From Aaron Sorkin's MasterClass

Story Ideas

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.

Topics include: Finding conflict • Feature vs. TV ideas

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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.

Topics include: Finding conflict • Feature vs. TV ideas

Aaron Sorkin

Teaches Screenwriting

Learn More

Preview

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.

Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

The class has really helped with structure in the beginning. And making sure that you build the drama enough. It was reassuring to see Aaron's method of solving plot problems or to get inspired. Loved the group discussions and writers' room.

I really thought this was the best of all the masterclasses I have watched; Precise, clear, told with humour and passion for the craft. Aaron Sorkin really helped me pinpoint how to make my script stronger, how to address what wasn't working, with clear method and application. Love this guy! He's the real thing, no BS.

I felt like Aaron was really passionate about getting his message out to all of us. Great course!

I came into this training looking for anything that would give me a new angle on writing video and TV ads. Aaron is really clear with his concepts and now I cannot wait to use what he has taught me for new productions. Awesome!

Comments

EK T.

THE NEWSROOM IS STILL MY FAVORITE SORKIN WORK. LOVE MOLLY'S GAME. SAW IT THREE TIMES. PLAN TO SEE MOCKING BIRD. I'M SURE ITS GREAT. THE NEWSROOM IS STILL MY FAVORITE.

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! https://community.masterclass.com/t/feedback-on-10-page-script-intro/31724

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 :)

Herman D.

Im getting this error. Unable to download the PDF for the 3rd Lesson. Please help 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>2019-05-18T10:12:05Z</Expires> <ServerTime>2019-05-18T10:30:55Z</ServerTime> <RequestId>089F1B6FB4BC1CF1</RequestId> <HostId> A3eNEAow0rTkH29lLj8+EI2AuyitIIBKcl9ZmEa6GSRsCJuljjV94I1kqKyAwwoet3qmFbrqii0= </HostId> </Error>

Hector L.

This is based on the first chapter of a novel by Philip K Dick, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” which is the novel they based Blade Runner on. In this opening chapter, Rick gets into an argument with his wife. I’d love some feedback… https://community.masterclass.com/t/dream-fight/31467

Hector L.

This is based on the public domain short story called the Way of the Bow, by Paulo Coelho. I’d love some feedback… https://community.masterclass.com/t/the-way-of-the-bow/31466

Noah H.

This is very insightful but the thought of writing a 385 page screenplay is baffling and intimidating. I want to achieve that but I don't have the knowledge as to how. I'm excited to get to dialogue and how to write dialogue. Excited to learn more! Tallyho!

Melanie H.

