Film & TV

Writing Scenes: Part 1

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 9:18 min

A great story is more than just a collection of great scenes. Learn how to give your script momentum from one beat to the next.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.
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If you're not moving the story forward, you're standing still, and you better be careful about how long you're standing still because the audience won't hang out with you as long as you want them to. So, you have to be moving the story forward. Stories involve motion, OK? If you're about to write something, you're thinking about this thing that you're going to write, and the idea is that you're going to start at point A. You're going to go due north and end at point B, which is somewhere north of point A. But in the writing process, somehow, you stop going north, and you start going north by northeast, and that kind of thing, and somehow point B ends up being due east and not due north. You haven't done anything wrong. As long as you have traveled from one place to another place, you're in good shape. Your next script, you can go due north. In that one, you'll probably end up due west, and then you've got a third script where you can go due north. But you have to travel. There has to be motion. So, at the end of a scene, we have to be at least one step further than we were before. [MUSIC PLAYING] You can do a few different things to launch yourself from the end of one scene into another scene. You can have the next scene be an answer to a question that you asked in the previous scene. In other words, you can-- let's just take, for the sake of argument, the Jets and the Sharks, OK? West Side Story, the Jets and the Sharks. If you have a scene with the Jets at their hangout, it's before the rumble-- this scene, by the way, does not exist. I'm now making up scenes for West Side Story. This scene does exist. They sing "Cool Boy." The Jets are in their hideout, their hangout, and they're nervous for the rumble, and they're talking about the rumble. And someone says, gee, I wonder what the Sharks are doing right now? Lights up on the Sharks, and you do that. There was a really well-made HBO movie. It was written by Danny Strong called Recount, about the 2000 Florida recount, and every scene ended with a launch into the next scene. I mean, it was beautifully constructed. Every scene would end with, well, there's no way that the Florida Supreme Court is going to rule this way. Cut to the Florida Supreme Court has ruled this way. That kind of thing. And you know, Danny connected that together like LEGO blocks. It was perfect. Depending how you're structuring the script, the end of a scene can be kind of a mini climax, and it should jettison you into the next scene. [MUSIC PLAYING] Not every scene has to end with a cymbal crash, you know? But a scene does have to end with you very happy to move on, that you want to keep going. As opposed to this feeling that you're spinning your wheels, when is this thing going to gain traction, what am I supposed to be looking for. I'm not going to name the show, but there's a show on tel...

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.

The class has proved the writing techniques I need to know as well as the inspiration to move forward.

Honest and useful masterclass on the torturous craft of writing from a top practitioner)

I really liked it. He made it friendly and educational. Really good !

What have I learned? Be true to yourself and be true to your story. Nothing else matters. Nothing. I wish I could thank Mr. Sorokin personally. Truly inspiring class!


Melissa H.

I love that his default position IS writer's block and that he isn't the type of writer that sits down at 9 am and writes so many pages before lunch.

Śmigły .

I've experienced the "change in destination" as I've written a scene. It was almost like using one of those "mapping" programs online. I know where I want to start. I know where I want to end. It's just that the route to get there isn't the one I thought it would be.


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!

Tara Jade B.

I thought hearing Aaron talking about scenes was great. I recently got a feedback from a developmental editor (this is for a novel, not screenplay) and the editor was confused with ending of my chapters because "they seemed like episode endings with a little cliffhanger". She wants to be able to put the book down between chapters. But I don't :) I want readers to continue from one chapter til the next until the end of the book. So I was really happy to hear Aaron insist on ending of a scene (often a chapter in a novel) where it leads to the next one and people want to know more. Thank you!

Paras M.

Poorly prepared training. Talking in exposition, doesn't really help in the thinking or writing process.

Judith M.

Working on the scene page lengths and commonalities, I found the following: 1 page scenes were often flashbacks or flash forwards. A high proportion of which were opening scenes with an end hook, using the action (hot) triangle from the poetics bringing an emotive action to a focus point (Opening scenes Flashpoint series). The alternative being the internal (cold) triangle moving from a persons internal thoughts out to the world around them (Scenes with V.O.). 5 page scenes were often tension points moving from internal or spoken points to an action, or commonly a debate or argument leading to a resolution. The two triangles overlapping to produce a diamond shape in the middle. 1 character scenes, usually reflected personal choices or change points. Many of those would be considered plot points for a single protagonist. Star shape, all poetics in play. Multi-character scenes are often where we are trying to get the audience to understand choices or conflicts that the protagonist needs to make. They will often voice all the worries and doubts that we do not expect our heroes to admit to, and give such characters their own arcs to play out. This seems to be the most fluid type of scene in content terms, but always results in movement, whether internal or external in the plot. hexagon centre, the star points are folded in as each opinion or option is discussed. I tend to think of these scenes as more than 2 people.

A fellow student

G. M. Thomas, WA In writing our film play, we need to move the story along; we need to go somewhere. Sometimes we answer a question posed in the prevjous scene. Toward the end of the teleplay, there could be a mini-climax. Comedy, Aaron mentioned a bit of humor from the West Wing. He had planted much in the past that a chair was being repaired. Now in a subsequent scene the intelligent man doesn't look and falls because there is no chair.


Great lesson. Thank you Aaron for the "set-up early pays off later" advise. I've been working on that with my comedy script.

Fredy G.

So I officially started writing my script and could use someone to look at my first page to get some feedback message me if you’re interested I’d appreciate it!

Jake H.

I wonder what TV show he was talking about. That TV show for me was Westworld S2, where it spun it's wheels all season by slowly revealing a mystery instead of having characters launch from one scene to the next.