Monday, April 12, 2010

Writing is Hard: What is Drama?

David Mamet explains the importance of drama in this letter to the writers of The Unit. It's an entertaining memo to read, but it's also a very helpful reminder of just what the writer's job is. As Mamet says, "The audience will not tune in to write information. You wouldn't, I wouldn't, no one would or will."

He goes on to define drama as the quest of the hero to overcome those things which prevent him from achieving a specific goal. Writers then must ask themselves three questions about every single scene:

1. Who wants what?
2. What happens if she doesn't get it?
3. Why is it important right this second? (I'm paraphrasing what I think he means in that last one.)

Mamet's obviously talking to TV writers, but this of course applies to any medium. I do like what he says though about writing drama-less scenes in hopes that the actors will be able to make them interesting. "If the scene bores you when you read it, rest assured it will bore the actors, and will, then, bore the audience." It strengthens his point about the importance of writing good drama, regardless of how many collaborators you may have on a project. That's also excellent advice for comics writers who may be tempted to "let" the artist be responsible for making the story exciting.

As Mamet says, someone has to make the scene dramatic. It's not the actors' job, it's not the director's job, and it's not the artist's job either. It's the writer's.


Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

How come I am agreeing with everyone today in my comment. (Welcome back btw). It all comes down the writing. It's the easiest thing to get lazy about when you got all the other bell's and whistles but it's the thing that pays off the most in the end. I hate lazy writing most of all. It's all about conflict - man vs nature, man vs man and man vs self. I learned that in 3rd grade. Now will SOMEONE produce my Slash/Betty White underwater action adventure epic?????

wv - pantiest - wtf?

Colin Smith said...

Thank you for the link to a fascinating letter, Mr M. You'd've thought that " ... OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS ... " would have learnt by now how little they know about drama, or comedy, or even money-making, for that matter. But no, same as it ever was. Good for Mr Mamet for doing as he's always done; engaging with writing as a deliberate and worthwhile craft rather than as a means for getting on in the penguin world.


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