Will not let me upload, so I'm posting here obviously formatting is out the window now but you can probably read between the lines. Adapted from the Bryan Cranston film "Wakefield" based on EL Doctrow's adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthornes "Wakefield". FADE IN INT. WAKEFIELD KITCHEN - EVENING Dianna Wakefield and her daughters set the dinner table as they, wait for Howard to return from work, late again. Steaming vegetables on the verge of being over cooked, as Dianna grows increasingly impatient looking down at her watch to check the time. DIANNA: 45 Minutes, again. Dianna calls Howard VOICE MAIL: Hi you've reached Howard I'm unable to take your call right now please leave your name num.... Dianna ends the call midway through the recorded message. GISELLE: Can we just eat now? Playing the perfect suburban wife Dianna smiles DIANNA: Just be patient girls, your father will be home soon. Dianna calls Howard a second time. VOICE MAIL: Hi you've reached Howard.... She hangs up on the phone, and calls Howard again. VOICE MAIL: Hi you've... Dianna ends the call muttering under her breath. DIANNA: Sometimes I could just kill him. CUT TO: (CONTINUED) CONTINUED: 2 Dianna drifts into a fantasy. Howard returns from work, he's late for what seems like the millionth time. Dianna has had enough, she is not interested in his excuses but is willing to play along. Below the surface the is seething but, the smile on her face tells another story as she helps Howard out of his jacket, planting a kiss on his cheek. DIANNA: Long day? HOWARD: Oh you have no idea what a day I've had, let me tell you. Dianna and Howard walk to towards the kitchen he rambles on about his long day, she hears none of it. DIANNA: That sounds just....Criminal. Dianna says with a seductive smile on her face as she lights a series of candles, setting a romantic mood. HOWARD: Where are the girls? DIANNA: They're visiting with friends I figured since you, work such long hours and can never seem to get home on time, we should have a special dinner just the two of us. Howard smirks at this wife who is stunning in the soft candle light. Dianna grabs two wine glasses placing them both on the table, and picks out her favourite red wine. The room is quiet, the cork makes a slight topping sound as she removes is from the safety of the bottle, picking up a glass Dianna begins to pour a wine so red, one might mistake it for blood and takes a sip. HOWARD: That looks delicious, care to pour some for me? (CONTINUED) CONTINUED: 3 DIANNA: Of course dear I was just going to serve you, your dinner first. Long day, and all. She smiles coyly placing a dinner plate in front of her husband. HOWARD: Can I get a knife, for my steak dear? DIANNA: A knife how could I forget? She grabs a knife holding it in a tightly balled fist as she walks towards him. Just before fulfilling her desire she is snapped back into reality. CUT TO: GISELLE: Can we just eat? Dianna tries calling one more time, this time hanging up before the voicemail an answer. DIANNA: Yes, I think thats a good idea. TAYLOR Should we make a plate for dad? DIANNA: That's an even better idea. Dianna smiled gently embracing her daughter knowing, Howard wasn't coming home for Dinner. She poured herself a glass of wine and swished it around the glass placing it on the table watching her young daughter prepare a plate for a man who couldn't be bothered to eat with them. Together Dianna and her daughters sat down and ate dinner, still no sign of Howard. (CONTINUED) CONTINUED: 4 INT. WAKEFIELD LIVING ROOM - 10PM The girls sat in the living room watching their favourite TV show DIANNA: Ok girls I think you've watched enough TV, is your homework finished? GISELLE: Mine is. TAYLOR: I didn't have any. DIANNA: That's great then, you can run along take your showers and get to bed young ladies. GISELLE: You're no fun! DIANNA: I Know! They both laugh. TAYLOR: Can I stay up and wait for dad? Dianna's face turned grim as she sighed. DIANNA: Not tonight honey, but I bet he'll be here just as soon as you wake up. She smiled at her. DIANNA: Don't give me a hard time young lady! (CONTINUED) CONTINUED: Taylor hugged her. TAYLOR: Goodnight Mom. DIANNA: Goodnight girls. Dianna attempted a few more times to reach her husband to no avail. She wasn't so concerned this hadn't been the first time he was late. She polished off a final glass of wine and headed back into the kitchen to grab the plate of food Taylor had put together for Howard upon his return. Aggressively she tossed it in the trash plate and all. Dianna then retreated to her bedroom turning off the light. INT. WAKEFIELD HOME - MORNING The sun came up beaming on Dianna's face, she rolled over to greet her husband only to discover Howard wasn't there. She got up from the bed and checked the master bathroom, the living room, the kitchen, even the basement. This time, Howard had not come home at all. DIANNA: Are you fucking kidding me? She stood confused in silence one hand on her forehead the other on her hip. She reached for the phone attempting to call Howard again, this time it went straight to voice mail.Dianna paced talking to herself. DIANNA: Okay, okay, don't panic. He probably just had a few too many and stayed at a friends house or something.... She kept her cool and headed back upstairs to prepare for the day. Making her girls' lunch and preparing for work as if nothing was wrong so as not to alarm the girls.She made their breakfast and had it on the table when they ran down the stairs all but ready for school. 