Arts & Entertainment, Writing


David Mamet

Lesson time 07:20 min

Learn how David developed his style for writing dialogue, famously known as "Mamet-speak," and where to draw inspiration when trying to write great dialogue.

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Topics include: Dialogue as Poetry • Drawing Inspiration for Dialogue • Examples of Great Dialogue


You have to write the elegant, rhythmic way because human speech is rhythmic. And if you listen to people having a conversation, what they're doing is creating a rhythmic poetry. They're filling in the pauses, and capping each other's speech and so forth, in a way which is rhythmic. And I think somebody said, English is the only language in which our prime writer is a dramatist. So Shakespeare, the greatest poet of the English language-- and he wrote in iambic pentameter because that's the rhythm of everyday English speech. W.C Handy also wrote in iambic pentameter because that's the rhythm of everyday English speech. I hate to see the evening sun go down, is iambic pentameter. Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I, is iambic pentameter. I'll see you Sunday if it doesn't rain, that's iambic pentameter. That's the rhythm of natural English speech and Shakespeare raised that to the greatest of art forms. I talk to my friend, rabbi Finley, and he says, when he sees a couple and he says, OK tell me what the problem is. He says he can almost tune it out. He can tell just by the rhythm-- what they're saying to each other. And we can too, because if you think about it, if you see a couple, two businessmen, two businesswomen, a couple blah, blah, blah across the restaurant, you can't hear what they're saying, but you know what they're talking about because you can tell from the rhythm. How they kept each other. How they come on top of each other. How they cut each other off. And so, if you can write, the actors know it and they love it because it's natural, because they don't have to fight against the current of a clunky line. So, the lines come out of their mouth as naturally and they're grateful for them, so I'm grateful to them. The old joke is, one guy says to another, why does a Jew always answer a question with a question? The answer was, well, what should a Jew answer a question with? The question is why do people speak in real life? They speak to get something from each other. It might seem like they speak to express themselves, but as I understand it, that's not true. They only express themselves to get something from one another. It might be something legitimate or it might be something illegitimate, but they only speak to get something. Similarly onstage, they only speak to get something. So the question is, what does each person want-- then we know why they're speaking-- then we know what they want to say. For example, one person might say to another, what floor do you want, or they might say, I want to go to bed with you until the cows come home. And the two things might mean exactly the same thing, but there's a way to say it. So, what the person is saying is not, I need to know what floor you're going to, or what floor do you want might mean, I've seen you before and there's something about you that I don't like. Yo...

About the Instructor

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.

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David Mamet

The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.

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