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.

Not done but I love his style of teaching and he is the real deal!

Good teaching, more like sharing. learned much in the few classes. Excellent

the class by Aaron S. provides a lot of detail, insight, and reality to the screenwriting process and for a novice writer that was very helpful.

This class helped me understand how a pro does it and connect with people. it also gave me a insight how the TV Studio does build a Story as a teamwork. Thank you for that .


Julian D.

Aaron is talking here about the three-act structure, of course, which was first promulgated by Aristotle as he says. You either believe in it for screenplays or you don't. Most writers do. Those who don't, say the three-act structure is a traditionally a construct for theatre plays (to provide interval breaks) and has nothing to do with movies (though having a structure to work within can be useful for new writers). But it's deeply flawed. For one thing, the second act being twice as long as the other two is conveniently split into two with a midpoint so effectively there are four acts. Some gurus like John Yorke (in the UK) go further and promote the five-act structure (followed by Shakespeare). One of the fiercest opponents to act structure is John Truby who says the story should grow "organically" (though his 22-steps generally follow the hero's journey paradigm).

Coach T.

I followed Aaron Sorkin's suggestion to read the script while watching the movie. I did this with the movie "The Favourite". Most of the dialogue was used in the movie as written in the script. Some lines were shortened. The scenes were sometimes done in a different sequence than in the script. Probably the biggest difference in the script and the movie is that many of the scenes in the movie were done at the same time in the movie as they moved from one to another simultaneously. It was an interesting activity for sure.

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.