From Margaret Atwood's MasterClass

Structuring Your Novel: Layered Narratives and Other Variations

Margaret illustrates the myriad ways you can structure your story and create a multi-layered narrative, using the classic tales Little Red Riding Hood, Arabian Nights, and her own novel The Blind Assassin as examples.

Topics include: "Finding the Structure Takes Time • Frame Storytelling in One Thousand and One Nights • Layers of Narrative in The Blind Assassin • Start Simple"

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Margaret illustrates the myriad ways you can structure your story and create a multi-layered narrative, using the classic tales Little Red Riding Hood, Arabian Nights, and her own novel The Blind Assassin as examples.

Topics include: "Finding the Structure Takes Time • Frame Storytelling in One Thousand and One Nights • Layers of Narrative in The Blind Assassin • Start Simple"

Margaret Atwood

Teaches Creative Writing

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Preview

Well, let's talk about the difference between story and how you tell the story. So the story is what happens. So the plot. And the structure is how you tell the story. So let us take a simple illustration. Little Red Riding Hood. Simple version. You begin at the beginning. You go on with the events in sequence, and you end at the end. Little Red Riding Hood was a little girl whose mother had made her a red cloak and a hood, so everybody called her Little Red Riding Hood. And one day, her mother said to her, your grandmother is very ill, and I've made this wonderful basket with bread and a bottle of wine in it, and you must carry it to her through the forest. But don't stray off the path because there are wolves in the forest. So Little Red Riding Hood sets out along the path, but then she sees some beautiful flowers off to the side and thinks what a good idea it would be if I were to pick a bouquet for my grandmother. And she steps off the path and begins gathering the flowers. And out from behind a tree stepped a rather hairy looking gentleman who said, "What are you doing little girl?" And she said, "I am gathering some flowers for my grandmother who lives on the other side of the forest." You know the rest. Let's start the story a different way. It was dark inside the wolf. The grandmother, who had been gobbled whole, couldn't say a word because it was quite stifling and full of old chicken parts and plastic bags that the wolf had eaten by mistake. And she had to listen in silence as the wolf put on her nightgown and nightcap and climbed into her bed and started doing a terrible imitation of her. What a bad imitation the grandmother said. But, luckily, along came you know the rest. We can start it another way. We can tell the story from the point of view of the wolf, or we might tell the story as a flashback. Every time the grandmother remembered what an awful time she had had inside the wolf, et cetera. Or we might begin as a detective story might begin. There, on the floor, lay either one corpse, that of the wolf, or two, because, in some versions, the grandmother doesn't come out of it so well. What had caused this double murder? Those are some ways of telling the story. Sometimes, people use time jumps. Little was Little Red Riding Hood to know that in two weeks time, she would be looking back on one of the most definitive events of her life. So where you start, what order you tell the events in, that's variable. The plot underneath it, however, it's the same story. Or you can also have the "Rashomon" approach which is there is a story there somewhere, but we hear three different versions of it. "Rashomon" is the film by Kurosawa in which the same story is told involving a murdered man, a robber, and the murdered man's wife. And each one has a different version of how that murder came about. The murdered man appears through a medium that goes into a trance. And each of the stories is different, so the viewer is left...

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.

Loved Margaret's little giggles every now and then, reminded me of my gorgeous aunt.

I loved everything about this class. MA was clear, concise, honest and open with her process. I learned so much about process, that is what I really came away with. I loved that she made the analogy with acting and agents, etc. So true. It's a life of hard knocks and you have to love it and can not live without it! Thank you Margaret Atwood.

It gave me inspiration and ideas related to my writing. Thanks!

Great class by an incredible woman! I hope you stick around for a while longer. The world is just now catching up with you.

Comments

A fellow student

I absolutely love Margaret. She is funny, and I enjoy her sense of humor. Beautiful class and insights.

A fellow student

An interesting lesson in structure but then we seem to be told to keep it simple

Terry P.

Theresa Parris English student, living in Catalunya.,north-east Spain. Like others I didn't realize that, paying for the course means that there are other channels open to you. I've got used to Margaret Atwood and am up to Point of View Case Studies. I've tended to rush along and now I¡ll go along more slowly and thoughtfully.

Debbie H.

I'm really enjoying the course. Its interesting to note that how we are taught initially to write is far removed from the actual process. So refreshing. Looking forward to the next lesson.

Jenny H.

I really like how she said to take what others and have done and what I can do and see what happens...and that I don't have to create a work that is very intricate to start.

Rhonda W.

Looks like Blind Assassin and Arabian Nights are going to be my next reads. Thank you Margaret!

Marik B.

I loved this lesson and so far have loved the class. I guess I didn't realize that there are other components besides Margaret's lectures. That alone would be well worth the charge of the course. She is witty, mischievous and able to convey complex concepts skillfully. I've already encountered some of the issues I've been struggling with in my current manuscript. I never knew I wanted to create a framework story, until she explained it.

Robert M.

And Rimsky Korsakov tells the entire story in four movements. Amazing story.

Sam

The examples used are incredibly helpful and you captivate me with every word that's said. I'm definitely enjoying this class!

A fellow student

She is just brilliant. Love her style of teaching, her anecdotes are spot on, and I just enjoy listening to her. Gifted teacher and writer.