5 (CONTINUED) CONTINUED: 6 GISELLE: Pancakes! Giselle began eating excitedly. Taylor on the other hand played with her food seemingly concerned. TAYLOR: Wheres Dad? Dianna forced a smile. DIANNA: Left for work early, you know how it he is. Come on girls hurry up you're going to miss the bus. The Wakefield girls rushed through breakfast. EXT. WAKEFIELD HOME - SAME They grabbed their bags and yelled back at Dianna; TAYLOR: Bye Mom. GISELLE: Love You. As they ran down the driveway and towards the bus. INT. WAKEFIELD HOME - SAME CUT TO Dianna began to panic, for as much as she hated her husband sometimes at the end of the day she had chosen to marry him. She checked the garage, his car was still there. She tried calling him, his phone was still off. She tried calling his office, no one there had seen him since the day before. DIANNA: Where the hell are you Howard? She returned inside the house rummaging thought every check (CONTINUED) CUT TO CONTINUED: 7 book and credit card she could find. Any indication that Howard may have left her for good, and when no logical explanation could be found she began to worry that maybe something had happened to him. Something even more sinister than what she had fantasized about the night before. Soon Dianna found herself in tears, she asked herself all sorts of questions and in a panic called her mother, Barb. DIANNA: Howard is missing! BARB: What do you mean Howard is missing? DIANNA: He hasn't come home since he left yesterday, no one has seen him, no one has heard from him, his car is still here and he isn't at work BARB: Good Riddance if you ask me. DIANNA: This isn't funny! What if something truly terrible has happened to him? What if he's dead? The panic in Dianna's voice became increasingly obvious as she imagines all the terrible things that might have happened. BARB: Oh for christ sake Dianna he isn't dead. Can't you see? He's left you and probably for a younger more attractive woman. DIANNA: What would I tell the kids? If, if something terrible happened to him they would be devastated. If he left me, how would we survive financially? I'd be a single mom and, what if he's missing, if we never find him how are the girls (MORE) (CONTINUED) CONTINUED: 8 DIANNA: (cont'd) ever going to recover. BARB: Dianna, pour a glass of wine and calm down. You just lost at least 180 pounds. DIANNA: You are probably the last person I should have called. Abruptly she hangs up the phone with her mother and takes a few moments before calling the police. DISPATCH: 911 whats your emergency? DIANNA: Yes hello, my husband is missing. DISPATCH: What do you mean your husband is missing ma'am? DIANNA: I mean my husband is missing, no one can find him, he hasn't been seen since yesterday, he didn't come home, his car is still here, he's just missing. DISPATCH: Would you like to file a missing person's report? DIANNA: Yes DISPATCH: Alright, ma'am I'll send a car to your home. EXT.WAKEFIELD DRIVEWAY - MORNING CUT TO The police arrive promptly to the suburban home knocking on the door. When Dianna opens it they enter the home. (CONTINUED) CONTINUED: 9 INT. WAKEFIELD KITCHEN - MORNING OFFICER: Good morning, ma'am. I understand you'd like to file a missing persons report? DIANNA: Yes, yes. My husband Howard is missing he hasn't been seen since yesterday. His car is in the garage, and he didn't show up to work. OFFICER: How often does your husband typically go missing? The officer chuckled, nothing bad ever happens in suburbia. Dianna felt queasy but, reluctantly and, nervously responded. DIANNA: Well, it's not unusual for him to come home later than expected but, this isn't common. OFFIFER: Can you describe your husband for me ma'am? DIANNA: His name is Howard Wakefield, he's about 6'2, 175 pounds, um I think this might be more helpful. She slid a photo of Howard in the officers direction. OFFICER: Thank you ma'am this is very helpful. I think we have everything we need. CUT TO (CONTINUED) CONTINUED: 10 EXT. WAKEFIELD DRIVEWAY - MORNING Sarcastically making jokes at Dianna's expense on his way out the door and, walked towards the squad car. Dianna watched him from the front window. CUT TO: EXT. WAKEFIELD GARAGE ATTIC - MORNING Leafy green trees cover the port window that sits above the garage the sun is shining in. Through the port window, Howard Wakefield looks out at his home clad in yesterdays business suit. INT. WAKEFIELD HOME - MORNING Dianna calls her mom once more, Barb picks up with a sarcastic comment. BARB: Have they found Howard under a young, blonde, intern yet? DIANNA: Your jokes are never funny. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I met with the police and, they're going to release a photo of Howard. With any luck he'll turn up fine BARB: With any luck, he won't turn up at all. Barb laughed. Dianna remained silent for a moment. DIANNA: I have to get going but, thanks for your concern and, genuine compassion or lack there of. CUT TO: CUT TO: (CONTINUED) CONTINUED: Dianna abruptly hangs up the phone. INT. WAKEFIELD HOME - SAME 11 Dianna is seen in her room applying a bit of makeup, doing her hair and dressing for the day. CUT TO EXT. WAKEFIELD HOME - SAME Dianna struts down the driveway in high heels and a form fitting pencil skirt, she gets into her car, and drives away. CUT TO EXT. WAKEFIELD GARAGE ATTIC - MORNING Howard looks out the port window revealing himself (to the audience) as he watches Dianna through the port window.

