How Does a Correspondence Course Work?
In the first post on this subject, I provided some background on correspondence courses for writers. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how these courses work.
In overview, a correspondence course consists of a number of lessons, each covering one or more topics. For each lesson, the student reads certain material provided by the correspondence school, completes several written assignments, then submits them to her instructor by street mail or email. The instructor makes corrections and comments on the student’s work, usually offering useful suggestions. A grade may or may not be issued.
The course materials typically consist of a set of six or eight or twelve lessons. These are provided in a binder (though nowadays they may be downloadable, too). One or two books are used as supplements, and are normally provided by the correspondence institution. The student may or may not receive all the lessons at once.
The main lesson topics in a short story course will include characterization, plot, grammar and style, story leads, and so forth. The specifics of assignments are dictated by the style of the course. Typical assignments include writing an essay, creating a character chart, writing a scene, constructing dialogue, planning a plot, and completing or correcting sentences or paragraphs.
At a certain point the student actually begins his story--the story he's been planning under the guidance of the instructor from the second or third lesson on. He writes the story beginning (after learning about story leads, characterization, and plot), and turns it in to the instructor. The student goes on to work on the middle of the story and turns it in with the next lesson. Same thing with the story ending. Hopefully the student has mastered various elements of writing style and technique along the way. The instructor provides feedback on each part, after which the student edits and rewrites the entire story, using the instructor's feedback. The instructor does a final critique, and that’s the end of the course.
For most students, the most important parts of a course are getting feedback from a published author (the instructor; anyone who teaches writing ought to be published) and actually completing a short story. This in itself is often worth the cost of the correspondence course.
Just knowing that someone is going read what you write (your assignments) is inspiring, and many correspondence students end up doing a lot more writing than they would have otherwise. And there’s something to be said for the motivation of spending hundreds of dollars on something from which you’ll receive value only if you put in the work.
If you just don’t know where to begin in writing a story or novel, if you’ve read all the books about writing and still can’t find a direction, a correspondence course in writing fiction may work for you. Just make sure that the outfit offering the course has been around for a while. And try to get someone who works in the field in which you want to write. If you plan on writing mysteries, your instructor should have recent credits in the form of mystery short stories or novels. She probably will, as nearly all the schools make a point of having highly qualified instructors.
It's worth noting that not every writer can teach writing. Most writers know what to do, but can't tell you how and why they write as they do. The minority who can write well, have the time, and are willing to teach are special people, worth listening to. (And you might be surprised to learn that some award-winning authors teach writing.)
As noted before, correspondence courses are pricey. If you can, wait a couple of months after you decide to sign up for a course before diving in. There is a certain amount of competition among such schools and they often run promos with discounts or other incentives.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks