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Back to school?

Paige Hawthorne

Anyone familiar with The Great Courses? The Virginia company sends out a DVD or makes a video download available on a variety of courses. I'm looking at "Writing Great Fiction" — Storytelling Tips and Techniques.

It's 24 chapters with titles such as:

> How characters are different from people.
> Integrating dialogue into narrative.
> Revision without tears.

The course — DVD: $35 / download: $25 — includes a 192-page course synopsis.

I'm not touting this, not in the least. Just curious.

Discuss.

Paige

Replies:   REP  Switch Blayde  REP  rustyken
REP

@Paige Hawthorne

There are a lot of sites on the web that rate companies and courses like you are thinking of. I would go to a few of them and see what is being said about this particular company and writing course.

Considering the price and 3 chapter titles, I suspect the course is very basic and targets new writers who have never written a story.

Switch Blayde

@Paige Hawthorne

Personally, I believe a creative writing class would require interaction with a teacher.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer  Remus2
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Personally, I believe a creative writing class would require interaction with a teacher.

Yeah, I can't picture taking a creative writing course primarily generated by an automated bot. If an instructor can't justify why one version is better than another, there's absolutely no reason to accept anything they say during the course.

Like you, Paige, I'm not belittling writing courses, it's just that there's a ton of 'junk' courses, and the better courses are likely to require both more money and more time. You really can't count your pennies on either good tools or decent training, as you'll only set yourself back and waste much more than you thought you'd save.

That said, if anyone ever has recommendations for successful creative writing (or associated courses like grammar, editing, etc.), I'm sure everyone here would like to know of some so we can consider them ourselves.

However, as much as we bitch and ask about these, I've never heard anyone actually wasting much time on them. Even those who study it in a program rarely suggest any single course as being 'worthwhile'. :(

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

recommendations for successful creative writing


The David Morrell book, "The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime about Writing and Publishing." I found it for free in the public library.

He was an English professor turned author. He created the Rambo character in his novel "First Blood."

Darian Wolfe

There are a lot of free seminars online sponsored by actual universities where professors actually look at your work. While I admire your desire to improve Paige, I honestly, think you would be wasting your time on an online course that didn't involve a university or nationally known established writing club.

I've read a lot of your work. You're a gifted, witty and articulate writer. If you had the ability to teach you would be able to share more than most of those shop teachers. That's my take on the matter as most of what they will tell you can find for free on Youtube.

REP

@Paige Hawthorne

In addition to what I said earlier, I took a look at the 'The Great Courses' website.

The thing that bothered me about the site is the number of topics they address. To do an adequate job of supporting those courses would require a very large workforce. I doubt the company has a large enough workforce, so my impression is they are more in line with what is sometimes called a 'paper mill'.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Remus2

@Switch Blayde

Personally, I believe a creative writing class would require interaction with a teacher.


I would agree that it would be a best practice, but not a requirement. I personally got more out of bouncing material against family and friends than a professor/teacher.

For a teacher, any value added would be dependent upon the person leading the course. If that person lacks talent themselves, they could do more harm than good.

Replies:   awnlee_jawking
madnige

I'd like to flag up the Open University's list of free courses here, particularly the History & Arts section which seems to have a couple of relevant ones for this discussion. My interest is at the other end of the spectrum; my favourite TV programmes from the '80s included many of the OU degree material ones, particularly S102e15, in which you meet the 'lead' balloon, alkali metals vs water, and diamonds are[n't] forever.

awnlee_jawking

@Remus2

I would agree that it would be a best practice, but not a requirement. I personally got more out of bouncing material against family and friends than a professor/teacher.


Noooooooooooo!

Family and friends are the absolute WORST at providing an objective critique of your work.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

He was an English professor turned author. He created the Rambo character in his novel "First Blood."

That's hardly a positive recommendation if you're writing fiction (as opposed to scriptwriting, or writing shoot-em-up revenge action-adventures). Still, thanks for the advice, I'll look it up and take a look at it.

I actually purchased the other book you'd mentioned, about using 'show, don't tell', but like you, I found the examples enlightening, but hardly helpful. Still, it gets me thinking a new ways to flesh out stories, rather than trying the same things every time and then wondering why nothing ever changes. 'D

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@REP

The thing that bothered me about the site is the number of topics they address. To do an adequate job of supporting those courses would require a very large workforce.

I've been getting those same fliers for decades, and each year, it's the exact same roster of classes. There is no 'workforce' and absolutely no development. I'm guessing they purchased the 'courses' from some defunct online pseudo prep course.

That said, as many of you know, I've always worked with Autocrit. Their site has a few, not many, by any stretch of the imagination, online self-paced courses (I'd actually call them 'long articles') that are a little more 'on target'. However, I don't know whether you've got to have an account to access them or not. :(

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee_jawking

Family and friends are the absolute WORST at providing an objective critique of your work.

And writing groups are just about as bad. While family and friends refuse to say anything negative about your writing (or even offer meaningful suggestions), writers groups typically consist of newbie authors struggling to compose their very first story, and each wants to make an impact, so you'll end up getting twenty different 'suggestions' for each reading, most of which contradict each other and leave your story floundering with too many off-topic and inconsistent techniques/subplots.

The benefit of an organized class is you're hopefully getting experienced writers, though for most universities, even if the instructor has written a single successful fiction work, chances are, the vast majority of their work lies in writing for Academic publication—which is the polar opposite of engaging fictional writing. :(

That's why many authors plunk down $1,000 a pop to attend 'writing weekends' at select colleges/universities around the country which focus on fiction writing, and where they bring in various recognized literary authorities. Between those voices, the other authors aren't all fresh off the boat, and have useful perspectives as well.

I've never attended, as it's at the other end of the country (the middle-end, that is), but Lake Forest College has a very popular one, as the authors sit around in the grass under the shade of the colleges many trees and get fairly in depth about what works (in fiction) and what doesn't.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

recommendations for successful creative writing

The David Morrell book, "The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime about Writing and Publishing." I found it for free in the public library.

Turns out that David Morrell wrote a sequel in 2012: "Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft". You may want to check that one out too.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

writers groups typically consist of newbie authors struggling to compose their very first story


That's not an accurate description of my writers' group. Do you perhaps mean writing groups?

Even so, the feedback ethos at my writers' group is somewhat akin to SOL reviewers, with members going to great lengths to avoid saying anything that could be construed as negative.

On the other hand, feedback from sites like SOL is less restrained and hopefully more honest.

AJ

rustyken

@Paige Hawthorne

I've purchased three courses from The Great Courses. They were Thermodynamics, Fundamentals of Photography, and Understanding the Universe. All three were delivered in lecture format similar to what you would have in college. They were purchased primarily to be a refresh my memory. The presentations were a little dry, but not surprising since there isn't any interaction between the viewer and speaker. Some if not all the courses had study guides or something similar.

Cheers

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


That's hardly a positive recommendation if you're writing fiction (as opposed to scriptwriting,


Actually, the "First Blood" novel wasn't a Rambo-type action book. It addressed the generation problems (sheriff was Korean War and Rambo was Vietnam). In the book, both die at the end with the message of "there are no winners."

It was Hollywood that changed it. Morrell addresses that in his writing book. He was against it, but admitted it made him a ton of money.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

And writing groups are just about as bad.


The authors on wattpad swear by critique groups.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Turns out that David Morrell wrote a sequel in 2012: "Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft".


That's actually the one I read. I thought the other name sounded funny when I found it on Amazon.

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