Writing Tips From David Mamet

Coincidentally, Louis Porter blogged about this just as I was watching my fourth episode of The Unit in a row!

It’s an awesome memo from David Mamet to the other writers of the excellent but cancelled TV show “The Unit,” which is about a batch of Army SpecOps operators and the crazy bitches they married. (Still showing on the Sleuth channel about 12 times a week!)

It (the memo, but come to think of it so does The Unit) has some good takeaways for the DM who’s planning out scenes of their own in their campaign.

Now, there’s always the debate between a “story driven” game and a “sandbox” game or whatever your pet terms are.  But the upshot is that whatever you’re doing, there needs to be drama in every scene.  (Melee combat is not in and of itself drama).

He talks about a problem they were having, which was execs wanting them to put in more “explainy” information in the scenes instead of drama.

How many of us have had the problem where they, as a DM, are too much in love with conveying information about our game world or whatnot?  And the PCs don’t care and forget it?  Well, here’s the reason.

Similarly, one might ask writers of adventure scenarios to look at this.  Don’t subject people to expositional scenes.  That’s how story driven gaming got much of its bad name.

That’s also one of the reasons wandering monsters aren’t as prevalent any more – they risk being a scene with no real drama.

Here’s the kernel of his point:

START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE *SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC*. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

Basically, if a scene is not dramatic – drop it.

But is this only “dramatist, storygamer” advice?  I would argue not.  Even in sandbox gaming, you are placing scenes.  You’re just not dictating their order.  It’s a false dichotomy, drama vs sandbox, in many ways.  If the PCs wander across something and have a scene, and that scene has no innate drama, it’s kinda a waste of time.

Discuss!

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2 responses to “Writing Tips From David Mamet

  1. Pingback: Final Friday « Old School Rant

  2. “Even in sandbox gaming, you are placing scenes. You’re just not dictating their order.”

    While I tend to disagree about the fact that no one dictates the order of the scenes, this sums up a lot of problems that people tend to have with sandbox games. While not the solution to everyone’s woes, a reminder that even when you’re playing a sandbox you have the choice to frame only the scenes that matter is sometimes very much needed.

    Also, thanks for the link, it seems to be full of awesome.

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