10 Things I Learned From Margaret Atwood’s Masterclass

I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only writer who has been creating stories in their head and on paper since they were a little kid. Even before I knew how to use words I was drawing picture books for my family. When I was twelve, I thought I could write a bestseller with nothing more than my brain and my school issued a Chromebook (spoiler alert it was not a bestseller although my friend and I did get copies printed to hand out to our friends). Now, in high school, I’ve realized I’m going to need a lot more guidance if I am to fulfill my dream of publishing a novel. 

That’s how I found Masterclass. There’s no great reason I chose to start with Margaret Atwood other than the fact that I had read her book The Handmaid’s Tale for English 10 the prior year. In this post, I’ll be summarizing the ten tips that stood out to me from her Masterclass. 

The Beginning is Crucial to Success : Atwood says that the first page is the entryway to your story. The reader has to like what they read to feel compelled to read more and hopefully buy the book. Once they get past the first page, something has to happen to convince them to convince them to buy your book. If nothing happens by page ten, you’re in trouble. 

People Are Not Perfect : Everyone has a flaw and so, characters should have some flaws too. Your character doesn’t even have to be likable nor the villain has to be redeemed because not every person is likable. The goal is to find a balance in flaws and talents in characters to keep your readers engaged. 

Actions Reveal a Character : If you want the reader to make a certain conclusion about a character, you have to show that quality through the character’s actions. What they do or don’t do says a lot about their moral compass and personality. 

Make Writing a Habit : This should be an obvious tip but so many people (myself included) don’t end up following through. You have to write everyday no matter what even if you don’t have any idea what to write. She doesn’t say you specifically need to always be working on your next project. You just need to write something. And hey- maybe you’ll get a new idea for later down the road!

Pay Attention to the World Around You : Atwood believes that you must observe the world using the five senses and practice honing your sensory perceptions to aid your descriptions. Using the senses in your novel adds another level to the story so you need to know what kind of sights or sounds a character might notice. 

Time is Always Relevant : Using time grounds readers and so it is always helpful to create and note a timeline in your stories. Atwood says that such timelines can either be circular and linear and that there’s no wrong or right side of history. 

Be Open to Changes : Maybe that really cool face off you were thinking of writing didn’t fit with the rest of the story or a romantic tension that you didn’t intend to cause bloomed between two characters. Atwood says that’s okay. The whole point of revision is to decide how you want to proceed once you find these obstacles. 

Have Someone Look Over Your Writing : At some point, you are going to have looked over your work so much, you can’t catch the flaws anymore. That’s what beta readers and critique partners are for. Atwood advises you don’t pick someone really close to you because you want someone who feels comfortable being critical of your work. 

Detail is Crucial : Someone will notice if you say a traveler has four protein bars but eats six. Having someone to point out inconsistencies in detail and fixing them overall makes a novel cleaner.
 
No Surefire Way to Find Success : There are a lot of successful and unsuccessful writers in both self publishing and traditional. You want to go the route that seems the best for you and your book.

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