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William Lashner's PI-Writing Blog

Mamet's Rules

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I came across this on the web, where David Mamet is laying out the rules to his staff writers on The Unit.  I never saw The Unit, actually, but Mamet is brilliant and this little diatribe (I love the all caps thing, Mamet lives his life in all caps) gets to the heart of writing fiction.  I could spend weeks just explicating all this, and I think I will, but you need to read it now and know that, even though he leaves some things out, he is dead on in what he says.

I first came across Mamet when I read Sexual Perversity in Chicago while I was actually living in Chicago.  It was strange, he had pretty much captured my life exactly.  Then I saw American Buffalo and it blew me away, language like a fist to the face, and then the utterly brilliant Glengarry Glen Ross.  These last two works are all time American classics.  His movies have not been quite as good, a bit wan I think, because he takes his theory of acting to such an extreme that it bleaches out the works.  (Don't tell him I said that or I'll get a fist to my face.) Theory always screws up the good stuff.  But Mamet, as much as anyone, really knows how to build a story.

His little book On Directing Film is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the few essential works for a writer who is trying to figure out how to tell a story.  And his little diatribe to writers on The Unit might just be as valuable as that book.  His three questions for every scene: 1) WHO WANTS WHAT?; 2) WHAT HAPPENS IF SHE DOESN'T GET IT?; and 3) WHY NOW? (Caps his) are beautiful.  If you can't answer them clearly, and with answers that get your juices going, then you are not ready to write the thing.

Every Scene is a Quest, and Failure of the Quest Moves Everything Forward.


Anonymous Steve P said...

I agree that he provided some useful tips but I had to cut and paste it to my WP and do a 'change case' to get paste his obnoxious yelling ;-)

May 29, 2010 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger Neal Kristopher said...

Where are ya at, William? I miss this blog!


February 10, 2011 at 12:44 AM  

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