Robert Whiting is a talented and fascinating writer addicted to Japan. He has lived and worked as a journalist in Tokyo on and off for more than fifty years. His memoir ‘Tokyo Junkie‘ begins in 1962 when Japan was transforming itself on a monumental scale in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics. The pages in-between cover a plethora of captivating subjects relating to the capital and the colourful characters who live there, as well as his own experiences in the Land of the Rising Sun. His final thoughts dwell on the recent Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021 and the effects of Covid-19 on the Japanese people and the businesses that thrive on the streets and alleyways in Tokyo.
Whiting is a humble man, saying more than once he believes he lacks an understanding of the finer points of Japanese culture, for example tea ceremony, but this book proves he has an all-encompassing understanding of society, culture, politics, sport and religion in Japan. He writes on a variety of subjects including the prevalence of Shintoism and attitudes towards Christianity, giving examples of why Shintoism is so ingrained in everyday life. He describes the four seasons in Japan on page 206 with poetic charm and shares snippets of history to enthral the reader. On page 89, he explains: “The name Ochanomizu literally means “water for tea” and references the Kanda River from which water was extracted to make the shogun’s tea during the Edo period”. He also quotes haiku by Issa, the 18th-century poet, on page 25:
“ 酒好きの蝶なら来よ角田川 (If you’re a butterfly that likes to drink, come down here to the Sumida River).”
The above quote is one Whiting would appreciate more than most. He reveals he’s partial to a few drinks and he regularly makes an appearance at the Foreign Correspondence Club of Japan where he serves on the Board of Directors. He says BBC correspondent John Morris once described this place as “a waterfront sailors’ bar and a brothel” (pg. 321). However, Whiting points out the FCCJ is an ideal place for any writer, including himself, to source excellent writing opportunities and it’s the perfect club for networking with other journalists.
Whiting admits he finds himself drawn towards the “low end” of Tokyo when he’s not thinking of or writing about his favourite sport, baseball. He has always been intrigued by the sordid underbelly of city life and the seedy people who live, work and play there like the yakuza, gamblers and hostesses. He likes to write about illegitimate or quasi-criminal and fraudulent activities that lay just below the surface of polite society in Tokyo. This has landed him in trouble on more than one occasion. He almost became involved in dealing firearms with the yakuza and at times he has been afraid of being pushed in front of a train in a Tokyo subway station by a chinpira for offending a yakuza boss he mentioned in his other book ‘Tokyo Underworld‘!
Whiting’s love of Tokyo and the people who live there is ever-present in this book. He mentions everyone who has touched his heart and helped him when he needed it most, like the elderly lady who worked in the kiosk in front of Shibuya Station. She provided a bed and breakfast for him when he missed the last train home. Or Kazuhiko Kusaka-san who found him lodgings, acted as a rent guarantor, and escorted him around the temples, shrines and old-fashioned shops in his local area, helping him to assimilate into the Japanese way of life.
One minute Whiting is explaining sumo wrestling is a difficult sport with a long tradition and on the next page he’ll share a story about a romantic date like his involvement with a young girl called Chako, the daughter of an izakaya owner. But it’s his love for his wife Machiko that leaves the greatest impression. He writes about her with the utmost respect and fondness. He describes her as “educated, cultured and intelligent (pg. 195) . . . the beautiful, clear-eyed wife (pg. 369)” who refuses to move to New York because she wants to make it clear she’s interested in him and not his passport. His passion for Tokyo is also reiterated repeatedly. He loves “the honesty of the average Tokyo-ite (pg. 353) and he likes the way “Japan was a place where it simply wasn’t necessary to win every argument – or even argue at all, for that matter“ (pg. 287).
