The Worlds of R. A. Hortz
James Patterson's MasterClass

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Reviewed by Richard S. Rodgers - November 24, 2017

Disclaimer: **This review contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my affiliate links.

If you happen to have missed the bombardment of ads for MasterClass that seem to be everywhere - is an online platform that hosts a variety of classes on everything from playing tennis to screenwriting. The 'teachers' of these classes are all stars in their respective fields, and the classes are taught via video lectures. For the purposes of this review, I will be focusing solely upon the MasterClass on fiction writing taught by James Patterson.

There are twenty-two lessons in James Patterson's MasterClass. The shortest lesson is a mere two minutes and 47 seconds, and the longest is a tad over fourteen minutes. In total the course runs just a bit over three hours. The lectures consist of Patterson sitting in front of a camera in various locations that appear to be his home, a restaurant, and other casual settings. These are not studio recordings, and you can hear some street noises, with the beeping of trucks backing up being the most annoying. Throughout, Patterson's voice comes through clearly, and if you need it, closed captioning is available, in English. The lectures cover a range of basic topics, with lectures on plot, outlining, research, creating characters, writing dialogue, etc. There are also lectures on some advanced topics such as how Patterson and his co-author's work together, and selling your books to Hollywood.

Throughout, this course focuses on Patterson's writing style and techniques, and the information presented tends to be of a basic nature without any concrete teaching. By this, I mean that he talks about how he writes, and how he does research, and how he creates characters, but he does not walk you through the fundamental steps associated with these tasks. If you've never tried your hand at writing fiction, you'll do well to get a copy of a basic textbook on the subject such as Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative, by Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French. This is an excellent textbook, but in my opinion, way overpriced. Luckily, used copies of previous editions seem to abound and you should be able to get one for a few dollars - the only real difference between the new edition and the older ones is that with each edition, the stories that are included seem to change. However, the basic information on writing seems to stay the same. For what it is worth, the sixth edition is my favorite version of this book, namely because the information is organized a bit more intuitively than in the later editions.

In addition to the video lectures, Patterson's class also includes a downloadable workbook that provides a very brief overview of the information presented in each lesson, along with some exercises, and samples of completed exercises. The best part of this workbook is that Patterson has included the outline that was used in writing Honeymoon, a book that he co-wrote with Howard Roughan. I found it very informative to read the outline, and then to go and read the book to see how much of the outline actually made it into the book. (The book is not included with the course.) While you can download the course workbook, the videos are not downloadable, so you need to watch them online. There are not any charts, or other visuals, other than brief placards that pop up to tell you what the next topic to be covered is, so you don't have to stay glued to your computer screen while watching the videos. The work you do is not 'graded' by Patterson. You can post your assignments for other students to read and comment on. You can post video questions, and Patterson occasionally picks one to answer. So you are unlikely to get any professional feed back on your writing if you take this course. Then there is the cost. You have two options, you can sign up just for this one course for a fee of US$ 90, which gives you unlimited access to that one course. Or, for a fee of US$ 180, you can get a MasterClass All-Access Pass that give you access to all the courses offered by MasterClass - but only for a single year. This is the route I went with as they are currently offering six writing courses. The price is much more reasonable if you plan on taking a number of courses, and you can get them all done in a year. (If it matters, MasterClass DID NOT give me free access to the course. Hard-earned money was spent on the course!)

Would I recommend the Patterson MasterClass? The answer is both yes and no. For 90 bucks, I think that the course is rather on the lean side when it comes to teaching you the basics of how to write a book. If you are serious about developing your skills as a writer, your money might be better spent taking a course where you can get direct feedback from your instructor, and your peers. Or, you could spend the money on some writing books, or better yet, read whatever your local library has to offer - including as many books in your target genre as possible - and write, write, write. This will grow your skill set much better, and much faster, than listening to Patterson talk about his take on writing. On the other hand, the course was interesting. I did not really learn anything new, but it was neat to discover such factoids as Patterson's first book was rejected by something like thirty-five publishers before it was finally accepted! So, if you have some spare cash laying around, or if you can get someone to give you the course as a gift, it might be worthwhile. This is the first MasterClass that I've taken so far, and I'm hoping that when taken as a whole, the six writing courses that they currently offer will serve as a unified Fiction101 course. I'll let you know when I've done them all, and what I think about them in the aggregate.

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