Melanie H.

Well it's not letting me upload a anything at all so I'm just going to paste my money scene here. As a result my formatting will be off so please try to read between the lines. All feedback is more than welcome. FADE IN INT. TOM'S HOUSE, AFTERNOON 
Tom sits relaxed on the couch watching his legs extended outwards using the coffee table as a foot stool when suddenly he hears the door bell ring. Tom Stands and walks over to the door. He opens it and immediately recognizes the stunning Blonde at the door. TOM: Hey, what are you doing here? Carmella stands at the door with a huge smile on her face and immediately pulls Tom into a spontaneous hug. CARMELLA: Well, I didn't know I needed a reason to visit a friend, but if you want one I could lie. She giggled flirtatiously. TOM: It's not that you need a reason its just that when you happen to show up there's usually a reason. CARMELLA: You're being silly. She giggled again. CARMELLA: Are you going to invite me inside or are we just gonna stand by the door and talk? TOM: Right, bad manners on my part. Please come in. He gestures with his hand for Carmella to come inside and she promptly struts inside comfortably. TOM: Can I get you anything? CARMELLA: You could get me a lot of things like a house in Malibu, or a Pony. I've always wanted a pony. She smiles playfully in his direction. TOM: Ha ha, very funny. CARMELLA: I know, I'm adorable, right? TOM: Definitely. CARMELLA: Yes, darling you can get me something, a drink would be nice. TOM: So is water ok? Carmella laughed hysterically. CARMELLA: Oh you're funny. no tom, water is not okay you know me better than that. TOM: Do I? CARMELLA: Well you've seen me naked so, I'm gonna go with yes. Cut the crap, I'll have a glass of wine please. TOM: Someones's fiesty CARMELLA: No, someones thirsty. Quit stalling. Carmella sits down on the couch and crosses her bare legs exposing plenty of flesh. Tom brings her a glass of wine and sits next to her. Carmella turned to face him making eye contact she smiles. CARMELLA: So what's been going on with you? Anything new and interesting going on in your life. TOM: Are you sure you're not actually just asking if theres anyone new and interesting in my life? CARMELLA: Well that wasn't the question but, now I'm curious. She sipped the wine and placed a hand on his thigh. TOM: Nothing worth discussing. CARMELLA: Oh so there is somebody huh, tell me all about it. TOM: Honestly, theres not much to tell. Carmella moved her hand slightly higher up his leg seductively smirking. CARMELLA: So that means you don't have a problem with me doing this? She giggled curiously and played with the zipper on his jeans. Tom's face becomes tense, as much as he enjoys Carmella's charms this time he won't fall into her trap. TOM: You know what Carmella, it's really not really a big deal but it's probably best if you keep your hands to yourself. CARMELLA: I mean I could but why would I want to? She offers a seductive gaze and stands up playfully dancing and singing in a joking manner. CARMELLA: (Singing) Cant keep my hands to myself, no matter how hard I'm trying to, I want you all to myself you're metaphorical gin and juice. Tom stares in awe of her beauty against his better judgement. TOM: Calm down there Selena. CARMELLA: Oh you don't like Selena? I have some other stuff in my arsenal. She dances with an air of pure seduction. CARMELLA: (Singing) Accelerate, come on babe pick up your speed. Stamina fill me up thats what I need. She picks up the glass and finished her drink, holding