Whiting is a captivating writer. His style is void of unnecessary adverbs and superlative adjectives and he is direct, candid and sincere on every page. His descriptions of Tokyo make the reader want to move to this enticing capital or at least visit the city for an extended period. He says “I like the incredible energy, the activity, the politeness, the orderliness, the cleanliness, the efficiency, the trains that always arrive on time, the mix of neon lights, the charm, and the uniqueness of it all.” (pg. 77)
This book is like a multi-faceted diamond with each prism refracting a unique light on each subject at hand. In the past decade, many Westerners have visited Japan as tourists and it has become one of the world’s most popular destinations. Tokyo is now home to more than 500,000 foreigners. Many people strive to understand the real Japan. They give up realising there are so many layers to the culture and levels in society and it would take years to fully comprehend. In less than 400 pages, Whiting’s memoir provides the answers to the many questions that need answering in order to understand the Japanese and their customs. This is possible because he opened his heart to the Japanese people and their culture many years ago when he was stationed in Japan, unlike most of his fellow soldiers. This is a brilliant memoir, I highly recommend it, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Whiting’s books in the future.
If you’re visiting Japan as a tourist or if you’re planning on living in Japan I would first and foremost encourage you to eat at more traditional Japanese restaurants. If that’s the case, why is this blog post all about the advantages of eating at a family restaurant?
Below are five good reasons why you shouldn’t miss out on the delights on offer at what the Japanese like to call famiresu (a shortened version of the words “family restaurant”). Some of the more well-known family restaurant chains are Gusto (ガスト), Royal Host, Denny’s, Big Boy, Saizeriya, Joyfull, Coco’s and Jonathan’s.
1. Family restaurants cater for just about everyone including large groups, families, individuals, couples, work colleaguesand business associates
Family restaurants offer lots of spacious seating unlike more traditional yakitori restaurants and izakayas (Japanese-style taverns) and they cater for people of all ages. If you’re visiting Japan with young children, family restaurants are a great place to get a meal but don’t presume it’s okay for your kids to run riot. I’ve heard of situations where Westerners have been asked to leave because their children are extremely noisy. Even though family restaurants are ideal for big groups you won’t feel out of place if you dine here alone. The large tables are perfect for getting some work done on your PC while you grab a bite or if you just want to drink endless cups of coffee, a bottomless glass of melon soda or a healthy kale and banana green smoothie. Some people even hold business meetings in family restaurants so don’t be surprised if you see a couple of Japanese businessmen in suits having a serious chat over a cup of coffee at the table next to you.
2. Their menus are extensive with a lot of choices
All the menus I’ve seen at family restaurants are huge with loads of pictures showing you exactly what you can expect to eat. There’s always a variety of menus waiting for you on the table when you sit down and these menus can change at different times of the day, depending on when they’re serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another huge bonus is that family restaurants offer a lot of Western or American-style food as well as Chinese, Italian, and French dishes and of course Japanese food. This is great if more than one person is dining. Your friend could eat a very Japanese dish like unadon (eel on rice) and you could order chicken with a garlic and soy sauce or a Neapolitan-style pizza capricciosa. The servings are also very generous.
If you love hamburger steaks, spaghetti and other pasta dishes, a juicy rib-eye and chips, surf and turf, a variety of salads, pancakes, toast, bacon and eggs, calamari, pizza, fried chicken, soups or cheesecake and chocolate cake then you’re in luck. Family restaurants do these dishes very well and there’s something to please everyone. You should note that franchises like Denny’s and Big Boy with restaurants in the US and around the world have menus that are only specific to Japan and the dishes are very different to what you can expect to find on the menu in your home country.
Not all family restaurants are the same. Some restaurants specialize in one dish in particular. Shabu-yo is famous for offering all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu (a hotpot dish of thinly sliced meat and vegetables boiled in water and served with dipping sauces) for just 1,699 yen per person. Saizeriya, on the other hand, offers a lot of Italian food. Saizeriya also has the reputation for being the cheapest family restaurant in Japan.
