Another UCLA class review that is long overdue!
Building Consistent and Surprising Characters was my fourth course, taken during the winter 2014 semester, and it was without question my absolute favourite so far. Character creation isn’t a skill I spent much time worrying about, and I initially took this class because I thought it wouldn’t be too demanding. Oh how wrong I was! It was the opposite, and much harder than I expected. However, I loved every minute of it and learned more than I ever expected.
First, the instructor David Corbett is just terrific. He’s a well-respected, published author of fiction and non-fiction, and his investigative background gives him a unique and valuable perspective on character that he shares with his readers and students. This class also had the most participation and interaction of any online class I’ve taken, and nearly all of the 15 students lasted the full 10 weeks, which was great because it meant more feedback for all of us. The best part though, is how the course was structured. Each week introduced new concepts that intuitively built upon those we learned in prior weeks, and there were often two or three assignments to complete each week that forced us to think about our characters as individuals and not just convenient tools to move the plot along. That said, while most of the assignments required answering a lot of hard questions, they often didn’t require a lot of writing, and so I never felt overwhelmed by the workload.
As always, giving and receiving feedback was a key component, and this class generated some of the best. In my previous classes, I felt a good number of students weren’t really interested in helping anyone else, but this class felt different. Perhaps it’s because David made us all feel like he was truly interested in our story and characters, and provided in-depth critiques and fantastic suggestions to make something better, that we all put in the extra effort when critiquing our peers.
Something else I greatly appreciated was David’s honesty, because he never seemed to shy away from being blunt. Whether calling us out for something that was great or something just awful, he had a knack for showing us the best and worst of what we’d done in a way that motivated us to rework it. That’s exactly the kind of critique I want and need. I’m not a fan of having only my strengths pointed out, I want to know what’s not working and why it won’t work.
At the end of the ten weeks, I had not one but two nicely fleshed out character sketches I felt confident were really good…well beyond what I’d done in the past on my own. Also, because the weekly lectures were laid out in a nice step by step, Q&A format, I made a character workbook from them so I can use the process we went through in class for any and every character and/or character type I want to create. It’s one of my go to planning references now, and the cool thing is, even if you don’t take a class with him, you can find all the lecture material plus extras in his book The Art of Character by David Corbett . As a personal anecdote, I’ve downloaded a few character creation software packages to try out, including the popular Dramatica suites, and I liked them a lot, but couldn’t justify the price. Now, I’m glad I didn’t bother because this class covered nearly all of the same topics, and prompted me to build my characters in the same way by asking similar questions.
You can probably tell by now that I loved everything about this class. If you’re looking for some guided instruction on character building and character archetypes, and if you’d like that extra push to practice navigating the sometimes painful work of really getting into your character’s head, past, present, and future, then you’ll love this class. I can’t recommend it highly enough!