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Arts & Entertainment

The West Wing Writers' Room: Part 7

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 13:00 min

As Aaron says, "You don't have to assault the audience with plot." The writers discuss the value of pacing—plus the limits of reality within fiction.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.
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What is your idea? Basically, our is pretty similar, actually. Just the person who is talking to President Bartlet is the only thing that's different. So my idea was for Leo to go check in on President Bartlet, and there was some question of whether or not he would be briefing the president still on a day-to-day basis, or whether or not he would be able to deliver that information, or whether something would be withheld because of the acting president's orders. That is interesting and that's something-- I'm sorry, did I interrupt you? I was just going to finish that thought-- Go ahead. No, it's OK-- and say that it would probably be President Bartlet's natural instinct to kind of give Leo orders or to find out more information about whatever it is, but he wouldn't be able to, and Leo would remind him. So it's sort of a call back to the end of 25. That's what we're looking for. I'll add my thought to that in a second. Let's hear your ideas. Kind of similar, only I thought it might be something that we haven't really flexed a lot is-- Bartlet knows Toby's had twins, but that's a new development at the end of 25. They haven't really talked about it. And there's this interesting parallel between Toby having gained children, and Bartlet having potentially lost a child. Sure. And that's a conversation that I think could happen because Bartlet-- maybe to distract himself, maybe because he knows how much it means to Toby-- asks him about his kids. He doesn't really know that much about them. He doesn't. Neither does Toby, for that matter. He just met them a couple of hours ago. I feel like the scene you're talking about is a good scene that has to come later. That right now we are still in the first hours of a really unthinkable crisis, and the kind of early-on talk happened in the Oval Office at the end of 25 in a moment where they're waiting. They're just waiting. Bartlet congratulates Toby and-- I can't remember what exactly what the setup line is, but Bartlet's asked Toby, what do you know now that you didn't know before? Toby said, babies come with hats. And then Bartlet says, slap a-- can't remember what they're called. Those-- Ankle bracelets. Bracelets on her right now and don't take it off. Here's what I know, and again it'll be helpful when we bring in the military, and intelligence, and Secret Service consultants. But here's what I do know-- ex presidents are entitled to-- every morning the president receives an intelligence briefing from the CIA. All the scary stuff that none of us know about. We know about one of them because it became famous. The PDB-- the President's Daily Brief-- that said, "bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States." Presidents get that every morning. Ex-presidents are entitled to get that intelligence briefing, as well. And some of them take it. Ex-presidents want to kind ...

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.

Just finished the 3rd class. It is just great to learn that the ideas I have in my head is usable and something i can develop and improve on.

I learned that dialogue is music; that you should act out your dialogue physically; that your story isn't a story until it includes such words as 'but, until, and then'

The community in the Hub has offered great encouragement and direction, and Aaron's lessons gave me direction and the footing I needed to begin discovering my voice in my writing. Thanks, Masterclass!

It has helped with motivation to write and with planning, structure, how to make and keep things interesting. Basicly how to expand on an idea to make it better.


Randy V.

This lesson - this whole Masterclass - is awesome! There are writers for hire and writers with a "very specific set of skills" who do well at the writer-for-hire game. And there are brilliant writers who can wrap their heads around almost any subject matter. But then, once in while you find a wonk, someone who is deeply, personally invested in some part of society. Tom Clancy was that kind of guy with the military and intelligence fields. Aaron Sorkin is that guy with government. The beauty of a wonk is that they have an obvious love of the subject matter, but because of that , they're extremely sensitive to its flaws. They make it clear how and why it can be admired, but they also point out where it's flawed, imperfect. And then, they show how to fix it. Aaron Sorkin has done a lot of writing in a wide variety of subject matter, and done it brilliantly (Molly's Game was great!), but clearly, as demonstrated in The West Wing writers room, his love is government, particularly the government of the US and granularly, the presidency. He was so right in everything he predicted about a Trump presidency that it's a little scary. Although, let's be honest, a lot of us saw this coming. The point is, the reminiscences, the humorous asides, the insights into the writing process make it clear that this is a true Master Class. The commenters below who consider it boring are - and I hate to be judgmental, but no I really don't - not writers. They simply cannot get their heads out of their own preexisting spaces (or "asses") far enough to realize that they are receiving a generous level of insight that is unavailable anywhere else. Granted, I've been a fan of Sorkin's work for years, but frankly, I imagined that he would be a closed-off, smarter-than-thou prima donna, who, like any freakishly good pro athlete, would make a terrible coach because it just comes naturally to them and there's no way to coach that kind of gift. On the contrary, he offers great insight into how to approach the basics of screenwriting and beyond, how to put your mind in the right place to figure it out yourself. No offense to Ron Howard or Helen Mirren, whose classes I found very well done, but this is, by a fair distance, my favorite Masterclass so far.

Frank T.

OH MY GOD! OH. MY. GOD. The ideas being brainstormed, the Problems being solved It was pretty phenomenal


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!

Master B.

Aaron Sorkin Thank U 4 Your Informative NRG, Wisdom and Know-How(Hands On) Guidance of "The Craft"! I'll Continue Studying William Goldman's work and May He Rest N Power. Continued Success to U and Your Impressive Panel of Talented Writers!

A fellow student

G. M. Thomas, WA We continue to construct scenes with the tension of two Presidents: Bartlett or riding on the 25th amendment, president ,Walkin, John Goodman. Toward the end of this segment. with teacher Sorkin putting class ideas on the board... We can talk about sending a drone to "take out" a pestilential political figure... as long as it is just talk.

Judith M.

Why are there so few ideas being suggested to Aaron? It feels as though he is doing most of the work, instead of mentoring them through the process. I had acts 1-3 as a skeleton for the episode overnight and I'm not an American, so had to look up relevant details like the 25th, and watch a show that I'd never seen before. I'd like to think that real writers rooms are full of enthusiastic people exchanging episode ideas and picking the best for the first few episodes, because that which does not fit in the first may be a good follow up later in the series.


I like the teaser ideas. I wish this could be made. I'd love to see the conflict between Walkin and Bartlett regarding Bartlett's loss of power. The ex-presidents even gets the briefing. Also, Abby finding out he took the 25th and lost his power would be awesome to watch.

Rowan S.

A lot of wisdom shared in this one. Fun and education... that's the ticket to keep 'em coming back!

Anastacia S.

The best writers are those whose hearts are broken over and over again by the poignancy of life.


2 cents: At 1am, the Bartlett's should be in the private residence packing to attend the funeral and trying to figure out where their licenses and credit cards are so they somehow travel as he is no longer President. The staff delivers boxes of stored personal belongings and empty boxes to collect their current belongings to make way for the new President. Maybe even some full boxes of the Walken's belonging. In looking through one of the storage boxes, Mr. Bartlett comes across Zoe's baby book and begins to flip through it. He rubs a favorite photo of Zoe with a thumb and declares, "You will not die at my hands!" or some religious staement about sacrifice.