3. The meals and drinks are cheap at family restaurants
Japan is famous for having a lot of Michelin star restaurants but dining out can get very expensive if you want to try the best Japan has to offer. If you can lower your expectations and you’re fine with a hearty meal that won’t break the bank you’ll love family restaurants. What if you’re craving Aussie beef? You can order a premium Aussie hamburger steak meal with demi-glace sauce for under 1,000 yen at Jonathan’s! You can also expect family restaurants to have daily specials and a “Happy Hour” with discounts on certain alcoholic drinks and meals.
4. Family restaurants definitely have the comfort factor
If you’ve lived in Japan for a few years you may have experienced a major or fairly major earthquake. If you’re in Japan for just a few days on a holiday, you could be jolted at any time in the middle of the day or night by these terrifying tremors. Without a doubt, it will leave you feeling disorientated and fearful. A visit to a local family restaurant can really help calm your nerves. Soft lighting, friendly staff in smart uniforms, comfortable booths to sit in, lots of delicious food on offer and the cheerful chatter of other patrons around you can be the perfect way to readjust. Family restaurants are also a great place to eat if you want to try a variety of Western food in one sitting, if you’re missing the tastes from back home or if you’re just feeling lonely.
5. Ordering is easy!
A lot of tourists are drawn to McDonalds, Burger King and other fast-food outlets like KFC when they visit Japan because of the language barrier and the fact their signs and menus look familiar but the staff here are just as unlikely to speak fluent English at these famous places. Family restaurants give you much more variety and all you have to do is point to the picture on the menu for the waitress to understand you! When you walk through the door, you will be greeted by a waiter who will guide you to your table. The menus are all written in Japanese and English. There’s usually a push button on the table for you to summon the waitress when you’re ready to order and some family restaurants have already installed touch panel menus in a variety of languages making the ordering process a breeze.
Saizeriya, Denny’s and Jonathan’s family restaurants in Japan. Photo by Satoko Kawasaki.
So, there you have it. Above are five very good reasons for eating at a family restaurant in Japan. I hope you decide to dine in one of these establishments when you’re in the Land of the Rising Sun. Believe it or not, eating at a family restaurant has become a popular tradition for many Japanese people and memories of eating there will stay in your mind long after you’ve left Japan.
When we came across the new WASO Japanese food delivery service online my husband Roy I were so keen to try it. WASO in London delivers Michelin star Japanese meals directly to your home and all their meals are at gourmet supermarket prices! Yes, you read that right! If you head to WASO’s Facebook page you’ll discover that Hideki Hiwatashi is the Executive Head Chef at WASO and he’s also a Michelin star chef.
Chef Hiwatashi used to be the Executive Head Chef of Roan Kikunoi, a 2-star Michelin restaurant in Kyoto, and the Executive Head Chef of Sake No Hana in Mayfair, so I was expecting a lot when we received our Japanese dishes today via courier.
We live 100 miles away from London in Gloucestershire and I knew sashimi was included in the order. I was wondering how fresh everything would be when I finally served it up on plates for our dinner this evening.
The DHL courier dropped off the box with all our WASO goodies inside at about lunchtime. When I opened the box, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well everything was packed to keep all the frozen food cool. As you can see in the pictures below, WASO use a double wrapping of WOOLCOOL thermal insulated packaging and inside that they place dry ice around the food containers. Everything was still very frozen so this WOOLCOOL is obviously very effective.
I cut open the packaging and left all the food in the containers before I went out for about two hours.
When I returned home, it only took 5 minutes in the microwave to heat up everything on plates. I didn’t put the eel in the microwave. I placed the package containing the eel in boiling water for five minutes. I’ve used this boiling method in the past and I highly recommend it. The instructions are on the packet.
While the main dishes were in the microwave we ate the yellowtail sashimi. A packet of soy sauce and a sachet of wasabi horseradish were included with the packaging. It was so fresh you’d think I’d caught it and sliced it up that morning so we’d definitely order more sashimi and sushi in the future. I love mackerel. In fact, it’s my favourite type of sashimi so I was in heaven eating this because it’s a lot like mackerel but it has a milder taste.
