Published by: Julia
Screenwriting requires attention to detail, the ability to write good dialogue, tell a strong story and more. Aaron Sorkin´s masterclass teaches you all of this. His 8-hour long course leaves nothing out.
A bit about your screenwriting teacher
Your teacher Aaron Sorkin is a very experienced screenwriter, playwright, producer, and director. He is most famous for his TV work. In particular The West Wing and more recently The Newsroom. But, he is also the man behind films like A Few Good Men, The American President, and Steve Jobs. Aaron has also written several highly successful Broadway plays and is also an Oscar winner.
The fact that he is such a prolific writer and covers so many different genres means you are bound to be familiar with some of his work. As a result, this writing masterclass has a broad appeal. Fans and film buffs will find it just as interesting as someone who wants to learn how to write books, plays or film scripts.
An in-depth writing masterclass
Aaron´s screenwriting masterclass is one of the longest available on the masterclass.com platform. It is very well organized and in-depth. If you only have time to take one of the many writing courses they offer, this is a particularly good course.
My recommendation would be that you treat yourself to an all-access pass. It will only cost you the same as if you were to buy two individual masterclasses. Yet that pass will enable you to take every one of the 80 odd courses they have available. So, you could take all 14 of the writing-related classes. They cover every kind of writing, including fiction, non-fiction, documentaries, stage plays, and film or TV scripts.
If I were to tell you about everything I learned from Aaron, we would be here all day. So, instead, I have created an overview of what you can expect to learn from this 35 video writing course.
Aaron Sorkin´s writing course offers something different
When you read what Aaron writes, or watch his shows and films you soon realize that there is nothing formulaic about his story arches. Aaron always has something new to say and comes up with fresh ways to do so.
His creative process is different from that of many other writers. Using my all-access pass, I took all 28 of the writing and filmmaking masterclasses. So, I know for sure that Aaron really does work differently.
By the way, that all-access pass represents fantastic value for money. For one initial payment, you can take all 80 of the masterclass courses. Including new ones as they are added. But I digress, we need to get back to reviewing Aaron´s brilliant writing course.
Aaron´s intention and obstacle method
Before Aaron starts work on a piece, he goes through a process called “intention and obstacle”. First, he sits down and comes up with something that his characters desperately want. The thing or things that drive them. Then he thinks of a formidable obstacle that he can put in their way.
This framework stops Aaron´s stories from drifting off course. The intentions and obstacles he has come up with for his characters help to keep him anchored while he writes.
In his first video, Aaron covers his intention and obstacle technique in detail. He explains how to come up with them and use them to keep you on track. As well as when and how to introduce the intentions and obstacles to your audience.
How to come up with story ideas
Every writer has a different way to come up with story ideas. Some use their own life as inspiration or that of friends. Others watch people on the street, which sparks ideas for them.
Unusually, for Aaron, it is places, shows, and events that sometimes act as the catalyst for a story idea. For example, he was inspired to write the TV series Sports Night while watching the ESPN show “SportsCenter” and pondering how it was made.
Developing your characters
The intention and obstacle phase of Aaron´s creative process is a critical one. This is in part because that is what provides them with their purpose and motivation. It is also what takes then on the journey that will shape the way they think and act.
When it comes to characters, Aaron takes a fairly straightforward approach. He lets the plot dictate how much he needs to develop each one. This saves time and energy because it ensures that you do not end up developing unnecessary elements of their personality. You can leave it up to the actor to create their backstory and round your characters out.
For me, the second video in this section was the most useful. In it, Aaron explains how he goes about developing characters with which he has little in common. That includes anti-heroes.
Getting the research stage right
Every writer needs to be an effective researcher. Again, Aaron´s approach is a little different. He is very precise about this part of the creative process. During these two videos, he covers the following:
- Who to talk to
- How to conduct an interview
- Avoiding carrying out meaningless research
- How to research dialogue
- How to write about real events
It was interesting to hear how he handles things when he is writing about real-life events. Aaron is clearly a moral person with high standards. He works hard not to harm the people he is writing about and tell the truth. But, he also knows how not to get too bogged down in the tiny details.
If you are writing non-fiction, you have to judge for yourself what´s the more important truth.Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting Masterclass
Make sure you understand your audience
Regardless of what you are writing, you need to engage and take your audience with you. Aaron starts this lesson by talking about the work of George Seurat the pointillist painter. He painted in a way that enabled the viewer to create more vivid colors in their mind´s eye than he had applied to the canvas. This sounds strange, but, when you take the course you will understand what this means. As well as how it applies to the art of writing.
Aaron shows you how to provide opportunities for your audience to participate. For example, providing them with the chance to work out a few things in advance. To see where the plot is going. When they can do this, it keeps them more engaged.
