WU contributor David Corbett, author of four novels (The Devil’s Redhead, Done for a Dime, Blood of Paradise, and Do They Know I’m Running), and a must-have craft book for writers called The Art of Character, is teaching an online class about The Craft of Character this month. David is no stranger to teaching, having taught for the UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program, Book Passage, 826 Valencia and numerous writing conferences across the US, and we know from his posts with us here that he is a master of Character.
Want to know more? So did we. Read on.
Q: Is The Craft of Character meant for beginners, professionals, or writers at an in-between stage of development?
DC: I’ve had students of all stripes take this course, and they generally had positive things to say about the experience – i.e., they learned something useful about the writing craft, gained a fresh perspective for their current work in progress, and felt enthusiastic about taking the next step with it. (I always consider that last aspect – enthusiasm for moving ahead — the most important, and the best measure of how well I’m teaching.)
I also review student submissions on their own merits, with an eye toward identifying what’s single element of craft this particular writer could most benefit from mastering at this point in her education.
I try not to dictate methods or results, but instead engage with each student in such a way that they remain in control of their own work and the decisions they need to make to improve it.
Finally, I’m not such an arrogant knucklehead that I fail to realize I have a lot to learn as well. I often learn it from my students. I always encourage a broad range of skill-levels because students learn from each other (and by engaging with each other). And even skilled, accomplished writers sometimes need a sounding board, someone with enough knowledge of story and craft to be nothing more than an honest reader. If that’s all a student needs, I don’t try to shovel more down their throats.
Q: What is the goal of the course?
DC: To gain a fundamental, comprehensive understanding of how character drives story. Along the way students will learn how to use character to better stage conflict; how to use secondary characters to flesh out the often complex and even contradictory aspects of their main characters; how to use voice to enhance characterization; how to use point of view to provide narrative focus and achieve key dramatic effects; and how to use scene and dialog to both explore character and drive the story forward.
Q: The course if being given online. Is there a cap on attendance, and will attendees receive individualized instruction?
DC: Class enrollment is limited to 15, and each student will indeed receive individual attention. Each week every student will submit a ten-page excerpt from their current work in progress, and I will review those pages in detail for how they reflect that week’s lessons (along with other praise and suggestions as I see fit). Each student will also be assigned to a study group, usually comprised of 3-4 students, and will be required to read and comment on the work of the others in their group.
Q: How busy will attendees be throughout the course (and can they catch up on lessons if they miss something)?
DC: Each Tuesday I’ll publish the week’s lecture and the assignments based on that lecture. My lectures tend to be pretty meaty and full of (hopefully useful) information, so there’s a fair amount of reading involved, but that can be done anytime. I usually post all the lectures at the beginning of the class, so students can read ahead if they like.
The assignments are usually a handful of questions that require students to think about how that week’s subject matter applies to their work in progress. They also have to submit the ten pages from their work in progress that I mentioned above, again choosing a section that reflects that week’s subject matter. They also need to read and comment on the assignment answers and manuscript pages submitted by the other students in their study group.
Students should respond to each week’s assignments by the following week’s lecture, but they can choose their own pace within that format. Often, students work on the weekends and submit their homework on Monday, which is fine, though it tends to create a bit of a logjam at the start of the week as we all read and comment on the submitted work. That usually tends to work itself out, though. And I always make room for students whose work schedule or life circumstances dictate a little flexibility time-wise.
Q: What more would you like people to know about this course?
DC: My focus is always on how to help each student be creative. Writing is hard work, but it’s great work, and it becomes more fun the more confident you become in the decisions you make. My job is to help you gain that confidence.
If you’d like to learn more about David’s class, which begins at Lit Reactor on January 13th, please click HERE.