Writing, Arts & Entertainment

Structuring the Plot (Cont'd)

David Mamet

Lesson time 10:32 min

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

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


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...

About the Instructor

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.

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David Mamet

The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.

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