But, you need to be careful. You have to get the balance right and avoid confusing your audience.
If you put confusion into the mix, even the tiniest bit of confusion, an audience is gonna be apprehensive.Aaron Sorkin – Masterclass.com
Writing captivating dialogue
Nobody writes dialogue like Aaron Sorkin. I am a huge fan of The West Wing and must have watched the whole series at least 4 times. The show is already 20 years old, yet it is full of fantastic lines that are still fresh, interesting and relevant.
Sorkin loves language. So much so that what he writes has a kind of musicality. It has a rhythm and pace. Now, I know that this sounds complicated and in a way it is. But, Aaron takes you through a surprisingly effective exercise that will help you to learn how to do what he does.
He also walks you step-by-step through a scene from The West Wing. One that perfectly demonstrates what musicality is when it relates to dialogue.
Learn the rules of storytelling
If you want to know how to write a good story, sit down and deconstruct your favorite movies, plays or books. Every person who is good at PCs has taken one apart. The same is true of the best mechanics. At some point, they have stripped down a bike or car apart and put it back together.
Aaron encourages you to do the same with storytelling. When you sit down with the script of a movie and see how it has been translated onto the screen you begin to understand the structure of the story better.
How to develop good writing habits
From start to end, Aaron can produce an entire TV series season in between 18 and 24 months. Of that time, only around 2 months is taken up with the actual writing part. The rest is research.
Even for someone like Aaron writing is not always easy. I was surprised to learn that he has days when things do not flow. But, over the years, he has picked up ways to get through those days and make sure that they do not happen often.
During this section of his course, Aaron shares several writing strategies he has developed. Here are some of the things he covers:
- the writing software he uses
- how to use index cards to organize your thoughts
- how far ahead he plans out what he is going to write
- why you need to be true to yourself as a writer
- how to deal effectively with writer´s block
- using music to help you to write more efficiently
- how to stop the writing process from driving you mad
Aaron Sorkin´s group workshops
Aaron clearly enjoys teaching and is very good at it. So, unsurprisingly, he has included several workshops in his writing masterclass. During them, he sits down with a group of his students and goes over various techniques.
Often, he uses scripts and passages from books to do this. You can download most of them as separate documents so that you can easily follow along. Here is an overview of what he covers in his workshops:
- Untitled by JJ Braider – how to write action scenes
- E is for Edie by Jeanie Bergen – how to incorporate off-beat characters into your stories and do so in an acceptable way
- Chronic by Roland Zaleski – how to justify improbable events in your stories
- The Merc by Evelyn Yves – how to create memorable opening scenes
- From Here to Alli by Corey Wright – how to become a confident writer
- An example of a pitch session – across 2 videos Aaron demonstrates how to pitch a show, using Life on Mars as the example
- If you are a fan of Aaron Sorkin, I am pretty sure that you will really enjoy this section of his masterclass. During his workshops, he shares quite a few personal stories. Including how he got started as a writer.
But, to be honest, I felt there were too many workshops in this course. They were interesting, but I found it hard to pick the most important points out of these general discussions.
Aaron Sorkin´s writers´room
Later in the course, he also uses another kind of workshop. It is a mock-up writers´room. Across 8 videos, he takes you through the process of writing a scene from beginning to end and does so in great detail.
It is truly fascinating. I can promise you that you will not have seen anything like this before. If you are a fan of The West Wing, you will really enjoy this section of the course. Even if you are not a fan of the show, I would still recommend that you watch it. You will learn a lot.
Mastering the rewriting process
Writing rules for films and TV shows
As someone who has taken the filmmaking and fiction writing mastercourses, I know that creating a script is very different from coming up with a book. So, it was great to see Aaron cover each discipline separately. Although, doing it like that does mean that he does teach you some things twice. For example, he covers how to create a good opening scene twice.
Including coming up with a set of simple rules you should use when writing a film. Aaron is very good at providing his students with practical tools and links to resources. He really does want you to become a better writer. His community pages are still active years after he first created this course.
How to write scenes
Writing scenes that move at the right pace and carry the story forward is essential. This is the case regardless of whether you are penning a play, book or script. In this part of his masterclass, Aaron takes you step-by-step through the following:
- understanding the purpose of each scene
- moving seamlessly from one scene to another
- preparing your audience to move onto the next part of the story
- how to give your script momentum
- how to get the rhythm of your scenes right
- how to grab the attention of an audience
Aaron Sorkin´s scene case studies
To drive home the points he has just made, Aaron takes you through some scene case studies from:
- Steve Jobs
- The West Wing
Aaron Sorkin’s masterclass pdf
As you can see from my full masterclass review, the workbook is an important component of these courses. Aaron´s is a good one, he has tried his best to keep things brief, which makes it much more user friendly.