Creative writing courses usually take two forms. The first is the workshop format, and the second is a “form” course, which basically means you dissect book or stories in a writer rather than a literary way. Sometimes these kinds of courses overlap, but for the sake of simplicity, we will discuss them separately. Both the workshop and the form course will usually be separated by genre: fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry.
The Workshop Creative Writing Course
The workshop course is a creative writing course where people discuss manuscripts written by students in the class. The manuscript will be distributed ahead of time (usually at least a week beforehand). The class reads the manuscript at home at least twice over. The first time to get a feel for the story and the second to take notes. Notes should be taken on a hard copy of the manuscript. These notes are usually about particular sentences. Then, there are “end comments.” End comments can be written on the back of the manuscript, but more often they are typed out. These comments usually talk about the piece in broader terms than the sentence level.
They will comment on things like character development, themes, structure, and tension. Both positive and negative comments should be given. Then, when everyone meets up in class, they discuss the manuscript in front of the writer. They will point out things that worked well, and then they will discuss ideas that might strengthen the manuscript. Usually, there is a “gag rule” where the writer is not allowed to speak until the very end of the class. In the end, the writer is allowed to ask whatever questions he or she might have. When the workshop is over, the writer revises the manuscript at home.
The Form Creative Writing course
The second type of creative writing course is the form of course. This course may be called other names depending on what program you are enrolled in, but it will likely have the same kind of format. This course will have a reading list–usually of contemporary books, short stories, or poems. A particular text from that list will be discussed each class. The work is read ahead of time. The teacher usually leads a class discussion on a particular aspect of the work that the writer has done well.
The important thing to note here is that the work is read like a writer, not a reader. Instead of trying to interpret what the author is trying to say, the students look for the specific devices the author used in order to make the story to work. They might discuss the structure if the piece is something other than chronological. They will ask why it works, and if it doesn’t, why not. The students are looking for successes they can imitate and pitfalls they wish to avoid. If a character is flat, why is it flat?
How can you avoid that and create rounded characters? Usually, in this type of class, the student will be asked to write a response paper on things they thought the author did very well, or sometimes, things the author did poorly. It is also common in this type of creative writing course for the teacher to ask the students to write “mimic” scenes of their own that imitate the author’s style that they just read.
Both workshop and form classes can be found as online creative writing courses. Choosing an online creative writing course can be tricky. Usually, for the workshop type course, the student will upload their document to a student website. The other students and the teacher will download it. The teacher will open discussion boards for the students to write their comments in. The students will be required to comment on other students’ comments so that a “discussion” is formed.
I would be careful with a workshop online creative writing course because the comments and discussions can get sterile. You don’t have the same kind of building of ideas that would come of people actually sitting in a room, discussing and getting excited about how your manuscript might be improved. On the other hand, an online creative writing course may be cheaper because you don’t have to pay for a place to hold class. Also, you may check in and comment on your own time, and you will not have to relocate in order to take the course.
The form type of online writing course will probably have students simply uploading their response papers and the teacher replying with feedback. Form online creative writing courses might also have discussion boards, but with the same troubles and benefits as the workshop class.
When choosing an online creating writing course, make sure to research the professor. If the professor is involved, the experience of the online course will most likely be worth it, but if the professor is aloof than there is a chance you might regret choosing a creative writing course that is not faced to face.