Writing short stories is a great stepping stone for anyone who wants to be a writer. For her Masterclass, Joyce Carol Oates has recreated her Princeton creative writing course. You will be learning from the best.
Who is your teacher Joyce Carol Oates?
Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific award-winning writer. At the time of my writing this, she had already written 58 novels and numerous short stories, articles and essays.
Her career has already spanned more than 50 years. During which time, she has adapted the way she practices her art to keep pace with the changing expectations of her audience.
Joyce Carol Oates is also an experienced and accomplished teacher. She is a creative writing professor, at Princeton University. So, when you take this course, you know you are getting world-class guidance.
I am positive that you will enjoy this writing course. It seemed to me that every time Joyce spoke she said something important, inspiring or instructive. Below, is just the tip of the iceberg of what you will learn when you take this highly enjoyable writing masterclass.
Don’t skip the intro
If you tend to skip over the intro videos in courses, my advice is not to do so, this time. I found what Joyce had to say to be encouraging and inspiring. This video is only a few minutes long, but it gets you in the right frame of mind to learn and follow through.
” I want students to find the confidence to tell stories within themselves that they never realized existed.”Joyce Carol Oates
The principles of short story writing
Joyce starts by reminding us that we all have at least one story to tell. We all have mysteries in our life, that we could turn into an entertaining tale.
Her advice is to look at life events and think of yourself as an outsider looking in. If it helps, look at a situation as if you were doing so through a lens as a photographer might.
She reminds you that writing is a process. It takes time and as your career progresses you will develop your own approach. But, there are some basic principles you need to follow. The ones she talks about in this section course are:
- Identify and focus on your characters
- Write the pivotal events first
- Quickly write your first draft
- Don’t be afraid to rewrite relentlessly
- Interruptions kill the creative process
- Bounce your ideas and writing off of other people
- Learn to capitalize on rejection
Everyone has at least one story to tell.Joyce Carol Oates – Short Story Masterclass
Why all writers should keep a journal
Like many writers, most of Joyce’s story ideas come from real life. At least, the germ of her ideas come to her in that way.
To stand any chance of becoming a good writer, you need to be an observer of life. Keeping a journal is a great way of doing this. It also ensures that you get into the habit of writing every single day. Keeping a journal is a wonderful way to express yourself and helps you to learn to quickly describe places, situations and your reaction to them.
After watching this video, I would recommend watching video 6, as well. Then double back and watch video 4 which I am going to talk about next. As you will see, the subjects are closely connected.
Push the boundaries to uncover inspiration
Joyce is not afraid of writing about what many consider to be taboo. Writing about forbidden subjects produces powerful stories and novels. She talks about how Oscar Wilde confronted the taboo of speaking about homosexuality in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Then goes on to discuss how people have had success by writing about modern taboos like alcoholism, domestic violence and the death of a spouse.
Understanding the structure and form of short stories
Joyce Carol Oates coves the subject of form and structure in considerable detail. Far more than the other writers’ masterclasses did. This was great because it filled in a gap in my knowledge.
That is why I would recommend that if you want to be a writer, that you take all 11 of the writing courses that are currently available at masterclass.com. This includes masterclasses by Dan Brown, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Billy Collins.
I have also found it valuable to take some of the screenwriting courses too. It is a different way of writing, but you will still pick up tips you can use if you want to write novels or short stories.
If you do as I did, and buy an all-access pass. For $180, you can take every single one of the 60+ courses that are currently available through the masterclass.com portal. So, for the price of 2 individual masterclasses, you get to take them all.
It really is too good a deal to pass up. If you want to learn more about the all-access pass and everything masterclass.com offers its students, just click here and read my full review.
But, for now, back to Joyce’s writing lessons. When you do take the course, my advice is to watch the structure and form video (5), then skip forward to videos 7 and 8. If you do that, things will flow better because in those 2 videos Joyce provides you with two form studies. These demonstrate what you have just learned. It is also worth using the workbook at this stage in the course.
How Joyce Carol Oates wrote her most popular short story
During this part of her course, Joyce explains how she wrote: “Where Are You Going Where Have You Been?”. She explains how she found the inspiration, mapped out the story and developed her characters.
I found it particularly useful to discover that Joyce’s inspiration came from several sources. It clearly demonstrates why you need to keep a journal as advised earlier in the course. If something piques your interest, writing it down enables you to go back to it later and use it for your story.
Learning from writers you admire
All good writers read a lot. They do so in part because they love the art form and want to be entertained like everyone else. But, there is another reason to read the work of others. You can learn a huge amount from them.
The writing world is a relatively supportive one. Most writers appreciate the work of others and are not afraid to express their admiration.
But, to get the most out of reading the work of others, you need to learn to read with intent. Something that Joyce takes the time to teach her students.
Joyce Carol Oates writer’s workbook
Every masterclass.com course includes some sort of workbook. The quality varies. Unfortunately, I found this one to be a bit short on detail.
However, I really liked the way Joyce laid out her assignments. She provides plenty of them. One for each technique or tip she shares with you in her course. Importantly, they are broken down into small manageable chunks. So, it is really easy to find the time to get them done. I also liked the way she provided links to other resources and reading lists, throughout the workbook. Enhancing the learning experience, no end.
Learn from Joyce’s students as well as her
One of the things I liked about this course, was the way in which Joyce involved her students. Two of their stories are used to illustrate various points.
I found this refreshing. But, more importantly, it was easier to understand the methods taught in the masterclass. This approach makes Joyce Carol Oates’ short story masterclass far more accessible than most of the other online writing courses I have taken.
Who is Joyce Carol Oates masterclass created for?
If you are a fan of Joyce’s work, this course provides a wonderful insight into her mind and creative process. So, you do not necessarily have to be a writer to be able to enjoy this course.
But, this course is aimed, primarily, at people who are looking to take their work to the next level. It is ideal for intermediate-level writers. But, I am certain that more experienced writers will also benefit from taking this masterclass.
This was not my favourite writing masterclass. It jumped about a bit too much for me to easily follow. But, I still enjoyed it, so I feel I can still recommend it to you.