How many of you want to write a novel?
It’s on my bucket list, but I’ve never been sure how to get started.
That’s why I turned to Salman Rushdie’s MasterClass. It’s one of the latest courses on the popular edutainment site and is all about storytelling.
Did it turn me into a published novelist?
Well…I’m still waiting to hear back from Random House, but in the meantime, I want to tell you all about the course.
Did I like it? Would I recommend Salman Rushdie’s MasterClass?
Read my comprehensive review to find out.
What is Salman Rushdie’s MasterClass?
Salman Rushdie’s MasterClass is a brand-new MasterClass all about Storytelling.
MasterClass has some already great classes on storytelling by geniuses like Shonda Rhimes and Neil Gaiman, so I was really excited to take this class as well.
His class is over four hours of video lessons, spread over 19 videos. This is a lot of material!
Accompanying it – as with all MasterClasses – is a PDF guide. This one is on the shorter side – around 18 pages.
Additionally, Salman has three writing lessons for you to accomplish along with the course. These are placed side-by-side-by-side in the PDF and are completable at any time. You post your homework on the class discussions messageboard.
Who is Salman Rushdie?
Salman Rushdie is a distinguished novelist and essayist.
He is perhaps best well-known for his novel “Midnight’s Children,” which won the Booker Prize for its fabulist take on India’s transition to independence from the British Empire.
He received a Knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2007.
Raised as a Muslim, his satiric work has caused great anger from Muslim communities; Iran issued a fatwa against him in the late 80s, which has never been officially lifted. Indeed, in 2016, the bounty against him was raised.
Undeterred, Rushdie has continued to speak out against religious intolerance and rising nationalism. He considers himself a passionate humanist.
What is Salman Rushdie teaching?
Salman Rushdie is teaching storytelling. While his class is most heavily rooted in the novel (as Rushdie is primarily a novelist), he shows how these storytelling techniques can be applied to other forms of fictional storytelling – including film.
It’s not, particularly, a class focused on non-fiction storytelling. He very much focuses on the truth gleaned from inhabiting a fictional world as a writer.
What is MasterClass?
These courses are delivered through video lessons (around 10-20 per course) along with a downloadable workbook and a class discussion board.
Founded in 2015, MasterClass has already delivered its courses to more than one million students.
I love MasterClass for two reasons:
1. The instructors.
The world’s most successful people teach the thing that made them famous. Gordon Ramsay teaches cooking. Neil Gaiman teaches writing. Helen Mirren teaches acting. All the instructors are household names and legends in their field.
2. The video production quality is mind-blowing.
The classes consist of 3 to 20-minute video tutorials and the Hollywood-level production quality of these videos are an absolute standout feature.
For me, this is more than education. It’s entertainment with a twist.
You can binge-watch MasterClass just like you’d do with Netflix. But instead of numbing your mind, you’ll learn some incredible skills along the way.
Now that many of us are spending more time at home, I think MasterClass is the perfect thing to jump into.
How much does Salman Rushdie’s MasterClass cost?
There are now two ways to purchase access to the Salman Rushdie MasterClass.
The first way is to purchase the class for yourself as a gift. It’s a bit tricky to find.
Scroll to the Salman Rushdie MasterClass landing page. At the bottom, click the “give as a gift.” Then gift it to yourself. This costs $90.
The second way to access the class is through MasterClass’s annual membership called the All Access Pass. This costs $180.
What does the annual membership get you?
- An entire year’s subscription to all classes on MasterClass (over 90 classes).
- Access to community message boards
- PDF workbooks for each class
MasterClass as a whole really is bingeable learning content. It offers literally thousands of hours of lessons in categories like cooking, writing, negotiation, and songwriting.
All of these classes are taught by world-class masters in their field (think Shonda Rhimes, Alicia Keyes, Garry Kasparov, and Ron Howard), giving you unprecedented insight into the creative processes of geniuses.
I like to do a quick cost comparison between a single class ($90) and the All Access Pass ($180).
For only the price of two classes, you get access to over 90 MasterClasses for an entire year.
You can take as many classes as you like, and you can take them concurrently – allowing you to learn from multiple teachers at once.
