Film & TV

Rules of Story

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 8:05 min

The rules of great drama aren't new. Here, Aaron explains how most of them were laid out more than 2,000 years ago by Aristotle in his Poetics, and how to use those lessons to become a diagnostician for your own story ideas.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting in 35 exclusive video lessons.
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The best way you're going to learn about screenwriting, about writing for television, about writing plays, is by watching movies, watching television, watching plays. And mostly, reading screenplays, reading teleplays, reading plays. Pick your favorite movies. Pick your favorite five movies. Find the screenplays for those movies. Sit and watch the movie with the screenplay on your lap. See exactly how what's there on the screen, what it looked like when it was on the page. People who love cars, they take apart cars. They started by opening the hood of a car, getting underneath a car, and just taking everything apart and laying it on the floor. Do that. People who are super into computers, they all have one thing in common. When they were 9 years old, they built a computer or took one apart. They took their parents' computer apart and laid it on the floor. There are some people who have never taken a music lesson, can't read music, and they sit down in front of a piano, and they just get it, and they can play. I'm sure that there are people who can sit down and understand what a story is without ever having been told what a story is. I wasn't, but I learned the rules of story first by I went to college and got a BFA in theater. You know, it was an academic approach to drama, which is learning Aristotle, learning the parts of drama, theater history, reading a lot of plays, and talking about, OK, there was the exposition. Here's the inciting action. Here's the action, reversal, climax, and denouement. [MUSIC PLAYING] There is a tendency to think that art is finally the place where there are no rules, where you have complete freedom. And I'm going to sit down at the keyboard, and it's just going to flow out of me onto the paper, and it's going to be pure art. No. What you're describing is finger painting there. Rules are what makes art beautiful. Rules are what makes sports beautiful. Most popular sport in world, soccer. If you were allowed to pick up the ball, run into the stands, run down to the other end of the field, shoot the goalkeeper in the head, and toss the ball in the net, it wouldn't be a very interesting game. It's the rules that make it beautiful. Think about the rules to baseball. Abner Doubleday was a freaking genius. You know, that's a great game. Football is a great game. It's the rules that make sports beautiful, and it's the rules that make art, not finger painting. Think about music and all the rules that music has. Anyone who studied music for a year or two when they were in elementary school, anyone who picked up a flute or a trumpet, knows that at the beginning of every piece of music, there's a time signature and a key signature. If you're in 4/4 time, it means there are four beats in a measure and a quarter note gets one beat. There can't be five beats in a measure. There can't b...

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.

It was very good. I have lernt quite a lot. Actually, I heard everything for the first time! And it was very important for me to take a lot of messages, that will help me. Aaron hat a lot of ideas and wants to tell us everything at once, what is interesting from ihm. He was sincere by the informations, gave me a lot of ideas and motivated me pretty good.

The Yo Yo Ma of dialogue...who must tire so from all the flattery. Just 'slip his meal under the door, and let the guy write', as he's said.

Aaron Sorkin gives me confidence I am convinced that this method to explain how to write is a lot very interesting

to stay true to the stories that I'm drawn to unless I want to serve the audience the McDonald's equivalent of a mass appeal story.


A fellow student

I teach script analyses and I love this lesson. I will use the fingerpainting a analogy. I am told people cant creatively write if they have to follow rules, or a formula. This lesson says very well what I try to explain with the analogies of sports and music.

A fellow student

Love the info, missing the PDFs. I keep getting this message: This XML file does not appear to have any style information associated with it. The document tree is shown below. <Error> <Code>AccessDenied</Code> <Message>Request has expired</Message> <X-Amz-Expires>3600</X-Amz-Expires> <Expires>2019-04-23T02:30:13Z</Expires> <ServerTime>2019-04-23T03:17:00Z</ServerTime> <RequestId>A4BA7C333E489C1B</RequestId> <HostId> d1zif4f4dB4ZGLPw4DRODRMwKgrJLPnNW8RxRW9D7X2ofTTZd4EwGMo2E4yzMHSZ23g7dwLoI/o= </HostId> </Error>

Kumar I.

Wonder if Plato's conception of art being an imitation of an imitation was the inspiration behind Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club; "Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy"... Intent: make an Imitation of 'an imitation of an imitation' ; Obstacle: Well you don't talk about Fight Club.

A fellow student

Never would have thought of Aristotle as an inspiration for writing, i dont know if those rules are whats lacking in many recent films. I could be wrong, but anyway its insightful and good information.

Antony P.

Wow, so inspiring and SO helpful how Aristotle's Rules of Drama & 10 Websites of screenplays are provided... This course just paid for itself...

Christian T.

"Rules are what makes art beautiful." Think I'm gonna get this tattooed. Joke aside, this is such a great monologue and overall lesson, that applies to so much more besides writing.

A fellow student

Thanks goodness there was an audio version of Aristotle's "Poetics". I may have never gotten around to it. But I would also recommend every aspiring writer take a look at it for themselves. Seriously, there's some good stuff in there.

Vickie R.

Very good piece of advice which I was never taught back in college. I do remember I had a very grouchy "J" school teacher at the local college here who told me "Vickie, never attempt to try humor again in your writing." I was CRUSHED and went home, cried, complained and then went back to being funny again. All I know is a lot of my friends found my antics funny and they loved my storytelling and till this day they still remember my stories of life in NYC back in the 1980s. Bad move for a person in a position of power like a "J" school teacher to tell that to a student. Even if I wasn't funny, it wasn't her job to say that. Another teach gave ma an "F" in art and I warned him before the class that I was NOT a fine artist like Frieda Kahlo but rather a cartoonist like my "uncle" manny Gould who drew the Pink Panther and Fritz the Cat. I actually started out my career as a cartoonist before I ever took an interest in writing. Decided to look for the very first script I wrote at the 93nd street Y about my family eating at a famous deli and I have to say it was FUNNY. Everyone was crying and doubling over about my description of how my dad eats and orders his food in a fine deli. And my NYC teacher (Marymount Manhattan College) rewarded me with an "F!" I was so upset I threw the script away but I think my parents may have salvaged it so I might try and re-write it again.

Judith M.

Fault finding with computers is a pretty good analogy that is easy to understand, yank open the box and take necessary voltages or test points (Watch the movie with the script), then analyze what went wrong and remove those scenes (take out the boards that are faulty), in some cases only minor work is needed, so rewrite it (component level repair) or throw the scene away permanently and replace it (board swop). Beyond salvage = start again. Sadly I think only the Sinclair was around when I was a kid - ZX80. Good point on the Poetics. I haven't read it for years. If you like strange facts, that soccer where you can run with the ball, tackle, has no rules, and you can throw the ball at the goalie is a military game in the UK called Murder Ball. Strangely it is fun to play, through you will get covered in bruises. Scoring the winning goal for your team however remains a memory that you just don't forget. Movies: The Sixth Sense Contact When Harry met Sally You've got Mail . . I also hate saying this because it feels like sucking up to the teacher...The American President

George C.

Here's a rule I've heard. If you are learning something that's new to your experience, you have to hear it 3 times before you believe it. That's about right. This is the 3rd time I've been schooled about following the rules of script, which I think is synonymous to the Hero's Journey. I've blown it off twice but now that I've heard it for the 3rd time from Aaron Sorkin I will submit.