Mamet on dramatic writing
David Mamet is best known as a playwright (“Glengarry Glenn Ross”) and movie screenwriter (“The Verdict,” “Wag the Dog”), but he also served as executive producer for the TV show “The Unit,” which ran on CBS from 2006 to 2009.
A memo from Mamet to the writers’ room of “The Unit” popped up on the Internet last year. It’s a long, rambling and terrific essay on how to write action and drama. You should do a web search for it if you want to see a whip-smart primer on screenwriting.
One bit of solid-gold advice works for the writers of thriller or mystery novels, as well. At least, I think so. Mamet told his stable of writers:
“So, we the writers, must ask ourselves of every scene these three questions:
1) Who wants what?
2) What happens if (she doesn’t) get it?
3) Why now?
“The answers to these questions are litmus paper. Apply them, and their answers will tell you if the scene is dramatic or not.”
Wow. Simple as that.
If you’re looking at a draft of your novel and some tiny voice, deep in your brain, senses something is wrong with a scene, but you can’t quite figure out what, apply Mamet’s litmus paper to the scene.