Plus, MasterClass has a great new feature called “Quick Lists”. The Quick Lists organizes different lessons from a variety of courses based around themes. It’s like a playlist for learning and is a great way to discover which class you might like to take long term.
To me, the MasterClass annual membership is a great deal that keeps getting better.
Who is this MasterClass for?
Salman Rushdie’s MasterClass is for anyone looking to be a better fiction writer.
You don’t have to be just an aspiring novelist. You could be a short story writer or a screenwriter. Just as long as you are committed to crafting imaginative stories.
Salman really focuses on giving you (the student) useful information that you can immediately apply to your writing, both at the tactical and strategic levels.
This isn’t a fluff course, nor is it a retrospective. Instead, it’s 4 hours of writing philosophy and advice.
It’s also great for people who want to get writing lessons without having demanding coursework.
The class does have three writing assignments, but they are not tied to any specific video lesson, and generally seem to be a “do at your own pace” type of assignment.
You can work on them if you want but you won’t be missing out if you move on to the next thing.
It’s also a great class for anyone who needs some motivation to get up and write.
Salman says that a writer is anyone who has “finished a book,” by that he means they’ve seen their project to completion.
Wow. I was a bit taken aback but appreciated the hard opinion. Just tinkering with an idea isn’t enough.
You have to get it done.
Who is this MasterClass not for?
Salman Rushdie’s MasterClass isn’t for people who aren’t interested in writing fiction.
That seems obvious, but I want to be specific.
If you’re looking for a class on non-fiction storytelling, then this isn’t the class for you.
Malcolm Gladwell has a MasterClass course that has a great deal of information on non-fiction writing, so you’ve got options if that is your passion.
If you’re not a big reader, you probably won’t enjoy this class either.
The class doesn’t require a lot of reading, but it helps to have a lot of books under your belt to understand the concepts that Rushdie is talking about.
But, if you’re a person who loves writing and is looking to increase your fiction storytelling abilities, you’ll really like this class.
Salman Rushdie’s MasterClass Overview
I want to give you an overview of what the course looks like – from signup to completion.
As mentioned, there are 19 videos for around 4 hours of content. That’s a bit higher than some other MasterClasses, (the videos run around 10-15 minutes in length), but it never feels boring.
In fact, each of the classes is quite compelling, and I found myself being sucked into whatever topic Salman was discussing.
Speaking of topics, let’s take a look at a few of the lessons.
Determine How to Tell Your Story
This is the second lesson (right behind meet your instructor), and Rushdie wastes no time. He uses this lesson to give you practical advice on how to write your story.
I particularly liked how he likened storytelling to music – sometimes a writer prefers to compose in a classical manner, other times it flows like Jazz. What matters is that you figure out your ideal way to tell the story that you need to tell
The other great lesson he teaches is that “without conflict, it’s hard to have drama.” He follows it up with “happiness writes with white ink on a white page.” To sum it up, “if your characters are happy, there’s no story.”
I have heard this from many different writers, and it’s great advice
Your story has to have conflict – something to change and fix. Salman hits that right from the get-go, providing valuable and clear insight that writers can use immediately.
Flesh out your story’s structure
The succeeding lesson is in determining the correct structure for your story, which I found very helpful and practical.
Rushdie says “the plot and structure are the skeletons, and the characters…are the flesh that you put on that skeleton.”
I like this. It’s a great lesson that shows you how you need to ground your story in a real through-line, but it is up to you to determine what form that structure takes.
I particularly enjoyed how Salman Rushdie tackles the 3-act structure. He calls it effective, but not universal.
That’s a great way of thinking about it.
Sure, the 3-act structure can be exceedingly helpful, but if it gets in your way, don’t bother with it.
Setting as a character
A later lesson has Rushdie preaching on the importance of setting in your story.
As a writer who has always been focused on setting, it was really helpful and reassuring to watch this lesson.
The subtitle is “learn how to approach the place with the same depth and description as you would for any of your characters.”
I find this extremely helpful.
Rushdie follows this up with something I really agreed with:
“When a writer is deeply rooted in one place, they can write about that place with complete ownership.
The migrant writer, there’s always a question mark about the place that they’re in and belonging…the willingness of people to accept they belong.”
