To submit requests for assistance, or provide feedback regarding accessibility, please contact

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.

David Mamet
Teaches Dramatic Writing
The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.
Get Started


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.

I was looking for a couple of nuggets for inspiration and maybe something to hone my craft, and Mr. Mamet more than delivered! Thank you, so so much for your authenticity and generosity!

Incredible insight into writing. Loved the advice on cutting out the parts that we ready know; it seems so obvious but since he said it I have noticed that mistake in many movies. I hope to use all of this to be more dynamic in my writing.

Empowering and interesting. In my flight of fancy it was like sitting on the high ground before the battle with a seasoned warrior-philosopher.

My God this along with the other Master classes I have completed have been mind and I trust life changing. The catch in the throat, the almost tear in David's eye says it all...this man is generous, passionate, humble, honest dedicated and most of all COURAGEOUS. I'm in: I'm heading for the no-admittance door. Thank you.


Tolga C.

Nooow it starts... Looking forward to solve the assignment. So the helper from Campbell shows up at the end of chapter two, when the hero doesn´t know how to go on - but only, when the hero reached a new level of understanding (in Campbell this first rebirth starts, when he has overcome the gatekeeper), so he can understand the hint.

Nick F.

Just a small point on character and how the audience knows based on the actions of that particular person; this all works unless the writer is misdirecting the audience. Like in a good movie about con artists. He's a good guy. No, he's a bad guy. Well, now I don't know who he is. The map is an incredible teaching tool. Really good stuff.

Dale U.

I thought it was complicated starting out but by the end I got it. Brilliant lesson.

Connie B.

I love the visual of the map, it's helped understand plot so well, you have 1 goal and you write in the detours to make it interesting but the hero is always moving forward, this is probably the most helpful video yet in this course! I love it

Tobias M.

This just gets better and better. He is expansive and connects disparate strands of thought constantly, yet at the core of that are very pure, very simple principles. There’s an enthused, beautiful dialectic in this process.

A fellow student

I love his book. But I don't understand what he's talking about here - it's all over the place. The lesson needs some structuring and coming up with better events for examples.

Kurt S.

David's brilliant, but as a teacher he's more than a little scattered. This course has been tougher to extract learnings out of compared to, say, Sorkin's.


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.