Roy had the miso pork, the rice and vegetable dish, and crab croquettes. He does like Japanese food but he’s a bit more conservative than me when it comes to trying dishes he’s never had before, so the pork dish was an obvious choice for him. He loved it and he’s usually not someone to give praise easily. He thought the croquettes had a lovely texture and he said he’d definitely eat the miso pork again.
We loved the way a side of cooked courgettes, spinach and carrots were included with the rice.
I had the unagi (eel), a rice and vegetable dish, and a croquette. A small container of tonkatsu sauce for the croquette was included. I loved the consistency of the croquette as well and my unagi was just so mouth-wateringly good. The sweet, firm-fleshed eel was extremely tender and the taste was lovely and mild with no aftertaste.
Japanese people ordering from WASO will be so impressed when they try the rice. When I put it in the microwave for five minutes I thought it would probably be hard in places or cold in the middle of the blocks of rice but it was prepared to perfection! I don’t know how WASO does this. It was unbelievably good rice.
There’s a minimum £25.00 spend for delivery within the London area. Admittedly, this service does get a bit costly when you’re just feeding a couple like my husband and me because there’s a minimum £45.00 spend if you live outside of the London area. But, we’ve realised there’s a way around this. You just need to buy enough dishes for two days! When we went to Pizza Hut it cost us £45 for one pizza and drinks. I’d prefer to eat these delicious, healthy and well balanced Japanese meals from WASO and you get so much more for your money.
WASO have a special offer at the moment. You can get 15% off your first order until the end of June so visit the WASO website, mention the code Renae15, and treat yourself to some of their delicious dishes. You won’t be disappointed. If you’re having a party WASO also does catering for large groups.
Here are a few more dishes you can order from WASO. As you can see, everything is reasonably priced and very tempting.
Thank you so much WASO for sending us such delicious dishes. Everything we ate today was so flavoursome and delectable. It’s great to know we can order such fresh and wonderful Japanese meals and have them delivered to our home now and in the future.
WASO are on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you love Japanese food please show them your support on these social media platforms.
MasterClass began publishing publicly in 2015 as an online education subscription platform. It gets better every year because they keep adding more instructors.
Is the all-access pass (£179/$180) good value for money?
This depends on whether you’re an effective and disciplined self-learner and and how much time you can dedicate to these MasterClasses without constant interruptions. Their high-definition video productions are first-class and the price to subscribe is very reasonable for what you get in return.
If you don’t have time to watch all the writing instructors I’ve provided a list below of who I believe are the best instructors in each category, followed by a more thorough review of each instructor based on delivery and content.
Before you sign up, keep in mind MasterClass often has special offers such as “Purchase a yearly all-access pass and gift a free pass to a friend” or “Try MasterClass as part of a seven-day free trial”.
I live in the UK. We had to abide by the ‘stay at home’ rule due to Covid restrictions for months on end so I had plenty of time to take advantage of the annual membership. I watched a total of 455 classes over a 12-month period up until mid-April, 2021. I was mainly interested in the writing MasterClasses but I also enjoyed several other courses: Photography with Annie Leibovitz, Creativity and Leadership with Anna Wintour, Interior Design with Kelly Wearstler, Dog Training with Brandon McMillan, and a few vids with Samuel L. Jackson just because he’s so cool!
David Baldacci gets my vote for the best writing instructor overall. You don’t need to be interested in thriller/mystery writing to take his course. His classes will appeal to writers of any genre.
Will these MasterClasses make you a better writer?
Yes, but you need to proactively listen to the instructors, take notes on what the instructors are saying, read the PDF workbooks, and apply their advice to your writing.
Please note this blog post is a subjective review of how well each instructor teaches their MasterClass. I’m not reviewing the quality of these instructors’ books, novels or screenplays. All the instructors are well-established experts in their field of writing.
