What I really wanted was a Dennis Lehane master class, which he sometimes teaches, though nowhere near me and not at that moment. So I made one for myself: I sat in my tiny writing nook and reread Mystic River from cover to cover, multiple times, and dissected it down to its component scenes. I created a detailed outline, color coded by character, and used it to make timelines, chronologies, and charts to figure out the book’s structural skeleton — the major evidentiary discoveries, the twists and the red herrings, the whodunit reveal to the readers and the various characters. Eventually Miracle Creek took shape, and along the way, I learned a few key lessons.
Most of us don’t have the time or money to take a master class from one of our favorite authors, much less attend an MFA program where that author is part of the core faculty. If the author’s writing in the genre you want to attempt, you have an alternative. Read and re-read one of your favorite books.
In fact, that might be better than the class, as inspiring as the class will be. Many of us learnt more about plotting, character development, and dialogue from reading the kinds of books we wanted to write. In my case, it was Dune and Earth Abides. Ultimately, I would change my mind about what I wanted to write, but the lessons and discoveries made while reading those novels were of lasting value.
It’s a choice, we all grapple with: learning through lecture and discussion OR learning by seeing a final product that illustrates how it was done by the master.