Chapter 3 of 35 from Aaron Sorkin

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

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

Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting

Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting in 35 exclusive video lessons.

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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. You’ll learn his rules of storytelling, dialogue, character development, and what makes a script actually sell. By the end, you'll write unforgettable screenplays.

Watch, listen, and learn as Aaron teaches the essentials of writing for television and film.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Aaron will also critique select student work.


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

Aside from the technical know-how, I think what particularly helped me is hearing someone who's made it struggle in the same way that I do. After all, underneath every well-polished work is the heart of the story that beats in your viewer.

This is the best class and workshop that I came across ever in my life and this is an eyeopener to me and this course has given me a new vision and perspective to my writing as well as my film making approach! Thank you Aaron Sorkin and Thank you Master Class!

I’ve learned that myself and Mr. Sorkin think alike. I will keep on doing what I’m doing... just more of it.

Never seen someone tell you how something is so hard, yet at the same time make it seem possible. Very inspiring.


Hugh T.

Sorry, this is so trivial; but the piece of lint to the left of the top button on his vest is driving me nuts.

Alyssa N.

As a newcomer to screenwriting, I'm finding these lessons immensely helpful. I've taken a crack at the adaptation assignment, using the short story by Guy de Maupassant called "The Necklace".

Brendan S.

Interesting lesson, I wonder how much of it is more applicable to people who already are known rather than those of us starting out. I find any idea that I take the time to formulate I think is a good pitch and work on it, though probably I don't know its a miss until someone else tells me or the script is never picked up. Anyway, here is the assignment, first 12 pages of Call of Cthulhu. Those of you who know the story will see some immediate differences, but mainly I made some choices in an attempt to make it more engaging and have the audience be more invested in "What is going to happen next?"

A fellow student

I'm struck by how you've admitted that you wish you had written more plays, because that's where you're most comfortable. I'm the opposite. I'm still a little hazy on screenplay formatting (how to denote setting, character actions - what should I write down? what should I leave up to the director and actors to decide?), but as far as dialogue goes, I think I'm able to write for the screen well. It's the stage that throws me. Nearly everything I've tried to write for the stage has ended up corny and bizarre. I don't know why I have so much difficulty with that medium.


This chapter's pdf isn't working? Great chapter though. Really enjoying the class so far.

Tyler S.

I love that he can admit openly that he feels he never completed any script 100% the way he wanted to. And he's one of the best there's ever been, so that makes me feel much better about my own work because I feel the same way. The most important thing in the end, however, is to just do it. ^_^

Jason H.

I did my assignment on Jacob's Ladder by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Kayla Z.

Hello all, I enjoyed this assignment because it forced me to think on the fly. To take an idea that wasn't my own and morph it into something that felt like mine. I chose "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allen Poe. Horror is not my strong suit but it was exciting to write anyway.

Steve P.

Aaron, please don't beat yourself up about Newsroom. I thought it was brilliant. With West Wing as your television magnum opus, Newsroom was 92% of the way there, IMO. Oh, and I'm loving your class, so far!

A fellow student

Note to self: Conflict is necessary for any screenplay. Doesn't have to be world-ending. Just engrossing. Also, never do a screenplay about Harry Houdini.


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...