Archives For writing classes

This is the second week posting some of our favorite blogs of the last two years. We’ll be back next week with new posts – after we take some time out for fireworks and all kinds of holiday fun. I hope you have a very happy and safe New Year’s Eve, and God bless you in 2011!

Originally posted March 18, 2009

I love to learn. Always have. I was the annoying kid in class who got excited about a pop quiz! I haven’t generally been a fan of the kind of writing class you find at college, but I love the kind you find online.

When I first heard of online writing classes, I think it was through Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapters. The classes were primarily taught by published authors <gasp!>, and covered practical topics you need to know to become a published author. Very different from the high-brow stuff I’d heard in college. And far more useful.

What I learned over time is that a 4-week online course is not the only kind of useful class. Yes, it’s necessary (and fun!) to learn how to write better dialogue and how to make revisions that will help sell your book. But I loved learning at what temperature the human head explodes (one-day forensics seminar put on by a medical examiner) and how to produce an independent feature film (UCLA Extension class) and about the life of King David (a class at church).

Those three classes, along with others, helped me with a series I’m writing. There is going to be a huge explosion at the end – the forensics class gave me some ideas. I want to focus the story so that it draws the widest audience without diluting that audience – learned about that in the film class. And hearing about the fighting skills of David’s Mighty Men gave me some ideas for the hero and his family.

In fact, I’ve long been considering going back to school and getting a Master’s Degree, studying where religion, philosophy, anthropology and sociology intersect with storytelling, and why humans have a need for storytelling. If all goes well, I’ll be starting next year!

Meanwhile, I still take online writing classes – balancing them as best as I can with actual writing. LOL! I also am a big fan of buying the CDs of taped workshops at conferences. I am working through the 100 or so workshops from last year’s RWA conference. And I’ve found you can combine work with pleasure if you put them on your iPod or MP3 player and take a notebook and a lawn chair outside in the sun!

If you’re a member of an organization that offers online classes, ask them about volunteering to moderate a few. In our chapter, a group of volunteers each moderate 2-4 classes a year. For giving their time like this, they get to audit all the classes during the year. It’s sooo worth it!

That’s my take on classes – what do you think?

Kimberly Napoli

Kimberly Napoli

I love online classes and workshops. They tap into the part of me that is a geek who loves to learn and the busy part of me that is trying to balance it all and write a decent book.

I don’t have the time to register at a school, drive there a few times a week and search desperately for parking. But without the commitment to learning the craft, how will I improve my writing? Online classes were the answer.

When I first decided to take my writing more seriously I realized like any industry I had to research and learn the language. Really, what did they mean by POV, H/H, DH, MRU, S/S, SASE, submission format and Show don’t Tell? Like any industry there is a culture and a system of doing business. There are rules to the game. I found all the answers and more in online classes.

Online classes offered me the chance to live my life my way and grow as a writer. Most online classes are run through a forum or a yahoo.group that uses email. They allow you to read lessons and posts at your own pace, and submit assignments and participate or ‘sit at the back of the class’ and just lurk. The biggest benefit was finding instructors who understood me and fellow students who were just like me.

Finding like-minded people and groups to belong to was a blessing in a career path that is very solitary. It was especially helpful since a lot of people don’t take you seriously until you are published. I found a group that gave the classes I loved and I discovered that they were local to my area. I was able to join the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America because I discovered them online.

I am now the coordinator for their online classes and I get to reach out and meet amazing authors and create a curriculum that promotes the craft of writing. I was especially blessed to meet Kitty Bucholtz who invited me to be her friend and a guest contributor to this amazing blog site.

There are so many amazing things to be gained from online classes and it is done your way on your terms. I hope you check out some of the great sites I have listed below and find a class that excites you to learn and strengthens your love of writing.

Some sites to check out:

http://www.occrwa.org/onlineclasses.html (I work here, come say hi.)

www.pasic.net/workshops.html (This is the Published Author Special Interest Chapter of RWA.)

www.writeruniv.com (They offer some very intense classes for a very reasonable price.)

www.writersonlineclasses.com (The title says it all.)

http://www.yosemiteromancewriters.com/6.html (They offer a lot of classes, 3/month. You have to try to not find something to like.)

http://www.rwanational.org/cs/chapter_conferences_and_events#online (Home of Romance Writers of America. What can I say, I am biased toward romance.)

http://www.rwamysterysuspense.org/index.php (This is the KISS of DEATH home page. They have Murder 101, which gives technical classes and Killer Instinct which gives craft classes.)

