learn as Aaron teaches the essentials of writing for television and film.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Aaron will also critique select student work.


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

Loved it so far. I've watched the first five lessons and will go over them again so that I can get the deep information that I need. Thank you.

Great fun, but a little too anecdotal - I guess I was hoping for more nuts and bolts advice.

Very insightful to see how Aaron's mind works and how that wisdom can be applied to my own work. It eased some of my insecurities and got me writing.

I like the fact that Mr. Sorkin talks to us as if we were having coffee at a diner. He is extremely effective at getting his points across.


Nina F.

I have three intention ideas. I'm having a difficult time deciding which one to focus on.

Dave B.

I've got this idea for a screenplay that I'm in the middle of the second draft, but I haven't formatted it correctly. I'm looking to buy Final Draft 11, which is a screenwriting program, and I'll but that once I've learned more of what you're teaching.

Matthew C.

I don't normally struggle with intention and obstacle as much it's more that I don't know how far into detail I should get. When should I cut it off? Is it okay to leave certain things a mystery?

Dave L.

Although I'm not a screenwriter my intention (pun intended) is to borrow a few techniques for my field. "Whatever you're going to do please do it in the first two minutes." is sage advice for keeping the audience interested.

Bernard G.

My intention is to really understand the creative process for screenwriting The obstacle was not believing this concept could be explained so elegantly. I didn't say intention/obstacle isn't hard to accomplish throughout a screenplay, but I am thrilled at the elegance of the simplicity of getting and keeping the attention of the audience.

A fellow student

This is actually great advice. You never really stop and think about it but just about everything you do in life is based around something; waking up to go to work, getting paid, completing a project by lunch, remembering your mom's birthday, not missing the gym because you sure didn't miss the cheesecake at dinner yesterday! Can't be a crime if there isn't a body.

A fellow student

Most of the obstacles given in the examples can be encountered externally. Can an internal struggle (e.g. an illness, or mental condition) be considered an obstacle in a similar fashion?


William Goldman said, "Screenplays are structure, and that's all they are. The quality of writing—which is crucial in almost every other form of literature—is not what makes a screenplay work. Structure isn't anything else but telling the story, starting as late as possible, starting each scene as late as possible." Is Goldman overstating to make a point? Is he being provocative for some reason? I've watched episodes of the West Wing where the writing, the words, mattered. You could see the actors relishing the layered complexity of the dialog and the structure (ie context) they were in. "Structure isn't anything else but telling the story...". That's a pretty broad definition of structure. I think I know what Goldman means: unlike a poem for instance, where every word, every space and punctuation are deliberate, a screenplay is not made of the words a writer chooses as much as they are made of how the story is told. Hmm, not sure about this. Ok intention and obstacle, both need to be compelling. I like that Sorkin referenced Goldman.

Brendon O.

I'm taking this class over from the start after getting caught somewhere in the middle, and it's a good thing.

Kevin B.

As a screen-writer, I already have goosebumps about this class. I know I'm going to learn and then excel with this. On to the next session.


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...