Rushdie identifies as a “migrant writer,” due to him having lived equal times in Bombay (now Mumbai), London, and then New York. So, to him, establishing the setting is so critical from the get-go, as it affirms the foundation of the story.
Seven useful tips for writing
I’m not going to list out all seven (you really ought to take the course to find out what they are), but I’ll give you a few of my favorites.
- Minimalism vs Maximalism
In his first tip, Rushdie gives you the opposite ends of the writing spectrum.
“One hair from the goddess of literature” (minimalism).
The other is “loose baggy monsters,” which he clarifies as not having to be “loose or baggy or monsters,” but they are “everything books.”
To Rushdie, you can write an everything book or a simple, something book.
- Figure out what you need
Rushdie gives this to you as a charge: figure out what is best for your nature for writing.
Do you need to plot everything out? Or are you best suited to figuring it out as you go?
There are pluses and minuses to each, and it’s up to the writer to determine which camp they fall in.
- Sit down
My favorite tip was to just “sit down.” Put your pants on the chair and just write.
As someone who tends to procrastinate, just having the determination to plop down and write is a great tip that I need to focus on far more frequently.
Alternatives to Rushdie’s MasterClass
Salman Rushdie’s MasterClass is full of amazing tips and lessons on how to write fiction.
If you’re in the market for other awesome writing classes, you should definitely check these out.
Malcolm Gladwell’s MasterClass
Malcolm Gladwell has a great MasterClass that gives you a lot of insightful information on how to write non-fiction. It’s a completely different beast, but no less worthy than fiction.
If you’re hoping to stretch your creative non-fiction muscles (or CNF as the cool kids call it), then definitely give this class a watch.
Mamet offers a class on Dramatic Writing (writing for the stage) with a great emphasis on dialogue – a chief tool that playwrights use to move the plot forward.
If you’re looking to externalize your writing with sharp dialogue and a bottled-up plot, give Mamet’s class a try. You’ll like what you see!
Billy Collins delivers a masterful MasterClass on poetry – a subject that has a bit of short shrift on MasterClass otherwise.
It’s a great class that has a lot of class assignments and goes out of its way to give you a good understanding of the definition of poetry – something that is a bit more convoluted than it sounds at first blush.
Salman Rushdie’s MasterClass Pros and Cons
With every class I’ve taken on MasterClass, there are things I liked and a few things I didn’t like. Let’s take a quick look at the pros and then jump into the cons.
- Rushdie offers practical advice
Each lesson has real, applicable advice that writers can use to immediately improve their writing.
- The class is focused
The class concentrates on fiction writing and has a great structure that a writer can easily follow.
- The class covers new topics
Rushdie covers surrealism, which was an unexpected and delightful lesson.
- There is a lot of material
This is a four-hour class, with 19 video lessons. There’s plenty here that will keep you coming back for more.
- The class is not just an ad for Rushdie
Some MasterClasses have recently become advertisements for the teachers (Alicia Keys’ MasterClass is particularly focused on her accomplishments as opposed to teaching). I am very glad to say that Rushdie’s class is a real class, not a class that simply peddles his wares.
- Not a ton of assignments
There are three assignments that you can complete at any time you’d like. It’s not a huge knock, but I wished there had been more interactivity.
- The workbook is small
It’s not a bad workbook, but it’s only 18 pages. Some of the other writing workbooks clock in at nearly 100 pages, so this was surprising. There’s no room to write on the book itself.
Is Salman Rushdie’s MasterClass Worth It?
Without a doubt, Salman Rushdie’s MasterClass is worth it. It is one of the better MasterClasses I have taken in recent months, and the material that Rushdie presents is applicable, approachable, insightful, and lasting. He is an excellent teacher who uses a friendly and calm demeanor to present very intriguing concepts over his 19 video lessons.
I particularly enjoyed his lessons on story structure, setting, and surrealism. The latter two were unique to Rushdie’s class, while the former offered a unique perspective on an evergreen writing topic.
If you are a writer or an aspiring writer, I really recommend this course.
Put your pants to the seat, learn from his class, and then get down to writing.
That book won’t write itself.