These are great places to start. I hope you check them out. They are my favorite locations.

Best to you all,
Kimberly Napoli

Kimberly Napoli is the founder of the web site G.A.M.E. Plan for Success, and is the OCCRWA Online Class Coordinator.

W

hat a great topic for me this week. I am in the midst of my second online writing class:  Empowering Character Emotions by Margie Lawson. A few drafts ago on my WIP I realized that I needed help learning how to bring emotions out of my characters. So even though I write for children, I signed up for this class through PASIC, a group of romance writers. I figure if any group of writers can claim to know about character emotions it would be these ladies.

 

At the moment there are over 400 emails in my “writing classes” folder from this class. I’m on assignment #5 when 15 assignments have gone out. Those numbers make it sound like I’m more behind than what I really am! I have read all the lectures, and done all the “easy” assignments, like #9 or #12. I’m only saving up the big “thinking” assignments for when I have more chunks of time available.

 

For now, all those unopened emails will stay unopened. Those are kind of extra, the class examples and discussions. I read all the emails marked Teaching Point or Read This-type emails from the instructor. The other emails I’ll read later on as reminders of the class and how to apply what I’ve learned.

 

It’s been a busy month and my head feels like it is half-way through a marathon. By the end of the month I expect my brain will be exhausted but I’ll be able to look back and see how far I’ve come.

 

It’s the same feeling as the other online class I took through Author MBA about Career Planning. If it’s a good class there is a lot of information to process at once. But I am learning so much and I can already see my writing getting better—the whole point to taking a class, right?

 

At first I had been hesitant about taking any writing classes online. The reason was not because I think I know everything to know about writing. I was just skeptical about spending the extra money. I mean, writing books are free at the library. The good writing books I don’t mind buying and adding to my personal library. How do I know the class will be worth it? Why not just buy the lecture packet and work through it on my own?

 

Why take a writing class?

 

-you will be more motivated to do the work

-you will be led one step at a time

-you will improve faster with the camaraderie

-you will learn from others

-you will learn from the instructor

-you can ask questions directly

-you can get expert feedback on your work

 

How do online classes work?

 

The two classes I’ve taken were held through Yahoo Groups. A few days before the class was to start I received an invitation to join the particular group. Lecture emails go out every few days and include assignments to apply what I’ve learned. I can also access lectures in the Files section of Yahoo Groups so I don’t have to wade through all those emails. In my current class we also connected with EPs (Editing Partners) to swap homework with. I can also post assignments to the group as a whole to get feedback from the instructor.  

 

Any others?

 

I know you writers out there are a wealth of information! Please leave a comment about other good writing classes you know about. As soon as I recover from this one I’ll be ready to sign up for another!

I love to learn. Always have. I was the annoying kid in class who got excited about a pop quiz! I haven’t generally been a fan of the kind of writing class you find at college, but I love the kind you find online.

When I first heard of online writing classes, I think it was through Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapters. The classes were primarily taught by published authors <gasp!>, and covered practical topics you need to know to become a published author. Very different from the high-brow stuff I’d heard in college. And far more useful.

What I learned over time is that a 4-week online course is not the only kind of useful class. Yes, it’s necessary (and fun!) to learn how to write better dialogue and how to make revisions that will help sell your book. But I loved learning at what temperature the human head explodes (one-day forensics seminar put on by a medical examiner) and how to produce an independent feature film (UCLA Extension class) and about the life of King David (a class at church).

Those three classes, along with others, helped me with a series I’m writing. There is going to be a huge explosion at the end – the forensics class gave me some ideas. I want to focus the story so that it draws the widest audience without diluting that audience – learned about that in the film class. And hearing about the fighting skills of David’s Mighty Men gave me some ideas for the hero and his family.

In fact, I’ve long been considering going back to school and getting a Master’s Degree, studying where religion, philosophy, anthropology and sociology intersect with storytelling, and why humans have a need for storytelling. If all goes well, I’ll be starting next year!

Meanwhile, I still take online writing classes – balancing them as best as I can with actual writing. LOL! I also am a big fan of buying the CDs of taped workshops at conferences. I am working through the 100 or so workshops from last year’s RWA conference (which can be purchased here using Internet Explorer; you do not have to be an RWA member). And I’ve found you can combine work with pleasure if you put them on your iPod or MP3 player and take a notebook and a lawn chair outside in the sun!

