I spent some time over the last couple of months looking for a writing course I could participate in. My challenges at the moment are two-fold – the hours I work are erratic, and I have relocated to a small town due to work. I am unable to commit to being anywhere at a scheduled time and place, and I don’t have the time to get to cities large enough to offer summer classes.
I looked into online options from the university where I took my two classes last year, but I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a course when there were weeks I wouldn’t be able to participate because my hours at work were overwhelming.
But! I have found a solution. I stumbled on a book called The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing by Alice LaPlante and it is wonderful. It’s a hefty tome, 600-odd pages long with a neon yellow cover. It’s a writing course in book form, and looks as though it could be the textbook for a university-level creative writing class. The chapters include “How Reliable is This Narrator: How point of view affects our understanding of a story”, “You Talking to Me?: Crafting effective dialogue”, “The Plot Thickens: Figuring out what happens next”, and so on.
Each chapter is divided into three parts. The first part is the textbook section, where Ms LaPlante takes the reader through the subject at hand. The second part includes exercises, with samples of responses from Ms LaPlante’s previous students. And the third section includes selected readings to illustrate the points made in the chapter, with questions afterward to help direct the reader’s understanding of how the craft was used in practice.
To this, I have also added Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces. My particular difficulties are with story structure in general, so I’m hoping this text will be helpful. And related to this, I’m digging into the iTunesU audio courses on mythology, to help round things out.
Also on my reading list are Stephen King’s On Writing. Because everybody says so, basically. And eventually I want to get a copy of Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. It was too much to handle, trying to read all the books at once, so that one is for later in the summer, but I was really pleased when The Making of a Story turned out to have sections of guided readings. I am able to at least dip a toe in to that skill set.
This self-directed study is working well for me so far. If I have a free hour I can sit in a coffee shop and do the exercises. I can read the text before bed or over meals. And if work goes nuts and I end up with a 60-hour week, I can put it all down for a bit with no consequences.
The only thing lacking is the workshop aspect of a class, the ability to discuss thoughts and learn from others. But that can come later, when my work schedule allows me to go back to my night classes. In the meantime, it’s good practice.
Do you have a favourite writing handbook? I’m always looking to add to the list!