Applying David Mamet’s advice…

Posted on | May 25, 2013

There are few things more beautiful than the absolute clarity of a traditionalist. I may not like David Mamet’s politics, but he’s absolutely right about his approach to writing. I was reading through several of my own stories, and I finally applied his advice to two of them:

Every scene must be dramatic. That means: the main character must have a simple, straightforward, pressing need which impels him or her to show up in the scene.

This need is why they came. It is what the scene is about. their attempt to get this need met will lead, at the end of the scene, to failure – this is how the scene is over. It, this failure, will, then, of necessity, propel us into the next scene.

All these attempts, taken together, will, over the course of the episode, constitute the plot.

Any scene, thus, which does not both advance the plot, and standalone (that is, dramatically, by itself, on its own merits) is either superfluous, or incorrectly written.

Every scene must start because the main character has a problem and it must culminate with the character finding him or herself either thwarted or educated that another way exists.

When I read this, I applied it to my stories.  I found three stories that might benefit from it, and immediately applied it.  I finished three of them.  Sadly, one of those stories involved no sex at all, and may not survive the great filter if I don’t find a fourth plot to make important to the story.  It’s the best advice you’re ever going to get.

Sadly, after finishing those three stories, I’ve been a bit… drained.   I haven’t been able to finish another one.

And looking through my stories, I’ve kinda realized that I don’t have the kinds of crises in some of my stories.  I need to work on that.  I need to figure out what the conflicts are in my stories, and write about them.


2 Responses to “Applying David Mamet’s advice…”

  1. LMT MFA
    July 2nd, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

    Hey guy,

    Did you notice your footer has a problem? Scroll all the way down on, shows a fatal error about an undefined function.

  2. D.B. Story
    July 9th, 2013 @ 8:04 pm

    Seems to me that David Mamet finally broke away from the herd and started thinking for himself about what works, what’s sustainable, what actually makes sense, and what doesn’t. To say (in effect as you do) that he’s all fucked up, but still gives excellent advice, is Cognitive Dissonance in its most pronounced form. That he can be so right one place and so wrong so many other places. Of course the herd-think hates it when a member breaks away and they will seek to punish him for it in every way possible.

    You might find this article on exactly that subject and this person enlightening:


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