David Mamet’s tips for playwrights, care of @parisreview #inspiration #learnfromthegreats

David_Mamet

David Mamet, photo by David Shankbone from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Mamet

There are some great interviews in The Paris Review’s archives, free to read, if you want to hear how some of the great writers create their work. Here are some tips from American playwright David Mamet:

  • ‘Well, you know, Hemingway said it once: “To write the best story you can, take out all the good lines.”’
  • ‘Cutting, building to a climax, leaving out exposition, and always progressing toward the single goal of the protagonist. They’re very stringent rules, but they are, in my estimation and experience, what makes it easier for the audience.’
  • ‘Get into the scene late, get out of the scene early.’
  • ‘I think the process of writing a play is working back and forth between the moment and the whole. The moment and the whole, the fluidity of the dialogue and the necessity of a strict construction. Letting one predominate for a while and coming back and fixing it so that eventually what you do, like a pastry chef, is frost your mistakes, if you can.’

And some tips on how to differentiate whether you’re writing a drama or a tragedy (if you’re not sure):

  • ‘Drama has to do with circumstance, tragedy has to do with individual choice. The precipitating element of a drama can be a person’s sexuality, their wealth, their disease . . . A tragedy can’t be about any of those things. That’s why we identify with a tragic hero more than with a dramatic hero—we understand the tragic hero to be ourselves. That’s why it’s easier for the audiences initially to form an affection for the drama rather than the tragedy. Although it seems that they’re exercising a capacity for identification—Oh, yes, I understand. So-and-so is in a shitload of difficulty and I identify with them, and I see where the going’s bad and I see where the hero is good—in effect they’re distancing themselves, because they’ll say, “ell, shit, I couldn’t get into that situation because I’m not gay, or because I am gay, because I’m not crippled or because I am crippled . . . They’re distanced. Because I can go on with drama. That’s the difference between drama and tragedy.’
  • ‘A tragedy has to be the attempt of one specific person to obtain one specific goal, and when he either gets it or doesn’t get it, then we know the play is over, and we can go home and put out the baby-sitter.’

And as an example, when writing Oleanna, Mamet says ‘Classically it’s structured as a tragedy. The professor is the main character. He undergoes absolute reversal of situation, absolute recognition at the last moment of the play. He realizes that perhaps he is the cause of the plague on Thebes.’

All these quotes can be found in this interview here. Happy reading! And writing!

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