If you’re looking for a particular instructor and they’re not on this list it’s because my subscription ended and I didn’t get a chance to watch them.
Before we begin the reviews, here’s a few tips on how to get the most out of your MasterClass membership.
1. Don’t adopt the attitude that I don’t write in that genre so I’m not going to watch that writer. Each instructor has a world of experience in writing in general and all of their classes are a goldmine of hidden gems.
2. Download all the PDF workbooks for future reference but make sure you type your own notes in Word as you’re watching each class. Only type what is meaningful for you. Save the workbooks to your desktop so you can read them when your subscription ends. Every person watching is at a different stage in their writing path so everybody will take a different set of notes that’s relevant to their needs. If you complete the workbooks while you’re watching each Masterclass you won’t be able to cover lots of different instructors in a 12-month period.
3. Don’t watch more than 10 lessons/videos per day if you really want to concentrate on what’s being taught.
4. Turn on the captions if you’re having trouble concentrating or if you’re tired.
Now, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Below is a list of the best instructors, in my opinion, in each category. If you scroll down even further you’ll see each instructor has been given a score for delivery and content and I’ve provided a short summary of what I thought of each MasterClass.
• Best instructor for beginners is James Patterson
• Best instructor for experienced writers is Amy Tan
• Best instructor for short story writing is Joyce Carol Oates
• Best instructor for thriller writing is Dan Brown
• Best instructor for writing for children and adolescents is R. L. Stine
• Best instructor for writing poetry is Billy Collins
• Best instructor for screenwriting is Shonda Rhimes
• Best instructor for humour/comedy writing is David Sedaris
• Best instructors for plot structure are Neil Gaiman and David Mamet
• Best instructor for creating better characters is Judy Blume
• Best instructor for convincing dialogue is Aaron Sorkin
• Best instructor overall is David Baldacci
Below is my review of each writing instructor with a star rating for delivery and content. They’re listed in alphabetical order.
Learn how the author of The Handmaid’s Tale crafts vivid prose and hooks readers with her timeless approach to storytelling.
Atwood is a fantastic writer and she instantly commands respect but her tone is a bit monotonous. You do warm to her as you watch more lessons and without a doubt some of her suggestions are golden. If you can get past the first few videos the monotonous tone actually takes on a lovely meditative quality.
Don’t forget to download Atwood’s PDF workbook to reference when you’ve finished watching her MasterClass. It’s one of the best because it’s packed full of her stories and advice. There are also links to books she recommends that excel in the first person or the third person, films you should watch, helpful assignments, a questionnaire you can use to create more believable characters, and hints on how to write the best first few pages of your manuscript.
Every now and then, Atwood gives you a cheeky smile and I think it’s her way of saying you don’t have to take every part of the writing process too seriously. It’s okay to make mistakes and start over. Atwood covers all the basics and she’ll appeal to both first-time writers and experienced writers alike.
In his MasterClass, bestselling thriller author David Baldacci teaches you how he fuses mystery and suspense to create pulse-pounding action.
Baldacci gets 5-stars for both delivery and content and this all boils down to his enthusiasm for writing, his approach to teaching the craft, and his brilliant suggestions. This makes him the best thriller/mystery writer to watch and the best person overall for anyone thinking about becoming a writer or if you’ve just begun writing your first novel.
An example of his genius is his suggestion to use the roller coaster method. Where there’s lots of tension you also need quieter times after something terrible has happened. Baldacci says the reader should be able to take a breath so they can collect themselves.
Baldacci is a fast-paced talker but he’s easy to follow and his passion for helping others makes his words compelling. Even though he’s a thriller writer, he’s an absolute master when it comes to plot construction and he’ll really appeal if you want to improve characterization. His suggestions could be applied to any genre.
Baldacci is also very good at explaining the publishing industry, royalties and world rights, what happens when your book is published in different languages, and the importance of a good relationship with booksellers if you want to go global.
