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Arts & Entertainment

Character

David Mamet

Lesson time 11:34 min

David teaches you what character really is—action. Learn how to create objectives for your characters and avoid the erroneous techniques commonly taught.

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David Mamet
Teaches Dramatic Writing
The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.
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Here's the thing, Stacy Schiff-- just a great historian-- she just wrote a book about the witches in Salem. Marvelous book. And if you look at it, Salem-- right over here-- was involved in a mass hysteria for about a year and a half. And you could say, no I'm not a witch, but what you couldn't say-- and you might be able to get off. You probably wouldn't. But you might be able to get off. By saying, I can prove to you that I'm not a witch. I don't know how you prove a negative proposition-- you can't-- logically, but you might be able to get off. The one thing that would get you killed is saying there are no witches. Right? So the one thing, the unpalatable truth, is there's no such thing as character. Just doesn't exist. Where is it? Where is it? Here, go through the thing-- I'm going to shake it out. All there is, is the things that people say. Why do they say them? In order to get something from each other. Guy A wants to get something from girl B. Girl B wants to get something from guy A. That's why they talk. The rhythm of their speech is a certain kind of poetry, which is structured so that if each one of them is pursuing a specific goal you might even call it a play. But there is no backstory because they don't-- We imagine them. And here's a perfect example. We listen to the radio. And sometimes-- many of us had the experience of thinking, oh my gosh-- when we meet a radio personality-- I didn't think she looked like that. That's not what I thought she looked like. Because it's never what we thought she or he looked like, because we didn't think they looked like anything. We thought they looked like something, but we never had a picture in our head. And here's another example. Anybody have voices inside their head? I certainly do, and I won't shut up. Most of us do. We have this voice that's not quite our voice, but it's a voice. What does that person look like? It's not us. It's something. We think we almost know what they look like, but they don't have a physical being. And if we saw the physical being we'd say, no no that's not him. Similarly, these lines on the page create the illusion that there is something behind them. And that we can grasp it. We can write it. We can understand it. He's the kind of a guy who-- but doesn't exist. What we're creating is an illusion. And there's another way that we can understand, as Bruno Bettelheim wrote a wonderful book called The Uses of Enchantment about fairy tales. And he said the fairy tales work because-- one of the reasons they work is because we don't characterize the hero or the heroine. You say, a beautiful, young woman rode into town on a horse. We don't say, a beautiful, young black woman, because if you're not black it ain't you. We don't say, a beautiful, young white woman, because if you're not whi...


Write great drama

David Mamet sat in on a poker game full of thieves and left with the inspiration for American Buffalo. Now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of Glengarry Glen Ross takes you through his process for turning life’s strangest moments into dramatic art. In his writing class, he’ll teach you the rules of drama, the nuances of dialogue, and the skills to develop your own voice and create your masterpiece.



Reviews

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

I understood that I'm not alone. Thank you Mr. Mamet.

This class was very insightful, it made me think a lot about writing in new ways.

This was only my first viewing of the class but it has already given me an immense amount of direction for my writing. As well as helpful lessons and skills that I've already been able to integrate into my writing process. My writing has truly improved already. Thank you so much David :)

The last three lessons moved me to tears. I'll be back again and again to watch these. Thank you for this site. It's the best thing on the Internet.


Comments

Valborga

How do you get to know someone, by habitual action. Their continuous way of being teaches you who they are and what their character is. Mamet says that what you habituate of a character is a lie. However, that lie that the author seeded in the audience, can be used to steer the audience into thinking the character is one way, only for them to find out that it wasn’t true. Example: The Usual Suspects. The character who narrates the film, who is the cripple, turns out to be Keyzer Soze. In this way, sidestepping the audience’s process of observation becomes a tool to make them discover something new, something unexpected.

André Z.

Characters are their actions and want. Mamet's approach to developing a character is based on those two ideas. He says there is no character. I slightly disagree, I think he and other writers backward engineer characters. Start with the things they do and the things they want and then let them reveal who they are. In Glengarry Glen Ross the characters are always talking about their wants, their goals, and their schemes. It isn't until the final moment that we see a traditional moment of exposition from a character. This moment reveal itself when John Williamson says to Levine "I just don't like you." It's actually exposition that usually at the top of the play but instead it's at the very end. If this were a math class, it would be an equation... actions+ wants = character.

Tolga C.

Well, that was a tough one again, I read Bruno Bettelheim and it was very interesting. The problem is only, that I am a slow reader and I need always two weeks, just to fullfill a lesson. :-D But as Roland Barthes really really great knowledge. Ich give only 4 of 5 stars, because he doesn´t relate to the lessons strong enough from my point of view. I would give him 3 out of 5, but the book "The uses of enchantment" is just so great.

Myriam B.

What he says about backstory and actors is not just funny but really true and makes perfect sense. Actors are hired to act, not research! Also applies to writers in a big way. Lots of procrastination. Not that you don't have to research some stuff, but I reckon 90% of research is unnecessary and just a warm-up for confronting the real work. I love how he acknowledges that no one knows what they're doing, including him, and that it's just about finding one's way and DOING. I find this very helpful, as what stops me from writing is thinking I don't know what I'm doing. He's saying it doesn't matter. I think he's right. You get to know what you're doing by doing. * she says, watching Masterclasses on how to write * ;)

A fellow student

Several writers talk about the characters taking over and letting it flow. I guess this is what Mamet is referring to when he talks about not manipulating the character and consequently the audience. This might not be on purpose, but what we write is coming from some type of personal experience. We don't write out of nothing. So. we might not intentionally manipulate the characters but we are as we write, even subconsciously.

Maritza C.

He says that the writer should not manipulate the audience or the character to change, but he also said in a previous video that the character is supposed to change. I guess he means let the character change organically over the course of writing a story? But I don't really know what he's truly trying to say because he jumps from one thought to the next without any explanation and he's just not making much sense.

Ellen B.

Is he a philosopher? A comedian? He is super entertaining. I would love to know what he thinks about "The Irishman"....

Nick F.

"Politicians are all a bunch of lying whores." You gotta love this guy. You have to respect a guy who tells the truth.

Robert P.

I'm loving it, love listening, hearing, Mamet is making me laugh out loud. The simplicity of the lessons is great.

laura J.

I am enjoying this so much, wow! Did I ever stumble into a great party, he is calm, cool and dangerous as an instructor, he keeps taking you to another stage, sets it up and leaves you writing as fast as you can! Going to take this class more than once.