Story Ideas

David Mamet

Lesson time 10:37 min

David teaches you how to harness your fantasies and life experiences for drama. Look for drama in places where you'd least expect it and discover the inspiration behind several of his plays.

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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I always used to tell my kids, and they'd say, dad, where do you get your ideas? I say, well, there's this little Mexican guy in Encino. And he drives in on the weekend and he sells them off the back of his truck. So we all have ideas all the time. I mean, our mind is, I believe, Swinburne said, is a raging fire. We have all these ideas all the time. What if that person turned around and said, I love you. What if we got a thing in the mail saying that it's not your real father. What about if I found a wallet with a billion dollars? That's how we go through life all day. We're fantasizing. I mean, it's kind of a shame that people are on these, the little machines everybody uses all the time, just because they spend less time fantasizing. It fantasizes for you. At the beginning of my life, I was living a rather interesting existence in Chicago, and earning my living doing various things, and playing a lot of poker, and hanging out with a bunch of thieves. And I also working in a prison for a couple of days a week, two prisons, and I was fascinated by everything that I saw. So I wrote about it. And the milieu, which I was writing at that point, was kind of the underbelly of a big city, which I was involved in. That's what I was doing when I was 20 and 30. Later on in my life, I was doing different things, and I got interested in different subjects. And I wrote about them. I think it was a famous story about Stanislavski. Someone said-- some woman was preparing a part, and she said, should I use my own life experiences? He said, what choice do you have? So I mean, my own life experiences are somewhat similar to everybody else's, and sufficiently different that they, at least, interest me. The questions is, what choice do you have? I'm not trying to make a point. I'm just trying to get the voices in my head to shut up. The American Buffalo, I was playing-- I used to play a lot of poker. This is in the days when nobody played poker. But it started again, I think, in the 80s. But in those days, poker was just played in home games and illegal games, and a lot of them were run by the mob, especially in New York. And in Chicago, a lot of the illegal games were kind of a crossbreed between a legal game and a home game. And I used to play in this one game that was all thieves. And they played poker all day, because they didn't go to work until the sun went down. So I hung out with them, and I was very inspired by them. And one of the kids said something once about-- it was the son of one of the owners. He said, if I didn't know better, I would think that you guys was cheating me. And I thought, oh, that's interesting. That's very, very provocative. Because he is both accusing them and not accusing them. He can't figure it out in his own mind. So I started writing about those guys at the poker game. The inspiration for Sexual Perversit...

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.

Hard to say. It was a very moving and inspiring set of lectures. I need to go back and review everything because it is so much to absorb on the first round.

Wonderful class. I can't tell you, even at 54 years old, how much of what David talked about was over my head. I am just beginning my writing career and I am still learning the language of writers. I will be taking this class again, I have to. I have walked through the door.

I wanted to hear all the videos for an overview and then come back to take notes and dig into the material. I thought Mamet was fantastic. As a lecturer, he was everything I hoped he would be and more. I'm now going back into the material to mine out all the nuggets he gave us. Many thanks, David.

David Mamet's Masterclass is fantastic. He has broken down dramatic writing to the nuts & bolts level. II will take into my work the emphasis on discipline; the importance of cutting unnecessary scenes; and being uncompromising when it comes to sticking to the plot - 'A' to 'B'. What's stopping me? Absolutely bloody nothing! Thanks Errin Kennedy


Rosemary D.

I put my life away for awhile and recently found that everything I knew and believed to be real before looks extremely different to me now.

Jaime P.

I am writing a screenplay that I want to shoot later this year. After watching and listening to Aaron Sorkin, Ron Howard, David Lynch, Neil Gaiman, and now, David Mamet—I am finally enjoying the chaos of my writing that is turning into an actually decent screenplay. All I can say is thanks David and all the teachers I have found and continue to find here in Master Class.

A fellow student

Is it possible to tell a story without committing to a theme? Perhaps he means to tell a story and not concern yourself with a theme. I'm having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around this because in my own process, the thematic backbone to the story I'm trying to tell is paramount to the play.

A fellow student

I kept thinking that he would open the safe and find out the the safe had in fact been robbed, and that the Locksmith was the culprit.


My life has been a crazy and often messy journey that I just want to forget or dismiss. So I will rethink my mess and make/create some damn good stories. I found the key. Great stuff.

Jamie M.

I really enjoyed this lesson. I especially like that 'the key to the safe is in the room'. This simple analogy is easy to remember and packed with meaning.


I love the analogy about the civil war safe. That alone could be the centrepiece to a story, the 'parakeet' as it were.

Anastacia S.

Thank you, Mr. Mamet -- "theme" has always tripped me up as an unintelligible concept, or one that I could never seem to grasp. It is a relief to not feel like a literary idiot any longer!

Nina T.

As a writer, and currently working on a screenplay, I have found Mamet's class to be very educational and inspiring. I knew I would take this class after viewing a short video clip (on FB) of Mamet describing the class and the one thing that stood out and grabbed my attention was when he said, our minds are a raging fire. I knew what he meant, because the characters and scenes were pouring out of me. I was and am still astonished at what our minds are capable of creating through imagination.

Gus C.

I found it interesting to hear that Mamet was involved with poker players who thought about cheaters, and he also observed prison life. I write a movie bog called My Meaningful Movies, and I have analyzed several of Mamet's movies. He explores how people cross the line between what is legal and what is criminal, or what is civilized and what is savage. Despite what he said, I do think this theme crops up often in his work.