Summary of David Mamet’s Masterclass on Dramatic Writing
22 key takeaways from the Pulitzer winner playwright of Glengarry Glen Ross
- Drama is a form of myth. Myth is a poetic statement of an unverifiable reality. It’s not false but merely unverifiable. It’s a language that is ideological and works by seduction.
- Drama defines the clan. There’s nothing that coalesces people like a good story and a common belief in its cause and effect. It’s what got primitive people gathered around the campfire. It’s what causes wars. It’s what sustains religions.
- The purpose of drama is to entertain, not to teach. It’s not the purpose of drama to be cautionary tales. Drama is just a form of entertainment. People don’t go to the theatre to be taught, they go there to be entertained.
- Drama frees us from reason. Reason is flawed. Drama doesn’t aim to investigate reason, but to free us from reason.
- Drama relieves the burden of our consciousness. Our actions don’t always match our beliefs. We all have an inner darkness which wants to lead us astray. One way we deal with this is through religion, the other is through drama.
- Drama is the hero’s journey. There needs to be a moment when the hero’s world is turned upside down when he realizes what he’s done. The hero loses their sense of self and purpose, but something happens to inspire them to regain it. There has to be unity of time, place, and action. The hero has to be only doing one thing.
- Write the best story you can, and throw out all the good lines. It’s all the magnificent free stuff that kills you. Don’t keep anything that isn’t necessary.
- A good writer keeps all the good stuff that a bad writer throws out. We know that a good writer throws out all the bad stuff that a bad writer keeps. The reverse is also true.
- The rules are simple. Remind your audience who they love and hate at the beginning of the second act. Save your best laugh for the end of the second act. Stop giving your best lines to the secondary characters. Most importantly, don’t be boring.
- Writing drama is like analyzing a dream but backwards. You are constructing the dream from the known analysis. You know there’s a story there, you just need to find it.