Writing Advice Week, I Guess
There are three things that struck me about this letter:
1. It must be true that David Mamet’s e-mails are ALWAYS in all caps.
2. This is pretty good advice for scripts.
3. It was clearly written by someone who has never seen American Buffalo, which David Mamet wrote.
Or maybe he looks back at American Buffalo and is sad about how fucking boring that play is.
Anyway, I almost invariably bristle when someone hands out writing advice, because I hate writing advice. This is a psychological issue that I suffer from, I think, in that I hate both rules and the people that give me rules to follow. Since every new revolution in art comes from one or some long-held and inviolate rules being violated, an artistic process governed entirely by guidelines shouted at each other by angry bearded men would be, necessarily, one that never produced anything new. Also, David Mamet pisses me the hell off, sometimes.
But, he’s right on track here, I think. Exposition in a script (it works a little differently in novels) is murder; worse, by far, than what all of the writers that Mamet is yelling at are going to do in response: the creation of artificial drama. Artificial drama is when you’ve got a scene with two guys discussing the premise of the play so that everyone know what it is, but David Mamet’s loud, angry voice is ringing in your head; then, instead of trashing the scene and writing a new one, you just make up some dumb shit for them to be fighting about.
Like, ooh, brought to mind by this article from the same site, about the Alice in Wonderland screenwriter (Linda Woolverton) writing a movie about Maleficent: remember in Alice in Wonderland, when the Mad Hatter gets into that argument with the Cheshire Cat about “something something something betrayal, something something something not my fault?” But it didn’t really have anything to do with anything and could have easily been excised from the movie? Exposition masquerading as drama.
We had a running joke in my playwriting class, about the clunkiest expository dialog we could thing of: ”Of course you know, I’m your father.” You can tell that’s stupid; if of course I know it, why are you telling me? ”Of course you know, I’m your father” became the by-word for bad information delivery.
Anyway, I know that a lot of times when I talk about writers it seems like I don’t respect anyone, and I just want to make it clear that that’s not necessarily true. I mean, I respect their writing, usually, and sometimes I even respect their advice.
I just hate having to hear about it.