In 24 lessons, Judy Blume shows you how to develop vibrant characters and hook your readers.
So how does she do this? Blume teaches you how to convey emotions by showing not telling, she shows you how to work with conflicting emotions, practise realistic dialogue, establish characters through plot twists, and go deeper into character, but one tip I particularly liked is her hint to think of your characters as real people. Download her workbook and you’ll see there are a lot more recommendations that will help you create characters people love and remember.
Some writers never know how to start the first chapter and every chapter that follows. Blume can help you get over this. You’ll also learn how to keep your story on track so it doesn’t go off into all sorts of tangents.
Out of all the writers, Blume is the most encouraging instructor and you’ll be pleased you watched her MasterClass.
In his first-ever online class, best-selling author Dan Brown teaches you his step-by-step process for turning ideas into page-turning novels.
All of Brown’s videos are well-worth watching and I took lots of notes. There’s just so much you can learn from him. I have to admit if you’re thinking of writing a gripping thriller he’s your man but he’s also very helpful when it comes to plot structure. There’s also lots to learn on building tension. Brown is very good on how to approach the logistics of building a novel and characters and how to create a convincing villain and the puppet master who is pulling the strings to get the villain to do what he wants him to do.
Brown also emphasises the importance of research and how to go about this in the proper way. He gives good advice on how to find the best locations and absorb those locations so you can put all those details down when you’re starting to build the pages of your novel. These specifics are important because they’ll make your book seem more realistic and motivate you to get everything right.
Dan Brown is passionate about helping you to become a better writer. I couldn’t help but notice the veins in his neck are taut and constricted throughout his tutorials because he’s so emphatic and he’s putting so much effort and emphasis into his lessons.
In his first-ever online class, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins teaches you how to find joy, humour, and humanity in reading and writing poetry.
Don’t make the mistake that if you write fiction, not poetry, this Masterclass isn’t worth your time. Just reading poetry and analyzing it can be beneficial.
Collins has a pleasant, gravelly voice but I need to point out it that his tone may seem a bit dull to the younger generations, thus the 3-stars for delivery. But, in his class “Humour as a Serious Strategy” he admits he’s pretending to be serious in his videos. I would’ve liked to have seen him open up more and be less “serious”. That would have improved his delivery.
His “Introduction: The Pleasure Poetry Gives Us” Collins provides you with all the lovely reasons so many of us love poetry. In less than four minutes, you learn that good poetry modulates and affects your reading, words mean more and sound better, you move from one place at the start to a different place at the end, from the familiar to the unfamiliar, and this all rises to a crescendo where you end up unhinged.
He stresses the pleasure of companionship that comes from memorisation and when you learn a poem you internalise it and take it with you wherever you go. It’s about the romance of time, the need to seize the day, or carpe diem. It’s a call to action because we’re all running out of time in our lives.
Writing poetry has obviously given Collins the ability to speak and explain anything and everything in a very concise but deeply meaningful and insightful manner. He offers excellent guidance on how to create a good title for your poem and how to formulate the first few lines or stanzas. He also encourages you how to be imaginative with the subject. For example, you could write a poem about taking a boat ride with Joan of Arc!
Not only this, he teaches you how to shape the statue of your poem, he gives you good tips on using your imagination, rather than memory to write a poem, and he emphasizes how you need a literary sense of adventure to go off into new territory. He also talks about the art of what he calls “playing a visible game” and says he turns over the cards at the beginning of a poem to let the reader know what it’s about.
If anything here appeals to you then you should definitely watch Billy Collins. I promise you, he will not disappoint you.
In his first-ever online class, Neil Gaiman teaches you how he conjures up new ideas, convincing characters, and vivid fictional worlds.
People often ask writers how they come up with ideas for original plots. Gaiman gives you the tools to do this. He explains how a plot is produced by bringing two ideas together and creating something entirely different ― hopefully a story no one else has ever considered writing. His approach, using confluence, is a wonderful way to think of original ideas.
