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.

I Love the way that he made the introduction. he caught my attention

This man is a genius with no pointless filler, he taught me the true essence of drama and changed my life.

Superb. Thanks David Mamet. Great class. One thing keeps coming back in all the reading, or class about art or writing: dedication. So I'll stick to it for 2019 too.

I'm mostly writing abstract/surreal stories, but David's advices on plotting helped me give (at least one of) my ideas a much clearer frame. Thank you


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.

A fellow student

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.

John S.

The best definition of plot I've heard is: Plot is the succession of obstacles that the hero faces that are of increasing magnitude.

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.