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.

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.


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

Every lesson felt true and honest. Characters, Plot, Dialogue... wonderful. Facing self doubts, fear of failure, uncertainties...just do it!; These were the most important things I took from Mr. Mamet's talks. Excuse me, I have to go write now. Thank you.

I learned how to structure a story and what must not be included in it. The fundamentals are extremely well-taught. Thank you David.

Love love love. More than I hoped for. Not just interesting, but great wisdom to apply to my own work.

I saw myself as a musician who can play and instrument, but cant read music, when it comes to writing. I love storytelling and think I am pretty good at it. I needed structure and clarification on how to sufficiently tell a story without having a sloppy technique. I am confident now with the information I have stolen that I can succeed at playwriting. I can "read" music now. Thank you Mr. David!



I love the backstory analogy. In a way, I feel as though I am devoting more time to some of these classes because it puts off the pain of writing, but, because I am obtaining helpful information, that makes it okay.

Mitchell F.

Mr. Mamet's assertions make sense when applied to the real world of production. Characters need do no more than the actions that carry them through the story they inhabit. We don't really need to know anything else about them. The audience will naturally frame what lies beyond these actions in their own minds. Each action is best united in single goal -- to carry the story forward to its conclusion.

Jaume M.

Not sure what Mr. Mamet means by don't manipulate the change in the character. If character has to change, it is needed somebody to make things happen. If I don't have to manipulate the character I don't have to write.


This is a tremendously significant lesson. Often if I hear something that I feel can improve me, when I summarize it for myself in my own words, it helps me to own the thought. So my interpretation of what Mamet said here: Writing fiction is a process through which the words and deeds that I ascribe to a fictional individual in my imagination will in turn stimulate the imagination of the person reading the work or watching the performance of the play.

Glenna A.

Love his, dare to just bottom line it. Not so much rules as facts. I take notes because I learn and remember both by hearing it and writing it down. If this guy is b s ing I know I'll figure it out because he has urged me to think about it. This is good stuff.

Zach E.

As an Actor I was taken aback by this lesson as some of you also have. I don't completely disagree because I have known many actors making up backstory that is pointless and really doesn't help them play their roles any deeper or connected, but if the script refers to their past or your backstory is motivated by the text then I say its all spot on. The text is to be studied and anything outside of it can be fun to think about but isn't really helping you out in the long run. Mamet's ideas seem much different than I've every heard from professor's before so this course is very refreshing and it's always interesting to see how different people approach things.

Anastacia S.

Mr. Mamet is so good at taking the pomposity away from pompous writers. And making it clear to those of us who just want to write good stories that it really is as simple as that.

Michael U.

I loved this lesson a lot. I have been in those type of writing and acting classes where they make you create a full background and details for your characters. I know this works for many writers but I never got the reasoning behind it. I know not everyone can write like David Mamet but his straight up honesty that characters are what you see them do nothing else is refreshing and an idea I can get behind.


I would like to have David reinforce his tips/rules/suggestions with an insert of a page of his script and/or a clip from his film or play to illustrate his point.

Matthew M.

Characters are defined by the actions they themselves do. I really value David's advice in that sense because as a playwright no one in the audience wants or prefers to see a bunch of aimless talking heads for 90 mins.