From David Mamet's MasterClass

Structuring the Plot (Cont'd)

Learn the ins and outs of the structure of a three-act play and how to achieve cohesion across acts.

Topics include: Three Uses of the Knife: Three-Act Structure


Learn the ins and outs of the structure of a three-act play and how to achieve cohesion across acts.

Topics include: Three Uses of the Knife: Three-Act Structure

David Mamet

Teaches Dramatic Writing

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So what's my objective? Aristotle says, that's the only thing that matters. What is the objective of the hero? To get from point A to point B. The scenes are the incidents, and each incident builds up into a three-act structure. So the first act structure is, here's where my ideas run out. This is act one, right? I get all of these great ideas, they get me to here, and now the ideas run out. The second act is wait a second. As we spoke about it, I believe earlier, I can't remember that I'm supposed to drain the swamp, but I'm up to my tush in alligators. What happens is, think about it, I steal a car. I say, I can't help it, it's not Martin Luther King Day. It's my great aunt that's dying and she's going to leave $10 million to the first person who gets to LA. I got to get to LA. I've rented the car here, the car breaks down over here. I have to steal a car. I leave the guy a note saying, I'm the guy that stole your car, blah blah, blah, and I get arrested by the cops. Now I get thrown in jail. OK, so now my problem, it's still all part of getting to LA. But it's a different understanding of the problem. And so the great Huddie Ledbetter, known as Lead Belly, was one of our great American poets, singer and a songwriter. And she said, here's how you write a blues. He said, it's all about a knife. He said, you've got this knife and you're using it to cut bread, because you need to go to work. Why do you need to go to work? You need your strength because tonight you're going to be partying with your girlfriend. So you need your strength for work so that you can be partying with your girlfriend tonight. So you use the knife, you cut the bread, verse one. Verse two, or act two. You come home from work, you take a shower, take a bath, using a knife to shave with it so you can be pretty with your girlfriend. Get to your girlfriend's house, she's in bed with another guy, you use the knife to cut her lying heart out. Huddie Ledbetter [? was ?] a genius understanding of drama. The three-act structure, it's the same knife. But the knife has a completely different weight in each of the three acts. So here, my objective to travel gets thwarted. Here, I'm thrown in jail. So now perhaps the sheriff says OK, I'll let you out of jail. I understand you're a writer. I'll let you out of jail if you write my kids a get into college essay. I say, OK, what's the essay on? He says, it's on Pre-Columbian pottery. Do you know anything about Pre-Columbian pottery? I say, do I know anything about Pre-Columbian pottery? Yeah, it's my hobby. OK, so he says OK, good. Write the essay, we'll let you out of jail. So now I got to write an essay on Pre-Columbian pottery. I don't know anything about Pre-Columbian pottery. How can I find out about Pre-Columbian pottery in order to get out of jai...

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.

Fantastic. Really enjoyed having access to David's advice and wisdom. Learned a lot.

David changed my perspective on my art, my craft and my journey. He emboldened me. He encouraged to walk through the door that says NO ADMITTANCE. He inspired me to go farther, deeper and beyond. I am grateful for his time, attention and stories. His impact is enduring. Thank you David.

Don't worry about failing, just get your ideas out there!

This helped me by teaching me that Drama gives the story more and I am excited to add Drama to my stories.



Thanks for this lesson. We know what we should do. It's the work that's painful, but there is no way around it.


In the end, like anything else, it comes down to effort, work, practice, desire.

Michael U.

"Does each incident affect the journey of the hero?" The prime question in determining what stays in and what is taken out of your story. So simple yet so profound.

Mike E.

"...and I find something *here* (Act II): from the nagging little friend. Which as WE know, from the greatest drama of all time, of course...Dumbo." :)

Larry M.

For me the real takeaway was about how to make smart choices while editing (maybe because I'm in the late stages of final ms edits right now...?) - anyway, as much as we'd all like to exercise our descriptive muscles and write about the Grand Canyon, if it ain't on the way, no point in going down that road - damn good advice that'll make your writing clean and strong and keep the reader engaged ;)

Pato C.

Pre -Columbian Pottery is my favorite hobby too! I think the proper word would be Mesoamerican Pottery, thou.

Amael F.

I've read Aristoteles poetry ... Yeah, it's true, is simple. how I've never imagine. Is not complicated create a history . Complicated is, don't get lost telling this history.

Kasiemba O.

The "structuring the plot" lessons are PRICELESS. This is the type of information you can't find anywhere else! Although, most other methods emphasize that there is an internal character journey that occurs at the same time as that physical/external journey. Mamet doesn't seem to subscribe to that philosophy.

Robert Lewis H.

Easy peezy lemon squeezy. Just awesome. So good. So simple. So funny. So Hollywood. Love it;-) All I've got to do is sit down and bleed.

mansfield K.

Your story matters. If you stick to the story. If you wander in the woodsy than yur' lost. Stay on the trail and get to grandma's house. Three Act Play. You git out of bed, then you sh.. and sh... and sh...Brother Mamet tells it plain and simple. He must want us to get it. It matters to him. So I get it. Thanks.