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Arts & Entertainment

Narration & Exposition

David Mamet

Lesson time 14:15 min

Writing drama is not the same as conveying information. A dramatist's job is to entertain, not bore, the audience. Learn how to recognize unnecessary narration and exposition and how to let the audience help you cut it out.

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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Drama has nothing to do with information. Drama is storytelling that assembles the clan. Information is the compiling of facts, which may or may not be useful and also, which may or may not be true. So why would I want to give people information. It's all we do all day-- we get information. Almost all of it's a lie. And even the true stuff we don't act upon, right? Other people's job is to give people information, right? Or in the case of newspapers, misinformation. My job is to tell them a story. Period. It's not my job to be informative. My job is to be interesting. I got a special way of being interesting that pays my rent. It's called writing drama. So I'm just a class clown writing drama. That's what I do for a living. They used to say in the old days in the movie business-- you meet a writer, you say, what do you. He'd say, I write gags and titles. Because that goes back to the silent era. They made up gags and they wrote the titles in silent film. We've all seen a silent film. So the writing of gags is magnificent because if you look at Buster Keaton's films, for example, he's structuring this wonderful progression, which is like a joke, the end of which the gag is surprising and inevitable. So even early talkie days, the hip writers would say, what do you do, they'd say, write gags and titles. Pick up a phrase from the old days. The other thing about titles, which is interesting to me in black and white films is that none of them are necessary. If you take every one out of every black and white film, changes nothing. But the tradition of writing titles exists today in the unfortunate tradition of conveying information. CBS used to drive me fucking crazy. On its shows, they'd say, OK, the scene takes place in the Senate offices. I'd say, OK. They say, got to have an establishing shot of Washington. I'd say, where else would the Senate offices be? Nope, got to have an establishing shot. I'd say, OK, put in an establishing-- put in an establishing shot. I'd look at it on TV. It's an establishing shot and superimposed over the capitol building-- superimposed is what-- Washington d.c. DC. What? Who is this for the benefit of, right? A, it matters that it's in a room with a bunch of fat white guys who look like senators. We'll assume it's the Senate, right? B, where would the Senate be, even if it's not in Washington, DC? Is that going to help anybody understand the scene, right? Right? They're fat corporate types. So I did my first movie, House of Games. And we shot it in Seattle. And the guys who released it-- I think a guy called Orion, a guy called Bill Bernstein. And he says, you have to have an establishing shot. I say, why? He said, well, how will people know it's Seattle? I said, it's not important it's Seattle. It's a city. ...

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.

Great insights into the drama rules and state of mind. I learnt more here than in traditionnal writing workshops I attended so far. David's art of story telling and inspiring examples make the masterclass very valuable.

Was very interested in the idea of story telling as I am in a field completely unrelated to movies and theatre. This was crazy insightful to that.

No one could say David was your typical tutor! Often it was like being told the way it is by some Chicago mafia boss! But hey! I paid attention!

I do not have the words, at the moment, to express how much this journey has meant to me. Hard to imagine that this format could pack the punch it does and David Mamet leveraged that power brilliantly. I am about to walk through a door in my career. Thank you for that heartfelt directive.


Michael L.

I never name my locations. I describe them as needed for setting or aesthetics, but I never name them. This way you don't get hung up on some unimportant detail that needs to be "right". In one book, I know the setting is Albuquerque, but I don't say it because it's not important. What's important is the bar is at the wrong end of Central where the buses are dirty and the people are rough. I wrote an entire book set in a "village near the Ruhr." Didn't even exist, even though the story is historical fiction. Point being - control the stage to tell the story. Nothing else about it matters. I think that's part of what Mamet is getting at here.

Tolga C.

This lesson is confusing for me, perhaps because english is not my native language. Mamet says, that he prefers drama instead of narration. But some lessons before he said, we shell read Bruno Bettelheim "The uses of enchanment", where the author says, that there is an difference between narrating and reading - in this case fairy tales. Bruno Bettelheim wants to say, that if you narrate a fairy tale to a child, it´s much more intense, vivid, spontaneous etc., more lifefull.. So from my understanding, Mamet doesn´t mean narration in this matter, but in the matter of news, reports, titles etc.. Then I watch Buster Keaton and he uses many titles, too. Then I watch Spartan with Val Kilmer and it uses kind of titles in different scenes again. If I am honest, I don´t believe Val Kilmer, that he is a hard guy like Kirk Douglas in Detective Stories or so... He is too smooth... Then the movie starts with this scene in the forest... Thousend times not comparable with the Baldwin speech in Glengarry Glen Ross... I thought to myself "David Mamet talks about leaving out scenes, which are not that important or which try to explain something and then he puts scenes like this in his movie.". Sorry, if I am honest in this case, but for people, who havn´t studied moviemaking already, that lesson is in my eyes missleading... This time, only 3 stars again from my side.

Dale U.

Watching movies with the sound off. Considering the caliber of films these days that is excellent advice.

Connie B.

Love this, my first experience with writing was writing stand up comedy, I started with a joke that was almost 2 pages long and by bombing in front of audiences I learned what fluff didn't work and by my 6th draft had my bit cut down to 2 paragraphs and it's probably my best segment because the pace is quicker and I can keep the audience engaged one laugh to another, I see how this would work with drama as well, cutting is an art and takes so much time and practice but how you get truly polished writing.

Paul M.

By poetry I now understands what Mamet is talking about. Check out the books Shakespeare's Figures of Speech by Kate Pogue and for more recent use of some of these figures of speech, check out the book Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth. Check out You Tube examples of iambic pentameter and antithesis used by Shakespeare. Hearing the use of rhythm and emphasis in antithesis has opened my eyes and ears to what Mamet does. Extra homework, but well worth it!


I disagree on the establishing shot. As a viewer, I always want to know "what city".

Glenna A.

I find all of Mamet's lectures inspiring and challenging. To cut the crap, produce something that can stand on its merit. We all know that less is more but lots of vamping can get in the way. I find his style of teaching informative. I like his bottom line approach.


David, for someone who speaks a lot about cutting out unneeded points and dialogue you tend to do a lot of rambling. For example, do we really need to know the actor's names in a play or film you wrote? No, we would understand the point you are making without this information and the sentence would have less clutter in it because no one is going to remember the actor's names.

Michael U.

Paring back a story to its essentials is a great idea. I agree with Mamet that a lot of narration in movies is used to cover up a weak story. Now I am off to watch some of my favorite movies with no sound on and see how they hold up.

David M.

Best course ever. I think Mr. Mamet is a cynic that understands the heart, and by this I really mean story. He's on a mission to get rid of all that gets in the way of this. I could have this wrong; I just know it's advice that's perfect for me to work with right now.