If you’re a member of an organization that offers online classes, ask them about volunteering to moderate a few. In our chapter, a group of volunteers each moderate 2-4 classes a year. For giving their time like this, they get to audit all the classes during the year. It’s sooo worth it!

That’s my take on classes – what do you think?

Jackie Diamond Hyman

Jackie Diamond Hyman

Does anyone really need to take a writing course? Why not just sit down and write your novel?

Here’s a secret: That’s pretty much what I did. Starting when I was about, oh, ten. A short novel about a horse (the less said about that, the better). A longer novel – maybe 150 pages – about a girl with a white cat and an active fantasy life. I also branched into writing the books and lyrics for musicals. Many years later, a friend set one to music and a local children’s theater mounted a production, but fame and fortune remained elusive.

I won’t give you the long version of my road to publication, but I was about 32 when I sold the first of more than 80 novels (mystery, romance and fantasy). By then – in those pre-Internet, pre-RWA days — I’d studied in a hodgepodge of situations. A couple of seminars in college. A University of California extension course. A long-running critique group. Finally, I had the benefit of an agent and professional editors.

Here’s what I discovered: when I received intensive feedback from knowledgeable critiquers, I made rapid progress. That, in a nutshell, is what classes should provide.

A year and a half ago, I began teaching for a distance-learning organization. Now I’m seeing the process from the other side. I guide students individually through the Breaking Into Print course (short stories and/or articles) and, for advanced students, a novel-writing class. I won’t name the institution here, but if you’re curious, it’s listed on my Web site, www.jacquelinediamond.com. You’ll also find a page of writing tips on my site.

The challenge in teaching is to get inside a student’s head, figure out what works for her (or him), and help her to make the most of it. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the rapid improvement my beginning students make as they master basic fiction skills.

What do I mean by fiction skills? Here’s a quick overview:

–Point of View. This means filtering a story through the main character’s personality, attitudes and reactions. Head hopping – jumping back and forth between characters in the same scene – usually dilutes the impact. So do long passages of dialogue or action that seem to be observed by a camera rather than being colored and shaped by internal monologue. As a reader, I want to get inside that person’s emotions and go with her on a journey.

–Exposition or back-story. There’s a natural tendency to start out by telling the reader the background situation, but while that’s convenient for the author, the reader doesn’t care yet. Other writers, a little more sophisticated, start with action or dialogue, but after a few paragraphs, they stop the story cold to drop in a major chunk of exposition. These techniques may have worked back in the leisurely 19th century, when readers weren’t so easily lured away by digital entertainment, but today they want to get right into the story. The author must learn to weave in exposition without losing momentum.

–Scene setting. Okay, action is good, but where are these characters? It’s amazing how many disembodied conversations and vague situations I read. I don’t need pages of description, but are they in the kitchen or the bank or a monastery in Tibet? Are there holes in the wall and roaches on the floor, or did a decorator with a startling resemblance to Martha Stewart just finish texturing the wall coverings?

–Dialogue. Most writers understand that they need to make the dialogue sound natural, but beyond that, they trip, stumble and stagger through endless booby traps. These include the technical aspects, such as punctuating and capitalizing properly, but more than that, dialogue needs to reveal character and progress the story. Forget chitchat (“Jane, how are you today?” “So nice to see you again, Mary”). You’ll put the reader to sleep. And… well, I could go on, but there isn’t room here. Sorry.

–Structure. Almost everyone needs help with this, from the short-story or article writer to the novelist. Every scene needs a structure – a purpose, a progression, and a turning point. So does every chapter. Books must build toward turning points that ramp up the tension, even in a comedy or literary novel. Speaking of structure, it’s vital in today’s market to start a novel in the right place. Not with the heroine’s childhood, not with a casual conversation or bathtub reflection, but with a chapter that sets up the major change in her life that’s going to propel the rest of the book.

There are more sophisticated skills as the writer advances, such as creating a character arc and using misdirection to increase the suspense. That’s a lot to learn on your own. Good classes make it easier.

Now, I’ve got a queue of lessons to teach, so please excuse me. Hope to see you at the bookstore – when you’re signing your first published novel!

In September, Harlequin American Romance will publish Jackie’s next book, Doctor Daddy by Jacqueline Diamond. For more of Jackie’s writing tips, please visit www.jacquelinediamond.com.