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.

It has helped me to take action now..."What's Stopping You???"

I have learned how to write plays, the class has given me the confidence to start working on my craft

That I need to stop making excuses and get my ass back to writing. Thank you!

How to BE a dramatist. The writing flows from that.


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.

Tia F.

I completely agree that you should broadcast anything that is meant to be educational if people believe it’s entertaining mostly because I believe it is possible to do both!

A fellow student

Found it enlightening. Thinking of my story that I want to write and how my ideas fit into the lesson.

Rosemary D.

I'm guessing Tartuffe's opening act is less shocking today than in France 1665. Have not had a chance to read Poetics yet. Moving right along...

Vincent D.

what about causing some shock? is that drama? like if you are going to sneak into an abandoned grocery store and almost get caught?

James C.

I am an Actor, I want to Act, I want to Act so much that I am going to write. I love Mamet's work. I trust the story will unfold and I will become a working Actor. This is my journey.

Ira M.

"Your story has a hero, and the hero wants just one thing". David, I have enormous respect for you but you must know this is bullshit. My guess is you don't want to overwhelm beginners with complexities and subtleties but we all know of so many great plays (Glengary, Glennross, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe, on and on an on... ) with designs that are not remotely that simple. I'm enjoying these Masterclasses for the most part, but I often feel these people are taking their check and then giving the fastest and most cursory explanations they can muster.

Graeme R.

Amazing! Truths delivered with great confidence because he has lived them for fifty years, and the pain is the just the same.

Mitchell F.

Working in documentary teaches you that the meaning of a particular scene/action is flexible and subordinate to a story's needs. True, your original beginning may turn out to be your end -- but the end still comes last. Bleeding over your keyboard is optional.

Cindy B.

I've watched several of the writers in Masterclass and loved them all. However, David is definitely the one that speaks my language. I love his bottom line and no nonsense way of looking at the big picture, not to mention his ever present sense of humor. David's class actually has me writing again. He was just what I needed. I can't wait to finish.