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Arts & Entertainment

Introduction

Margaret Atwood

Lesson time 04:28 min

Meet your new instructor: Man Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood. In your first lesson, Margaret shares her perspective on the art of writing and who ultimately gives your book its meaning.

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Margaret Atwood
Teaches Creative Writing
Learn how the author of The Handmaid’s Tale crafts vivid prose and hooks readers with her timeless approach to storytelling.
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Creativity is one of the essential things about being human. You don't have to apologize for it. It's something human beings do. Sometimes people say, express yourself. I don't really think that that's necessarily the key thing. Expressing yourself can be shouting in a field. So rather than expressing yourself, why don't you think in terms of evoking, conjuring up for the reader some curiosity, some suspense, some interest rather than this is my ego? [CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYING] If you're a writer, you have a very limited repertoire of tools. Your repertoire is a blank page and some words that you put on it. So you're not making a film. You don't have sound effects. You don't have actors. You only have those words that the reader is reading. And that's what you use to build everything in your story as words. Words on a page are inert. They're like black musical notes on a score. They're inert until the music is played, or in the case of a book, the reader is reading. And when the reader is reading, the words transform back into representations, sounds, smells, colors, people. Reading is the most participative of the arts. There's more brain activity when you're reading that kind of intense text than there is, for instance, when you're watching television, when you're watching film, because the brain has to supply everything with the words used just as cues, clues. So what you're providing the reader with is a score, a score that the reader will then interpret. And all you can do as a writer is make your book as good as it can be. You throw it out into the world, hope for the best. And that's all you can do. You can not dictate to the reader how they should read your book or receive your book. Because the meaning of a book, once it's is out in the world, is not decided by the writer anymore. Even if the writer has thought the writer was putting x meaning into the book, the reader may have quite a different idea, and usually does over time. So Thomas Hardy thought that "Tess of the D'urbervilles" was about the irony of fate, and we think it's a pretty kinky story about what happened to women in the Victorian period. I mean, that's what I think. What do you think? When I wrote "The Handmaid's Tale," I didn't give the central character a name. The readers decided that her name was June. There's nothing in the book that contradicts that. In fact, it all fits. But it wasn't something I thought up. The readers figured it out. It has to be June once you come to think of it, because each of the names that are mentioned in chapter 1, they all occur again in the book except for June. I thought that was pretty smart of them. I'm Margaret Atwood, and this is my MasterClass.


The art of powerful storytelling

Called the “Prophet of Dystopia,” Margaret Atwood is one of the most influential literary voices of our generation. In her first-ever online writing class, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale teaches how she crafts compelling stories, from historical to speculative fiction, that remain timeless and relevant. Explore Margaret’s creative process for developing ideas into novels with strong structures and nuanced characters.



Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Playback is sometimes slow and lagging, which I thought might be a problem on my side until I re-watched lessons and they lagged in the same spots every time. Other than that, the lessons are great!

I have identified my fear and now can look it in the face - it's only me and the page. A real treat to hear from such a master.

You are delightful, smart, insightful, and awesome! I loved this class. Thank you for being a part of my writing journey.

Ms. Atwood's humor is contagious and her insights welcome. I'm sorry to see the class end.


Comments

Robert S.

Robert E. Smith Michigan, USA Messy is the first word I hit on after class 1 and class 2( I missed the cue that I completed class 1 and then was flipped into class 2). But that’s ok because developing one’s creative writing is a messy business. I don’t have an MFA in creative writing but have attended numerous workshops taught by MFA graduates at the University of Iowa. Even those work shops of 10, although structured, were messy. At the University of Iowa in Iowa City there’s a bar, the Fox Head, which over the years was frequented by well known authors. It’s a dump. Outside our classroom at the University was a computer room with the title Writing Lab over the door. Either could be a writer’s paradise. After viewing the first two lessons I’m Caught up in Margaret Atwood’s teaching mode, a well structured mess.

Ellen S.

I always find it interesting when artists/writers talk about meaning and intent. (Ms. Atwood describing how the audience/reader determined that the characters name was June despite not expressing that in her book). When I was a child and I drew something, I would get upset if someone thought my tree was a person. And as an matured artist, every choice I make, from color to form, is deliberate and has specific intent in meaning. On the other hand, after reading Winston Groome's book "Forest Gump", I felt that the book was a test of one's gullibility and that I failed miserably. The story made me angry and depressed, unlike the feel-good movie with Tom Hanks. And yet no one else seems to have experienced it in the same way. (I've actually asked Mr. Groome via the internet years ago about my take on the book and have yet to receive verification of my interpretation). So, I'm wondering how my fellow classmates feel about this?

Johnny S.

She's already taught me to forgo my pride and simply conjure something worth thinking about.

MARILUZ T.

Loved her first lesson! Very interesting concepts were introduced which can have a strong influence in your writing style. The concept of "expressing yourself vs creating a world to draw the reader in".

Alexandra

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT! Bravo! Margaret Atwood was the reason why I signed up for Master Class!

Denell K.

Margaret Atwood's Creative Writing Master Class was skillfully executed. As a page-turner, it was refreshingly brilliant and gave insight into the structure of a novel, narrative point of view, characterization and the business of writing. I am forever inspired by her wisdom and insight.

A fellow student

The idea of evoking or conjuring rather than expressing is very interesting to me. I like the idea that we as writers are not expressing ourselves but evoking or awakening something within us and our collective human experience. Writing is a craft and requires skill beyond expression. Evoking ideas in our stories and in our readers is something that does represent the experience of writing and reading and I look forward to develop that skill through this course.

A fellow student

Great first lesson. As a young journalist the hardest first lesson to get to grips with was and remains putting one's ego to one side to write for your reader, not about your personal needs and desires and certainly not about expressing yourself.

Isobel

If I write something for others to read, I would not wish to waste their time with the egotistical sort of self expression that MA eludes to. That makes sense. Yet I think there is a place for uninhibited writing of this nature. There may be a kernel of something of worth which eventually could go in the draft for others to read. If, from the outset, I have the reader in mind, I fear I won't write anything. It is too inhibiting.

Almond K.

I have been entranced by Margaret Atwood's novels ever since I read Surfacing in the early Eighties. I have so much respect for this woman and hope I can pick up a few tips from her. I like the way she talks about the relationship between writer and reader. It is not about our egos as writers but perhaps more about our duty to entice and conjour up interest for our readers. I can't wait to get started on this module. Margaret Atwood is the sole reason I signed up for Masterclass. Now that I am here I may well delve into some of the other courses too, but Margaret's the top of the list for me (and I am sure always will be.)