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Arts & Entertainment

Rewrites: First Draft

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 07:50 min

Rewrites aren't a sign of a bad script; they're a sign of a good writer. Hear how Aaron reworks and strengthens his screenplays during the rewriting process.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.
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The screenplay isn't as good as you think it is once you finish it. Because you've probably got something good in your head. It feels really good in your head. It feels emotional. It feels sharp. But you probably haven't gotten all of that onto the page yet. And you discover that once you start reading it through. You become horrified that this whole thing doesn't even matter much, that kind of thing. This didn't work. Rewriting is a lot easier than writing. Because you have a problem to solve. You're no longer looking at an empty page with a flashing cursor. You have a problem to solve. This thing doesn't work here because. And you can attack that specific problem. I always recommend, if you're writing something, to get to the end of it before you start rewriting it. So you're on page 25. You look down. You haven't introduced the protagonist yet. You haven't introduced the inciting action yet. Don't crumple up those 25 pages and start again from page one unless you really want to, unless it really feels good. Get to the end. Get all the way to the end. Get to page 400 of this shapeless monstrosity that you're putting together. I don't know what sculptor it was who said this. It was a famous sculptor who was asked, how did you sculpt that fantastic statue of David? And they'll say, I look at a giant block of marble, and I take away everything that isn't David. Now, that's easy for the sculptor to say. It sounds really hard to me. But in writing terms, get to the end of the thing that you're doing. That thing then-- once you've gotten to the end of it, that's your big block of marble. Again, that clunky monstrosity, this unwieldy thing that doesn't work, that's your block of marble. But when you get to the end, you're going to know more about it than you did at the beginning. You're going to realize-- we talked about The American President in that 300, almost 400, page screenplay that had so much in it that wasn't Sidney and the president, that wasn't that conflict. To get to The American President, I just took away everything that wasn't that. And that's what we were left with. But I only was able to do that by writing the 400 page monstrosity and realizing, OK, where this thing lives is in the love story between these two people. So I recommend getting to the end of what you're doing and then saying, OK, I know what this is now. One of my favorite screenplays, certainly of the last 10 years and possibly of all time, is Tony Kushner's screenplay for the movie Lincoln, which also was originally 400 or 500 pages when he turned it into Steven Spielberg. And they looked at it and said, you know, the part of this we should do is the part where he's trying to get the 13th Amendment passed. And Kushner proceeded to take away everything that wasn't that and ended up with a fantastic movie about Li...

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.

Great insight on a variety of writing issues. Loved it!

Brilliant stuff...lots of learning about working together and the writing process x I really enjoyed it thanks x

This class has helped me learn the basics of writing a good screenplay and not to be afraid to fail.

It was great especially how and when to introduce intention and conflict, how to develop story ideas and character development.



This course is incredible opportunity to study with Aaron Sorkin. I loved the assignment, but it provoked confusion about our last lesson: Intention and Obstacle. I chose Franz Kafka's "The country Doctor." It is a riveting, page-turning story, so I assumed that the I/O and conflict must be there and I'm sure it is. But I find myself unable to articulate exactly what it is, especially as it seems to change and deepen over the pages of the story. Briefly: the country doctor has to get to a sick patient in the night. It is snowing and his horse is dead. Perfect. Intention: heal the patient, Obstacle: Can't get to him. But then horses and a groom appear solving that obstacle. Another is immediately created because now he is afraid the groom will hurt his female worker. And it goes on from there. This leaves me wondering as we structure our screenplays in macro way, should there be ONE intention and obstacle that carries the protagonist through the whole work, or can there be a series of them throughout and even have layers from the concrete to the existential?

Démie L.

Arh! Now, my History of Art is itching! I believe it was Michaelangelo who said this quote about sculpting (but I'm not 100% sure).

Śmigły .

I agree with getting to the end and THEN doing a re-write. --- I had written a few scenes of the first Act, and went back to look them over. I changed dialog. Changed it back. Couldn't figure out exactly where I needed to be. Gave up, and just kept writing the rest of the Act, then the Play. ------ I FINALLY went back to the beginning, and the re-writes I completed were much more solid.

A fellow student

Lesson 23: Rewriting is much easier than writing the first draft? I disagree! Writing your story gives you much more freedom. When you start rewriting your story you're already caught in it. It's creatively and emotionally (kill your darlings!) much more crucial to find a new path inside a story which ends at a given point in the story and that also not only works but is compatible with the rest of the story.


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!

Tara Jade B.

I had to laugh to hear him say "You probably have something good in your head, but you (probably) haven't gotten that on to the page". Yes, that is just about right ;-D Inside it sounds amazing! Outside: meh. Room for improvement. Brilliant!!

A fellow student

The Coen Brothers are brilliant. I watched Raising Arizona for the 1000th time earlier today. So great, I love that movie. The opening sequence is as original and well edited as story tellers can do it... As good as that scene is, it’s not my favorite in the movie. That distinction belongs to the Botched Convenient Store Robbery/Cop Chase sequence. LOL HILARIOUS.

Nicholas P.

I build a Croatian three stringed bowed folk instrument called a lijerica-Sorkins analogy to a block of marble, is the same for the instruments I make. I discovered that while writing. The way I write is exactly the same as building an instrument. I need a planed block of wood, nothing ornate or fancy can happen until I establish that rectangular block, and like Michaelangelo said, I have to remove all the wood that is not a lijerica. Just get everything down on paper. What did Hemingway say? Write drunk but edit sober.

Wayne J M.

Ear Opening - As an author I had used dialogue to reinforce my characters, their relationships and to guide the reader toward my story line. My rhythm was confined to the prose of short and long sentences, paragraphs and scenes. As I try the jump toward screen-writing, Aaron has given me this 'ear-opening' lesson; a musical rhythm to take with me into both fields.

Nina T.

Kill your Darling’s is great advice and is also very similar to what David Mamet said in his sessions. I noticed as I’ve been writing that there are a few scenes I’ve written so far that as I hear Sorkin and Mamet’s advice - I may have to cut them. Not sure yet, but at least I’m now willing. I cannot tell you how many times my husband and I have watched movies (which is on a regular basis) that we’ve both said there were scenes that did not fit and needed to go. I don’t want viewers picking my films apart like I have done with other writers and filmmakers. I am taking their suggestions under serious advisement.