I’m excited to share with you a very cool course presented by MasterClass.com. This is an organization that is drawing in masters from many fields—music, novel writing, acting, sports—among others. While they only offer just a few courses at present, this endeavor holds a lot of promise. Since I’m about to create some of my own master classes on novel writing, I was excited to see what the likes of James Patterson offered, and decided to take a look around.
This course is on novel writing by the famous thriller writer James Patterson. I’ve read many of his novels, so I was excited to see an actual course presented by him. And it’s a deep, thorough one, well worth the money!
MasterClass.com is a San Francisco-based startup (my neck of the woods!) that launched in May. What amazed me was the price: the whole course costs $90 US [as of 2019, the price has gone up to $180], which seems very reasonable considering what you get. Well, more than reasonable. It’s awesome!
There are four parts to the course. You get a series of twenty-two videos (about 3.5 hours’ worth) in which James Patterson talks about different aspects of the craft of creating fiction, from ideas to plot to characters to outlining. He covers dialogue, how to research and edit, and even goes into topics such as choosing a title and marketing tips.
- A workbook filled with writing exercises
- A complete outline of Patterson’s book Honeymoon
- Additional class materials like excerpts from Patterson’s first drafts
- Collaborative learning: students can upload writing samples and receive feedback from other students (and sometimes even James himself!). When James gives feedback, he shares it with the whole class so everyone can learn from it.
- Class discussions via an online community forum
- Q&A: James answers select questions submitted by students the whole class can access.
Wow, how can you go spend $90 on anything more packed full than this!
How the Course Is Set Up
The videos vary in length between three and fourteen minutes, with Patterson talking directly to the camera in a conversational style. Included in the course is a seventy-two-page downloadable workbook that expands on the videos, recap each theme, and provide exercises for students to complete on their own.
Patterson gives a solid structure here in his course. It’s planned out nicely, very well presented and produced, easy to access, and streamlined to work through at your own pace. James Patterson has conversational and approachable manner on camera (you can pretend he’s speaking directly to you!), which is nice, and he’s generous with his practical tips and advice. As well, the workbook is has a lot of helpful exercises. You work through at your own pace.
I was particularly interested in his “office hours,” since I’m hoping to do likewise in my intimate online courses. I was curious to know whether he actually “showed up, but they’re prerecorded question-and-answer sessions (I guess I was being unreasonable to think he would actually set aside an hour a week to chat with wannabe writers for such a pittance of money). He chose questions that, I’m assuming, he thought would benefit a large number of students. Within this section also is a series of video critiques he does that tie in with the modules in the course. Students can also interact with each other in the discussion section of the course.
There’s No Secret Formula for Success
I like that Patterson doesn’t claim to have a secret to success. His is not a pat formula. And this is something I tell all my editing clients. Any great instructor can teach you the nuts and bolts about novel structure, how to write well, construct strong scenes, but there are no guarantees. Learning how to write to fit in with a high-demand genre can help, of course, as no doubt Patterson did when breaking into the thriller genre.
This course is great for fiction writers of any level. If you haven’t written much, learning from Patterson can give you some great insights into both the publishing world and the daunting challenges of being a novelist. I was glad to learn he was a serious outliner, because I firmly believe (and often espouse, which you know if you’ve been following my blog for some time!) writers really must outline and plot heavily before attempting something as complex as a novel. It’s really a kick to get an inside look at how a top author approaches his work and hear some of his experiences of how he got to where he is (some of which he has no clue about).
As a writing coach, I’ve seen how invaluable worksheets and workbooks are, and when looking over the course details, my eyes jumped immediately to the workbook. Having materials that help writers brainstorm and work through their ideas is so important, which is why I spent months creating and compiling hundreds of questions for my workbook, The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction. While it was a hair-pulling experience for me to put all that together, I’m so grateful it’s helping many authors go from idea to fully-fleshed-out story. So I love workbooks, and Patterson also gives additional assignments writers can dive into, should they choose to go the extra mile or two.
Students can spend many hours just reading the contributions from other students on the discussion board. You might find some helpful advice and encouragement there, and there is a dedicated Facebook group for the students of Patterson’s MasterClass, if you want to build up some connections there.
Patterson also goes a bit into the publishing experience and gives advice and personal observations on that. Plus, you gotta love a writer who has a heart for kids and wants to inspire them to read! Arg!
I think in this day and age of tech, we are going to move more and more to this kind of teaching. I travel around the US and teach workshops, but it’s costly and time-consuming (even though it’s a lot of fun and a way to interact personally with other writers). But there is no better way to connect globally in a teaching setting than to teach online courses, and having access to a seriously famous author and getting inside his head (essentially) for many hours is a valuable experience. One that few of us could ever hope to do in person. I mean, how many opportunities do we have to sit down, ask questions, and brain pick with a famous author? And once you’ve paid, you have lifetime access to the course, so that even after you’ve finished it, you can revisit it as often as you like.
This is a great course he’s put together with MasterClass.com. I hope this organization will do many courses with other famous authors, all of very different genres. I’d love to see the likes of Patricia A. McKillip teach fantasy writing (my fave author), for example. I’m so grateful that tech has opened the door for the kind of intimacy and connection possible through such online courses.
While I’ll continue to teach live workshops (see my events page on my blog), and I can’t resist putting on intimate retreats at South Lake Tahoe, my favorite vacation spot in the US, I’m sure I’ll be adding lots more online courses. My goal is to set up a novel-writing master class school later this year that will feature small (max thirty students) four-week-long specialized courses that look deep into individual novel components, such as POV, character development, killer concepts, etc. These will be taught by many terrific instructors and all classes will be the same format. I’ve already enlisted a few teachers to participate, so stay tuned for some more awesome courses coming your way!