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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.
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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.

Wow. What's stopping me? Nothing now. I realized how to write my truth. I want to meet David.

Love love love. More than I hoped for. Not just interesting, but great wisdom to apply to my own work.

Mamet's masterclass made my all access pass worth every penny. Wisdom, vulnerability, and truthfulness. You can't ask for anything more than that.

This was absolutely wonderful. I've taken several Masterclasses and this was by far the best. Please convey my deepest appreciation to Mr. Mamet.


Jared B.

It's funny when he mentioned Arrival because that was one of my first thoughts watching it as well! I loved the first act and was really into the story, but the moment it started deviating from the problem that hero was meant to solve I found myself not nearly as interested. It's the idea that you set up the audience to be really interested and invested in the hero and this problem, but then show the audience something shiny and new you think will interest them more, but it doesn't, it just subconsciously makes us want the thing we liked in the first place.

Tolga C.

Well, I read "The hero with a thousand faces" and Campbell doesn´t talk about confessions, or have I missed something? He says, that the hero has to undergo a kind of rebirth, to give up his old ego etc... but the hero tends to take, what he needs when he is on his way... It´s not like that the hero meets the earth mother or earth father and says "I have to confess"... The hero uses for example the magic tools of the helper-figure and solves the lessons.... The helplessness is in the very early stages of the hero, when he is confronted to leave his home and go on the adventure - or at the very last stage, when he comes back home and he doesn´t know, how to talk to his old folks, because he has experienced so much stuff, so that he isn´t the same any more... Like with Bruno Bettelheim, I am not quite sure, what David Mamet refers to... Ok, with Bruno Bettelheim, that the characters are very easy, good or bad, that the story is very simple, but Bruno Bettelheim says much much more... It´s like "Read the book. But you don´t have to read the book, it´s just a reference to what I say" and in the case of Campbell I don´t even see the reference... Slowly I get frustraded...


I thought it was octopi, but apparently octopuses is also acceptable. I don't always agree with Mamet's theories (I'm working my analyses David), but I sure like to hear him talk about them. And I could listen to him summarize (Arrival, Aristotle's Poetics, the Bible etc.) all day... and maybe I will.

André Z.

I loved Arrival but I do not remember the third act. I remember enjoying the film and being very impressed but I cannot remember what the problem in the third act was. I do remember the second act where the protagonist tries to figure out the language of the aliens. I thinkMament's analysis is because the problem presented int he second act was compelling and then too easily solved that the main plot of the film was lost. It's interesting to hear this deconstructed. Out of curiosity, does anyone vividly remember the third act of Arrival?

Myriam B.

He puts a huge emphasis on plot - "plot is everything" - and he is right in the sense that he says anything that is not relevant to the plot shouldn't be there. But I've also just finished Shonda Rhimes on TV writing and her line is "character is everything" - she doesn't even talk about plot. So I thought that was very interesting, and I wonder if it's a reflection of the writers' biological and social positioning. Food for thought. Oh and I love his willingness to criticize (positively) other writing. I've not found this so far in Masterclasses on writing and film. But for us students, it is very helpful.

Florian E.

I don't agree on his point about "Arrival". It's a great movie and, in my mind, it don't gloss over the real problem. Very original a scfi movie about language.

Roberta Artemisia C.

how to speak the right language at the right time, that's a universal problem ... thank you!!! that's why I stopped writing all together because I can't decide in which language I should write.

Nazia R.

This is the best class ever. Truth, honesty, and real writing tips ... If you are ready to write, your masterpiece, if this is the book that is meant to be written, you will understand what he is communicating to you.


This is one of the most painful Masterclasses I’ve ever had the displeasure of sitting though.

Rixanne (Rikki) H.

I so love listening to him. His depth of knowledge and raw honesty that smarts sometimes, this is real learning.