Chapter 4 of 26 from David Mamet

Dramatic Rules

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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.

Topics include: Aristotle as a Guide • The Hero's Journey • Simple Stories

David Mamet

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. He'll teach you the rules of drama, the nuances of dialogue, and the skills to develop your own voice and create your masterpiece.

Watch, listen, and learn as David teaches his first-ever online dramatic writing class.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. David will also critique select student work.

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David Mamet

David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing