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Arts & Entertainment

Dramatic Rules

David Mamet

Lesson time 11:48 min

As a dramatist, your job is to tell a story. David teaches you how to keep your story simple by using Aristotle's <span style="font-style:italic">Poetics</span> as a guide. Learn how to keep your hero's journey at the heart of your narrative.

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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Your job is to tell a story. The story has a hero, and he or she wants one thing. And the story begins when something precipitates the event. Aunt Martha dies, and the first nephew or niece who can get to her house gets a million dollars. The story didn't exist before that, now it does exist. OK. The story ends when we either find out that Aunt Martha left you the money or find out why she didn't. Everything in the story has got to be a progression from the telegram I have to get to Aunt Martha's will-- to the reading of the will. Anything which is not in that line, throw it away. And what happens when you get yourself into a situation you can't think your way out of? That's great. Because if you can't think your way out of it, the audience can't either. So that's the point you've got to say, hold on, it's now time for me to sit down and drive myself crazy trying to figure out how to get out of Buffalo. Aristotle wrote a little pamphlet on playwriting called Poetics, and he said it all comes down to very simple rules. He says it's the hero journey from A to B. The hero has to be transformed from a beggar to a King, from a King to a beggar. It has to happen in the least possible number of steps. It has to happen in one place over 48 hours. And at the end, we have to undergo recognition, we have to undergo shock and awe, we have to undergo fear and pity. Fear and pity. Pity, because we see the poor schmoe. My god he's just like me. And fear, because you might say, oh I didn't see that coming. How is it possible that I, just like the hero who represents me onstage, didn't see that coming? If they undergo-- and so that's what we have to undergo. What the hero has to undergo, is two things called recognition and reversal of the situation. In one moment, bam, Aristotle-- he realizes he's been sleeping with his mom. He killed his dad. He puts his eyes out. He goes from being the most powerful man in the world to being a blind beggar. So he undergoes reversal of the situation and he undergoes recognition. He has to undergo-- he has to say, oh my god. What have I done? And that's the punchline of the tragedy. So that's basically Aristotle's Poetics in 30 seconds. Every play needs to have a beginning, middle, and an end. So Jean-Luc Godard said, yes, every movie needs to have a beginning, middle, and end, but not necessarily in that order. And that's why French movies are so effing boring. Because it says F-I-N at the end. Which is French for, you can go home now. So a play needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, just like a joke has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. So you've got to start at the beginning, go on till you get to the end, and then stop. So every story is the hero journey, and we're the hero. But there's Moses. He's the prince of Egypt, he's like unto...

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.

David Memet's teachings are like anecdotes; filled with practical references.

I feel I have learned a little bit about life, perseverance and art in general rather than just Screenwriting. Even though online, David is probably one of the greatest teachers I have had. Thank you.

Mamet uses philosophy, and history to teach artistic motivation. His sometimes harsh style of teaching is a breath of fresh air. A must for writers.

I love this master class, and to be quite honest I think I fell love with him a little bit. I don’t want to be a playwright, or even write. I took the class because I thought the subject was interesting. But I learned a lot from this master class, about life in general. This man is brilliant! I have a different way of looking at things now. It was one of my favorites.


A fellow student

There is an editing error. The contents of the lesson are repeated within the final segment.

Jared B.

My favorite part of this lesson is the revisiting of the 3 unities. Because while it was birthed from a time where drams were heavily restricted by resources, it really brings to light some modern stories that really blossom and perform well be taking place in one location, within 48 hours, and the completion of a single goal. I think back to a film like Panic Room, Phone Booth, or even most recently The Invitation. Very simple stories told concisely, in one spot, and following a hero. This is the kind of story I wanna brew during this Quarantine haha.

André Z.

Mamet's point about the "job" of drama being entertainment was striking. Inside of entertainment can be thought-provoking, emotional or political ideas. Even Mamet's plays have provoked the audience to reflect on themselves, think about the world they live in or even think about change. All of this is wrapped in the cloak of entertainment. If you do not entertain you lose the audience, so if one has a call to write albeit political, spiritual or anything else, it won't go forward without the engine of entertainment. It's important to keep entertainment which is synonymous with engagement to move an audience.

Gabriela R.

Great! Good drama does´t teach . At the same time good drama make the audience feel wiser at the end....

Tolga C.

I more and more understand, what it means to bleed, when to write. In the masterclass with Joyce Carol Oaets Hemmingway was mentioned several times - he was a man of action and didn´t just write about stuff. Kind of method-writing. :-) Many horror movies feel like, that the filmmakers just wanted to have fun on set and live the cliché; I asked myself, what´s it´s like to go out of ones comfort zone and experience horror - to open the door to pain, anger and desperation. More and more I understand, that authors take it upon themselves to suffer.. not easy. The hero structure I have heard of already, but to take such a close connection to the hero, I haven´t thought about, yet. Interesting thoughts.

Philip V.

I don't think Mamet is declaring that the audience doesn't "learn" from a story. He is, rather, declaring that the initial spark (the writer's intention), shouldn't derive from a need to teach or inform. Not that this isn't needed or valid. Only that we already have genres for this style. This is the domain of non-fiction, or Errol Morris. Or Moises Kaufman. It may also explain why works like "The Laramie Project," while feeling necessary and powerful, also feel, at turns, preachy and teachy. That is, without the "surprise" of fictional narrative. In the end, it's not the "teaching" that lights the fire. It's the enlightening. When the Hero seizes on (Aristotelian) recognition, as Mamet notes, we the audience recognize our own universal sameness--we are also the "poor schmo." We are also, along with the Hero, enlightened. Is this the same as educated? Maybe so. It just far more entertaining because we didn't just kill our father and sleep with our mother!

Quinn D.

I'm unsure on the bit about the purpose of drama not being to teach. If the purpose is just to entertain, what differentiates intelligent drama from your regular high octane explosion fest?

Lila O.

I am in shock with the great statement of Mr Mamet. Entertaining its the goal and I am like a nun trying to tell something to change lives haha but I understand now what Mamet is telling!!! Smart entertainment inevitably leads us to connect the dots and find the meaning of the epic. If the starting point is to "teach" something, we put ourselves in a pulpit and grace does not appear, ever. We are not smarter, enlighten, better than our readers...

Kristina T.

Chapter "Purpose of drama" feels like it is my own beliefs and conclusions about drama and the human nature brilliantly put into words. Thank you! You've given my thoughts shape and direction.

A fellow student

I'm enjoying listening to what David Mamet has to say. It's obvious he speaks from the heart, and his advice is interesting and enlightening.