Film & TV

Story Ideas

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 15:17 min

How do you know if your idea is good enough to turn into a script? Aaron walks you through the steps every writer should take to test an idea—and decide whether it will work best in TV or film.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting in 35 exclusive video lessons.
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There are two parts to having an idea. You first have to know what an idea is, and then you have to have it. An idea isn't I want to write about surfing, OK? I'm surfing. I'm going to write a movie about surfing. You don't have an idea yet. You know where to park the trucks, by the beach. You can write "Exterior Beach." There's a lot of waves, but you don't have an idea. You don't have an idea until you can use the words but, except, and then, things like that. It was a normal day like any other day when all of a sudden I went to the beach to go surfing, and the surfing was great, "but then." You don't have the idea until that happens. [MUSIC PLAYING] I don't know if an idea is good enough to turn into a screenplay. For me, it's not a matter of good enough. It's sort of the same way a batter decides what pitch he's going to swing at, right? The batter's looking for his pitch. His pitch is low and outside, high and inside, it's a hanging curveball. He's looking for his pitch. Now, the batter has about like 8/10 of a second to decide if that's his pitch because the ball is coming at him pretty quickly. I have longer than that. So, what I want to know is, first of all, is there drama in there someplace? Is there conflict? Sometimes you'll see a shiny object, and you'll think this is, boy, I really want to write about this, and it will turn out that there's no conflict. For instance, Harry Houdini is a pretty interesting guy, right? And a lot of people have tried to write about him, but kind of unsuccessfully, because it turns out that this very interesting guy really didn't have much conflict in his life at all. You would think that somebody who locks himself in a box, and goes 200 feet under water, and that kind of thing would have conflict, but he didn't. Basically, he did a trick, and got out, and then he did the next trick, and he got out, and he was happily married. He died under strange circumstances when he was in his early 50s, I think, but that's not a great pitch to swing at. With The Social Network, I saw a 10-page book proposal, and buried in that book proposal were these two lawsuits that was going on. And when I saw that, it's not like I could picture the whole movie in front of me or anything, but I just knew that that was a pitch that I could swing at. I've never signed onto anything where I was able to see it, and it was just going to kind of come out in the typing. Everything has been a long climb. But what you're looking for is intention and obstacle. You're looking for conflict, and you're hoping that-- and generally, the conflicts that I write about are ideas. It's usually not robbing a casino that has the greatest security system in the world. It's usually a conflict of ideas, and what you want is for the competing ideas to be equally strong. By the way, going with the baseball batting metaphor...

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.

Insightful and helpful, practical real-world tips.

It was very eye-opening and made me look at writing and storytelling from a different perspective.

This was amazing! Finally a Masterclass where I felt like I was able to ask the instructor what I wanted to know. The classroom chapters were fantastic. Well done Masterclass!

Thanks. Masterclass is the beginning! I'm excited and encouraged to keep going on this journey. Thanks for the wisdom!


Mary R.

When you speak about a character "metaphorically dying" -- what does that mean? Please elaborate and if there's a film example(s) that illustrate this, that'd be great to have a list of those to watch.

A fellow student

The most important line is in the last segment when Mr. Sorkin refers to intention and obstacle as "the conflict". To me it clarifies the relationship between intention and obstacle.

Zachary S.

It says to upload our short story adaptations to the rate and review tool. Does anyone know how to do this? I tried uploading my PDF file here in the comments but it said it wasn't an accepted file type. Where are we supposed to upload these scripts? I put a lot of hard work into this and it would be a bummer if it can't be read by the class.


Great lesson! I think that as a beginner screenwriter, starting with already-broken plots is good practice. Even if you are an exceptional writer, doing this can make you an extraordinary writer.

Freddy L R.