out her glass for a refill. CARMELLA: Garçon if you please! TOM: I don't think you need anymore of that you're already dancing like a prostitute. CARMELLA: Prostitutes are people too! She pouts her bottom lip. CARMELLA: Pretty please? TOM: One more, thats all your get. CARMELLA: Just fill the glass already. She wait patiently as he fill the glass back up and brings it to her, slowly she becomes nervous. Tom returns and places the drink on the coffee table. CARMELLA: Thanks, you've always been so hospitable. TOM: You expect me to believe you came all the way here just to compliment me on my hospitality. CARMELLA: Of course not silly, you're also great for a laugh. She smiles at him and he returns the gesture. CARMELLA: I miss you sometimes, you know? TOM: I miss you too but, things have changed. CARMELLA: They haven't changed that much or I wouldn't be sitting here, we both know that. Tom bites his tongue and Carmella takes a drink. TOM: I mean, I guess thats true. CARMELLA: I see you're been working out, and all of a sudden you're much more handsome than I recall. Is that a residual effect of no longer dating me? He laughed. TOM: It must be. So why are you really here? CARMELLA: I told you I'm just here to visit with an old friend... Tom cut her off mid sentence. TOM: Cut the crap. She sighed and looked down at the floor. CARMELLA: You're right there is another reason why I'm here. Before I go any further I just want you to know that if I could have gone to anyone else, I would've. TOM: That sounds serious, are you sick? CARMELLA: No I'm broke. My rent check bounced and if I don't pay it by the end of the week they're going to kick me out. TOM: Carmella, are you serious? He shakes his head. TOM: How did you manage to find yourself in this situation again> CARMELLA: Tom you know how I am, I live the high life. They being to argue. TOM: No you don’t live a high life, you’re living above your means. CARMELLA: You don’t understand! I just need your help just this one last time. TOM: You said the last time would be that last time, why should I believe anything has changed? CARMELLA: Because, I’ve changed! Look I wish I wasn’t so irresponsible but left to my own devices I screw things up and I don’t know how to stop it ok? Tom places his face in his hands and calms himself down. CARMELLA: Tom, please. I don’t have anyone else and I swear I’ll give It back. TOM: I’m sorry Carmella, I care about. You but I just can’t help you anymore. CARMELLA: Tom please!! TOM: You cant ask one of these rich kids you’re always hanging out with? CARMELLA: Are you kidding me? I would be exposing myself as a fraud. I swear I’ll give it back I just need a few weeks. TOM: You’re about to be thrown out on the street and you’re worried about you’re reputation? You are truly unbelievable. Carmella tears up. CARMELLA: You wouldn’t understand! TOM: I don’t want to understand! CARMELLA: Tom, I swear I’ll never ask you for anything ever again and I’ll pay you back. I’ll do anything you ask of me, anything! Tom wrestles with his conscience. TOM: Alright, alright I can’t stand to see you begging. Carmella wipes tears away. CARMELLA: Does that mean you’ll help? TOM: Yes, but this is the last time Carmella, the last time! Carmella jumps onto him and hugs him tight. CARMELLA: Thank you, thank you, thank you! You’re a life saver and I swear I won’t let you down. You don’t know how much this means to me!!!! Carmella smiles with relief, Tom rolls his eyes he doesn't believe this is the last time he'll have to bail her out. FADE OUT