The Ninja Blog

Writing class with Charlotte Stein

Charlotte Stein, besides being one of my writing heroes, has published over 30 novels, many of which have won awards and high praise from romance and erotica readers.

She’s best known for her trademark deep point of view and fascinating interior monologues and in her own words has “written a big butt-load of books that people generally seem to like” and “taught creative writing for various British colleges for around five years”.

Because a fair amount of pond water separates the UK from Australia, I was thrilled when she agreed to teach an online class to a bunch of Aussie romance writers, including several ninjas.

Charlotte sums up her approach to teaching writing as:

We kind of want to sneak up on our writing from behind and put it in a sleeper hold, rather than sweatily battling it out in an arena while blood streams into our eyes and everyone screams for us to die.

Naturally the class was on board with that!

In her first lesson (titled Deep point of view is a massive pain in the ass) she introduced the topic by saying that deep point of view is:

…like the story of the three bears (only with you crying and drinking at the end) because you have to get it just right, when even just doing it in the first place is actually pretty hard.

While that may sound daunting, it was an important lesson for us that both readers and publishers rarely agreed on the right amount, and to seek a balance in our writing.

Another useful point Charlotte raised was that:

…the problem with interior monologue is that people assume it only has to be about the mental masturbation of the person speaking. Not so. You can use interior monologue to flesh out place, time, themes, and characters other than the main character, and all kinds of other stuff.

I’d like to get that put on a t-shirt: interior monologue is not mental masturbation!

Our five-day course covered quite a bit of ground, including:

·      What ‘deep point of view (POV)’ is and when one uses it.

·      The when and why of using first person versus second or third person

·      Nuances, common traps and things to be mindful of when using first vs third person, present vs past tense, hero vs heroine POV.

·      What writers should focus on when describing an object/event or person through a character’s eyes, and how to make that description reflect the character’s emotions and personality.

·      How to capture character (e.g. through speech patterns and idiosyncratic ways of thinking) in interior monologues.

·      Tips and traps of interior monologue and when and how to use it.

Using a Facebook room to ask Charlotte questions about the lessons turned out to be a great idea as some discovered they shared the same writing problems while others were able to offer tips, suggestions and their own experiences.

On day five we submitted our 500 word deep-point-of-view scenes to Charlotte and some of us also shared them with the group. It was great to read others’ scenes and to see what Charlotte had taught us being put to work.

I have to say, this has been my favourite writing class of all time, mostly because I love how Charlotte presents information in such a digestible and humorous way.

Some feedback on the course from others:

Wow, a course that's informative and hilarious—I'm liking this already!

This lesson is everything I waded around trying to work out and not quite getting a grip on it. I can die happy now. You've explained my biggest issues to date. THANK YOU! 

Charlotte Stein, thank you for your lessons. I loved them! And thanks everyone for sharing. I love learning from reading everyone else's words.

I feel like I've learned so much and my writing is flowing again. Winning!

…along with being highly entertaining, your notes inspired me last night and I wrote a few half decent paragraphs (finally) in third person…

I'll definitely be looking at this again later.

I am now more confident about tackling third person with my new tools!