Loved this lesson! Really gave me great insight into what's visually cinematic in telling a story from the printed page to screen. Aaron Sorkin Masterclass - Assignment 3 (Short story adaptation) - Beat Sheet Freddy L Robinson 7/30/2019 Short story: The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell Published January 19, 1924 Beat Sheet prepared by Freddy L Robinson Genres: Suspense, Action, Thriller, Adventure, Dude With a Problem Log Line: A man survives falling overboard and soon after finds himself in the deadliest game of survival. (Freddy L. Robinson) A) INTENTION: Rainsford is a city-slicker going hunting for Jaguar up the Amazon River. B) OBSTACLE: Rainsford’s unprepared for unimaginable danger. C) CONFLICT: Rainsford becomes a huntee instead of a hunter, and he must learn a new style of hunting if he wants to live. *Assignment note: Although the assignment says to adapt the first 10 pages of our selected short story, I chose to do a beat sheet for a feature length screenplay in order to capture the story’s flow. BEAT SHEET OPENING IMAGE (p.1): RAINSFORD (40’s) smokes a pipe on the afterdeck of a Yacht on a dark and mysterious night. He HEARS 3 GUNSHOTS in the distance ahead. THEME STATED (p.5): (Payoff/Promise of the premise) “The world is made up of two classes - the hunters and the huntees (Rainsford).” CATALYST (p.12): After falling overboard,Rainsford falls from a high rock down into a jungle. DEBATE (pp.12-25): Rainsford debates if he should follow a trail through the jungle to try and find help, or climb back up from whence he fell. He chooses the trail. BREAK INTO TWO (25): Rainsford is greeted at gunpoint when he knocks on the door of a palatial Chateau. B-STORY (p.30): Rainsford gets taken in by GENERAL ZAROFF (60’s), who “Hunts more dangerous game.” (Promise of the premise) FUN & GAMES (pp. 30-55): General Zaroff introduces Rainsford to his “new invented sensation.” After he’s given two options, Rainsford becomes a huntee. The game begins… MIDPOINT (p.55): The General down Rainsford. Although he knows where Rainsford is hiding, he lets him live in order to extend the game. BAD GUYS CLOSE IN/ALL IS LOST (pp.55-75): General Zaroff closes in on Rainsford a second time. However, the General has brought a pack of special bred wild hunting beasts with him. Timing is everything, and Rainsford proves to be clever until… DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL (pp.75-85): Following a sure path to freedom, Rainsford runs into a “death swamp” at night, sinks into quicksand. BREAK INTO THREE (p.85): Rainsford starts thinking like a hunter again, while being hunted. FINALE (pp.85-110): Rainsford plans and executes his plan for survival. He takes the biggest chance of his life, and kills General Zaroff. FINAL IMAGE (p.110): Rainsford stands victorious in a bedroom window of the palatial Chateau, before he gets a good night’s sleep above the wild hunting beasts below. THE END NOTE: Since this is a short story two beats are combined into one (Bad Guys Close In/All Is Lost). So, instead of 14 beats in the beat sheet, there’s 13.

A fellow student

I haven't seen the rest of the Newsroom but the first three minutes are some of the most honest three moments of television in TV history. You are an amazing screenwriter.



Joseph B.

Now we're talkin'! I'm still captured by the man's openness, his personality. A word-perfect glib presentation like an "inspirational" con artist would turn me off. Instead, we have a real thinker, who shows us how one starts out with a basic plot, gradually fills it in *after* first settling on basics. For myself, the "uhs" and "ers" that others find off-putting pull me in. A snake oil grifter is letter smooth; this guy is a (re)writer. He's got me hooked. You can actually see the man *think,* folks! A privilege.

Jordan C.

Hello everyone! I am very much enjoying the lessons so far. As per the assignment, I've attempted to write the first 10 pages of what I think would be my adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell. While I have some experience writing short stories, this is my first stab (no pun intended) at writing an adapted screenplay. With that in mind, I'm still learning my ways around screenwriting a spec script in terms of format. If anyone could spare the time, I would absolutely love some feedback on this. If anyone has some suggestions or some other reading material I should consult, please let me know. I'm eager to get better and I appreciate any input. Thanks!

Charlie S.

Great lesson! The interactive assignment is not working for me though - it doesn't appear at the end of the video like I've seen in other masterclass courses and I can't find a way to access it. Help please :)