Recently I was approached by the people from Masterclass, a brand new online learning hub which features courses in different areas of the arts and sport, taught by world-famous masters of their craft–such as Dustin Hoffman for acting, Serena Williams for tennis–and James Patterson for writing. Masterclass asked if, as an experienced author, I’d be interested in checking out the course and seeing what I thought. I did some research, discovering Masterclass to be a start-up based in San Francisco that had debuted in May this year and that it was themed around the concept that some masters in their field are also great teachers, and love to impart the knowledge and experience they’ve gained. I liked the idea and was also, I admit, curious to hear what the world’s highest-selling author had to say about his ways of working, so using the gift code provided, (the whole course costs $90 US normally, which seems very reasonable considering what you get) I set up my account, logged in and began exploring.
First of all, I want to write about how the course is structured, and then move to a discussion of whether it works, and for whom. There are four parts to the course: firstly a series of 22 videos in which James Patterson talks about different aspects of the craft of creating fiction: raw ideas; plot; creating characters; successful outlines; research; writing dialogue; building chapters, how to write good endings, editing, and much more, through to post-creation issues such as titles, marketing–and of course getting published! There are also a few more personal themed-videos: one where the author recounts his own personal journey to publication and success; one where he rather amusingly recounts his brushes with Hollywood; and one on the experience of working with co-authors. The videos vary in length between 3 and 14 minutes, depending on the complexity of the theme, and all of them feature James Patterson talking directly to the camera, in a chatty, conversational style, truffled with anecdotes, examples, tips and pithy sayings (a favourite of mine: Passion and habit are key to a successful writing career). Secondly, there is a 72 page downloadable and printable workbook which is designed to complement and expand the videos, recapping on each theme, and providing practical exercises for students to complete on their own. The workbooks come in two versions: one which includes the very comprehensive outline Patterson wrote for his novel Honeymoon (which can be used in assignments) and one without the Honeymoon outline. Thirdly, there is a section called ‘Office Hours’ where the author answers questions video-recorded or written in by students (of course these are selected as otherwise it would be all too easy to become overwhelmed). Within this section also is a series of video critiques by Patterson looking at selected class assignments and how students have handled them–for example, he looks at a whole lot of potential book titles that have been sent in, and says whether he thinks they work, and why they do or don’t. Finally, there is a discussion facility on each theme, where students can interact with each other based initially on a moderator’s discussion question (he’s called a ‘community builder’ on the site) and exchange ideas, opinions and experiences.
So all in all, a very comprehensive structure. It’s well-thought out, very well presented and produced, easy to access and streamlined to work through. James Patterson has a direct, lively and unpretentious manner on camera which is very engaging, both in the main videos and in the critique snippets, and he’s generous with his practical tips and advice. As well, the workbook is thorough and has plenty of interesting exercises, and it’s also easy to download and print. As a self-directed course, it is worked through at your own pace, and it’s clear from the discussion boards that students have approached it in different ways, with the majority watching each video one at a time, and working on each associated exercise one at a time, while a few others report watching the whole series of videos right through, then going back and working through each individually. It’s also clear from the discussion groups and comments that it is mainly unpublished, aspiring writers who are taking the course–which of course is not a surprise–and the atmosphere seems friendly and collegial. As you might also expect, given the fact this is a very new course, there are lots more comments on the earlier videos than on the later ones.
So, that’s how the Masterclass is structured. Now,to the issue of whether it works as a creative writing course. [Read more…]