This week I completed the coursework for James Patterson's Masterclass, and I can't say enough positive things about this informative course. (Not to mention learning from one of the world's top author's is pretty cool, too!)
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. One of the interesting things, for me, about listening to Patterson’s videos is just how similar his advice and tips on craft are to the kinds of things I tell participants in my own writing workshops. His observations on marketing, book titles and covers have the added advantage that before he became a full-time writer, he worked in an ad agency–but even so, many writers have done that and not risen to such bestseller heights. Seems to me that at least the reason for his first big hit is as much a mystery to him as to anyone else. Anyway, no-one, however skilled, can actually teach you to write books guaranteed to be publishable, let alone big sellers. But the right presenter can show you the building blocks of good writing. They can show you the ways in which your spark of inspiration can grow into something real. They can teach you to be both more realistic and paradoxically, more ambitious. In this, Patterson nailed it beautifully.
Overall, I loved this class. It was informative and fun. I'd recommend it for established writers and fresh voices.