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Arts & Entertainment

The West Wing Writers' Room: Part 2

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 8:09 min

Aaron discusses what is needed in the teaser of the show and how to reverse engineer a plot.

Aaron Sorkin
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I would love for the Zoey's missing story-- for that cloak and dagger thing. I would love for that to be over at the end of this episode. But I don't think I can, because-- maybe I can, I don't know. Because what I really like, to me, like where the good stuff is, is Bartlet, the powerless king in his residence, basically under guard. I mean, we're in Shakespearean territory now. And his loyal staff having to deal with not being able to take his instructions. And is somebody, or more than one somebody, going to betray President John Goodman? And probably break the law in the process. I wouldn't mind if that went on for a couple of episodes. Maybe it doesn't have to. Maybe we can wrap it all up in this one. So what we need to do is reverse engineer what happened to Zoey-- figure out how we figure it out, how they're caught. I'm assuming that we want Zoey to live. She doesn't have to-- I'm assuming she lived in seasons five, six, and seven. But we can now do whatever we want. Here's why I'm assuming Zoey lives. I think it would be a pretty bad idea for her to die, because everything after that-- we're never going to have the Bartlet that we love back again. Right? He's never going to make another joke again, he's never going to care about pardoning turkeys again. We can't ask him to do that once he's lost a kid. So we're going to reverse engineer Zoey. We're going to get as much as we can out of Bartlet being a king in exile. I feel like we have to kind of nod at Toby being a father. It really empowered him at the end of season four. I'd kind of like to stay away from a baby in jeopardy-- you know, one of them is sick, or something, and do something else. We've got to deal with the deadline for Sharif, and we've got to start a couple of brand new stories going. We can't just clean up from the cliffhanger at the end of four. So like I said, the agonizing part is the thinking. And the thinking generally doesn't happen in this room. People can start to bat things around, but then usually, everyone retreats to their own offices and thinks for a while, sleeps on it, comes back in with an idea. We know we need some raw research on the 25th Amendment. And I may have gotten it right that first time, but I'd love to find out. We want to create some things that John Goodman can do that Bartlet strongly disagrees with, whether it's the way the Zoey situation is being solved. And again, I want it to feel real. The rest of the world-- well, the rest of the world would be captivated by this, and the rest of the world would be scared to death. I was going to say, the rest of the world is still going on, there's still a stock market, and stuff. But that thing that John Goodman is doing wrong can either be something having to do with Zoey, or it can be something having to do with anything that the president handles. And...

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.

I appreciate Mr. Sorkin spending his time helping us to get better at our craft. I'm excited to learn more about the intention and obstacle.

Excellent. Unpolished therefore more reliable in my mind.

I got to see behind the curtain, and I like it a lot! Coming up with ideas to push the story along looks very uh umm ah, cool! Also love the sitting.

A probable impossibility is always better than an improbable possibility.



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!

Usha D.

I carry one point with me from this which can make a story intriguing where a person or a group of people that knows as little as the audience does which is one of the basic rules of screenwriting I guess.

A fellow student

G. M. Thomas, WA Writing students are gathered together to brain storm the West Wing. Bartlett' daughter, Zoe has been abducted as of end of season four. John Goodman has been sworn in. We can do a quasi cloak and dagger. CIA has sound bite that show sounds from place that Zoe is being held. CIA determines that an airport is nearby; animal sounds determine a dairy is nearby, etc. We have the new president doing something foreign country would be adverse to. creating international embroilment.


I went on Netflix and watched season four of "The West Wing." They were as good as I remembered. I had forgotten Elizabeth Moss played Zoe. She was great in "Mad Men" and the "The Handmaid's Tale." Also, it was great to see Mary-Louise Parker. She was awesome in "Weeds." Anyway, I feel caught up and ready to spitball ideas for season 5, episode 1.

Eric S.

I haven't seen an episode of TWW but I thought a cool teaser could be Glen Allen Walken in the situation room as they try to locate Zoe and figure out who is behind the kidnapping. While he is speaking with various advisors about Zoe and which death con the country is about to go into, Bartlette is also there. He is angry and speaking in a hysterical way as any father would. Walken still referring to Bartlette as Mr. President out of respect instructs him to leave the situation room and that they are doing everything they can to locate his daughter. Bartlette continues on with his rant and after several more respectful attempts by Walken he finally addresses Bartlette by his first name. This catches the Presidents attention and he is once again asked to leave the situation room. This time Bartlette obliges and sombrely leaves the situation room. We then cut to a chaotic press conference as the press is yelling over one another to ask questions about the Presidents missing daughter. I don't know if this would work but I thought it might be a cool opening scenario.

Anastacia S.

I had not seen TWW ever and just this evening finished watching the last episode Aaron wrote in order to get the most out of this important lesson. At this point, the thing to remember is that the new president had declared that if there were a plane over restricted air space that carried his mother going to see her mother and did not respond to communications, it would be shot out of the sky. Opening with a similar type of situation where we think Zoey might be at risk from friendly fire/retaliation because of an objective decision interim President Walken (a/k/a Tip O'Neill) made in response to a similar type of threat would immediately set up the conflict between Bartlet and Walken.

Dennis F.

The idea that you noodle things around in the room, then go to your cubicle/office and later sleep on it is informative. It reinforces how I work. Similar to when I've seen a really good film. I can't tell you much about it except in broad strokes. Couldn't rate it on a 1-10, but once I've slept on it I can tell you just about everything. Writing the film is much the same way.

Margaret C.

Very unclear to me what the purpose of this simulated workshopping is. The students appear to be there only as props.


I think it is a good point to remember where your story lives and to ground it in its own reality.

Eli S.

I can't imagine being in that room with Sorkin, I would be so nervous giving my ideas haha