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.
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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.

Fabulous class! Just nice to hear that the struggle is real.

i feel like I know Aaron Sorkin after this. Very helpful.

Great class... so far. Now Aaron needs to schedule a follow-on class, say "More of Aaron Sorkin" :)

This is an excellent class. I enjoyed learning from Aaron Sorkin.


A fellow student

I think Aaron Sorkin is the most honest one of the all the instructors that I have been watched till now!

Giamanta E.

I love the part of space travel part:of appolo an events in the past.An I am liking what he is teaching.

Alexandra A.

Hello, everyone! This is my first class on Masterclass, I have just joined today and I am super excited! I have watched 3 lessons so far and I have a question so I wonder if anyone can help me. Mr Sorkin suggests "new screenwriters should dramatize a favorite short story whose plot has already been broken". What exactly does that mean? Does it mean that we should take already existing short stories and try re-writing them in a screenplay format? Thank you very much in advance!

A fellow student

This is a very good explanation of something I see in every single good story and find missing in every single bad one. Whether it's a TV show, book, short story, movie, or scripted video game. Classic storytelling relies on this. The good thing is, it doesn't make your approach cookie-cutter, because there are an infinite amount of character goals and an infinite amount of possible obstacles.

Mohammed H.

Could anybody elaborate on what he meant by "conflict can be ideas"? He slightly expanded on it by saying competing ideas should be equally strong. However, I'm just not getting how a conflict can be an idea.

Ella D.

I was a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin before this ... and now .. Wow. What a Bad A$$. I love that he gets right to the point, and I can completely relate to the round about way of explaining things verbally - yet finding a way to make stories coherent after allowing my brain to bounce around within the story and find the right order after exploring the terrain of the character's journey. I generally blame it on my ADD. In any case - I'm really enjoying this so far.

Glen G.

Where is the "Rate & Review" tool? The Workbook for this lesson says to "write the first 10 pages of a would-be adapted screenplay" and then upload it "to the Rate & Review tool to share with your classmates." Is there a "Rate & Review" tool or do I just post a comment here in the Lesson Discussion and add my 10 pages as an attachment? Thank you!

Sleeve E.

This lesson wasn't nearly as good as lesson 1. I took away several concrete concepts in it. In this one, he mutters a lot and seems to lose his train of thought. I know he said he's prone to that... but I didn't sign up to this so I could listen to him aimlessly babble, ideally I wanted to learn something each lesson. Just for you guys, this lesson isn't the strongest.


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!

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.