David Mamet

Lesson time 16:14 min

Plot is paramount. Become familiar with the essential ingredients of a plot like the precipitating event and the second-act problem. Learn how to find the plot hiding behind your scenes.

David Mamet
Teaches Dramatic Writing
The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.
Get All-Access


Plot is all that there is. That's all that there is. As I say the perfect example is the joke. There's nothing in the joke that does not tend toward the punchline. Anything in the joke that does not tend toward the punchline kills the joke. And if you talk to comedy writers in LA, they have a saying among themselves. What do you do all week long? I'm in there shaving syllables. They're taking out extra syllables. I wanted to tell a joke, but all the jokes I know are filthy. So I got to think if I can come up with a joke that's either clean enough to tell without breaking the camera, or insufficiently Jewish so that it might redound to the benefit of a wider audience. Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock. This is me thinking. A guy is marooned on a desert island with, let us say, Jessica Chastain. And they're there for months, and months, a guy and Jessica Chastain. They become very good friends. They know they're going to be there for years. They become intimate. After a while, he gets up one morning, he says, Jessica, would you do me a favor? He said, would you put on my clothes? So she says, OK. He says, I'm going to take a little bit of burnt cork from the fire, and kind of stipple in a beard on you. Would you do that? She says, yeah sure. He says, would you mind walking down the beach with me? So they're walking down the beach, and he says, at one point, they're walking, and he says, I'm sleeping with Jessica Chastain. So, everything in the joke tends toward the punchline. It's a guy, that's all we have to know. A banker, a football player, a movie-- it doesn't make any difference. A desert island, we get it. It's a desert island. They're there for a long time. We get it. We can put in-- as an amateur would, he brings her a rose and she then-- who cares? Everything tends toward the punchline. That's what a plot is. If it doesn't tend toward the punch line, take it out. There are a lot of plays that have a title of a present participle. Being, going, achieving, feeling, blah, blah, blah. Present participle is an ongoing action. Something-- that makes a terrible play. Except for being there, it's a dead giveaway that you're looking at something that hasn't quite fought enough. A play has to have a precipitating event before which the play didn't exist. And the precipitating event has to inspire the hero on a goal, a journey, that has a specific end. At the end of which, the question which is raised at the beginning, is answered. Either in the positive or the negative. So Aristotle says-- Oedipus says, I'm going to find out the cause of the plague on Thebes. He becomes King, that's the precipitating event. I want to find out the cause of the plague on Thebes. At the end he finds out he's the cause. The play's over. We've stated a proposi...

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.

thank you so much <3 this was very lovely, and i am sad that it ended, I will probably go through it again. helped me a lot especially with structuring the acts. and so much more immeasurable gems. thank you <3

I honestly can't fully express how inspired I am by Mr. Mamet and his honesty. This wasn't just a class, it was an awakening of epic proportions!

I've learned so much, I don't know where to begin. Not only writing but philosophy, acting, life in general. Thank you so much for taking the time to help us. I've grown improved as a writer 100%. We might meet in person some day on set.

Why tell the truth when writing my stories? How not to be ashamed of failing. How to find stories for my clan and present properly for them.


Rosemary D.

Very interesting. How to get over the confessional and find a motivation in which the character actually does rise above it all.

Joshua D.

Interestingly, the original Octopus short story by the brilliant Ted Chiang "Stories of your Life" is mostly about the process of learning how to speak octopus. Easier to sell a smart idea to a sci fi short fiction crowd than a studio maybe?


I have an issue with the idea that we are not to manipulate the audience, (from the previous lesson) Isn't that, in effect, what we do? Not in a negative sense, but presumably an audience comes to the theatre neutral. They don't know what to expect from the play and they sit in their seats and wait. The playwright wants to move them in some way; make them angry, sad, regretful, disturbed and he/she does it by creating a story that, in a way, persuades or seduces the audience to feel. Isn't that a form of manipulation? I do enjoy some of Mamet's references, i.e., to the Yetzer Harah in character and this idea of the hero/heroine's journey. I'm a big Campbell fan and resonate to his particular definition of myth. Love what he says about the misery in writing a plot. My nemesis in writing. But I'm glad he found it for American Buffalo; it's one of my favorite plays.


It took me a while, but I got it. it's the thinking. it's trying to speak octopus that keeps me from tackling those "pain-in-the-butt" scenes.


Now I know what to grapple with to start my story. I'll be back - hopefully soon!

Patricia D.

I am blown away. This is such incredibly good and clear teaching. I get it. I am good at writing scenes but to have the thread, the plot, to know what to cut and what to keep... it has never been this clear to me. Thank-you, David.

Maricha K.

In a round about way he gets the message across. Suppose that's how genius works.


Drama is not a joke and it holds so much more of the human mentality than a joke does. I dislike the approach of comparing a joke and drama because they are different things and in the vast realm of entertainment can connotate so much more than a joke, so no plot isn't all there is. For example, ask someone what did they like about the film and they may say the characters or dialogue or camera work. I dislike the plot of Iron Man 3 but love the character of Iron Man. We shouldn't discount all these other factors that create a screenplay and a film because it is ignorance to so many things people love about a good story.

Luis P.

Is there supposed to be an interactive assignment for this lesson? It says so in the video, and this page does have a long black space in between the pdf and the comments, but there's nothing there. There's nothing there to click. Can anyone help me with this please?

Simon G.

Interested in feedback, esp. which ending and why; Outline 1. Ewan is anger and bitter over his recent loss of his wife in a tragic workplace accident, however Ewan is convinced it was due to the corporation’s negligence which has been covered this up 2. Working from a secluded hideout, he carries out robberies from corporate execs residences and the company’s warehouses to gather resources to exact an ultimate revenge 3. Desmond, a factory worker, who for relief from the daily boredom, sneaks outside the factory in his lunch breaks with small binoculars to view bird-life in the surrounding wetlands 4. One day Desmond sees a distant glint and observes Ewan returning from a robbery, curiosity gets the better of him and after his shift makes his way to and locates Ewan’s secret hideout 5. He makes his way in, but is gassed unconscious in the entrance antechamber and wakes up in restraints 6. Ewan interrogates Desmond and is persuaded to trust him, Desmond decides he wants to help Ewan and assists with robberies 7. Ewan sees Desmond as a possible avenue for his revenge, esp. as he works for the same corporation that killed his wife 8. Ewan hatches a plan that involves using Desmond as a suicide bomber into the corporations factory and detonating it without Desmond knowing it 9. Ewan continues to work with Desmond to complete his shopping list, but we see Desmond bond with Ewan grow 10. The day comes and Ewan sends Desmond on his way to the factory 11. Ewan reflects on his situation and realizes his has developed a deep friendship foe Desmond and needs to abort the plan but is unable to raise Desmond so goes to stop him in person 12. Endings: a. Ewan is shot running past security but manages to warn Desmond before dying in his arms b. Ewan reaches Desmond, but the bomb has been activated and they both die as Ewan demonstrates his affection for Desmond c. Ewan reaches Desmond in time but needs to let Desmond know his plans to stop him and they argue, but Ewan convinces Desmond to leave together