Gaiman is also a very lateral thinker so his tips are all unique and come from his heart and his very own experiences. You’ll learn how to change a point of view in a story, modernize themes, switch a story element, and find your voice.
Gaiman is also a pretty cool guy in a grungy sort of way so he’s a lot of fun to watch and he annunciates every word he says so beautifully. You wouldn’t need to hire a narrator for his audiobooks. He would be the perfect narrator for his brilliant writing with his mesmerising voice. This is one of the better MasterClasses to choose from and you’ll learn more than just the basics from this fascinating man.
In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.
Gladwell touches on themes, unlike many of the other instructors, and how you can write more interesting, unique and even odd themes if you want people to start showing more interest in your books.
Gladwell tells us to throw perfection to the wind. He wants writers to spice up their writing in order to make it more captivating. You’d think that was an obvious point for writers to consider but sometimes it’s just easier to write the mundane and we need writers like Gladwell to help us get back on track.
Just watching Gladwell is captivating. He really holds your attention with his quirky personality. He writes non-fiction for readers who like to think outside the box. Gladwell is so personable and interesting you really want to read his books. Watching him is like sitting opposite him in an intimate restaurant and he’s talking just to you. Not so much for his writing expertise but mainly because he sounds so interesting, Gladwell is the man I’d like to be sitting next to at a dinner party.
Gladwell also emphasises the importance of humility when you interview someone or write about someone. This is helpful advice for writers who are starting to attract attention but Gladwell could easily be described as effervescent in his enthusiasm to explain everything. He uses the word “fascinating” a lot but the truth is Gladwell is the person who is fascinating to listen to and watch. He also has a beautiful, very husky and soothing voice.
This Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he’s learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.
David Mamet is very good at helping you fill in all the blanks when you’re stuck on the intricacies of plot structure. What I’m trying to say is when you write a story you might have a great plot idea with a wonderful beginning and ending but it’s the middle part which can let you down. Mamet’s suggestions help you think about all the parts in-between that make the plot go into all sorts of wonderful directions with twists and turns that tie in and correlate with each other at different points in the drama, book or film.
Mamet is a playwright who is very well-read and this is what makes him so captivating. He has studied the Greek classics and philosophers like Aristotle, psychoanalysts like Sigmund Freud, and Shakespeare as well in great detail and this dedication to learning and improving his mind has made him a master in his craft.
In his MasterClass, Walter Mosley teaches you how to rethink genres and the “rules” of fiction and how to approach writing your own novel.
Mosley only has 13 videos and his MasterClass is the shortest overall. He has a lovely voice that makes for easy listening but his videos are there simply to inspire you to write and rewrite. You’ll learn how to create compelling characters that must evolve in good or bad ways or both, he stresses that language should be vivid, and he touches on the importance of showing not telling. In short, Mosley emphasises how important it is for the writer to “elevate from the pedestrian”.
Each instructor has a different approach to how much writing a writer should do in one day, one week, or one year, if you want to pursue a writing career. Mosley writes 1,000 words every day. Some writers think about what they’re going to write for months or even years and then spend six months typing at a furious pace, others write only a few days a week. If you only watch one MasterClass you’ll probably adopt that famous writer’s habits but if you watch all the writers you’ll discover it really comes down to personal preference and no approach is set in stone.
Literary legend Joyce Carol Oates teaches you how to write short stories by developing your voice and exploring classic works of fiction.
Oates’ delivery could be described as prim and proper so she’ll appeal to an older audience.
I really wanted to give Carol Oates a higher score but this wonderful writer didn’t grab me as much as the other authors and her tone sometimes made me want to go to sleep. I also took very few notes, proving I didn’t take a lot from her classes. On the upside, Oates strongly believes excellent writing stems from reading a lot of great books and classic literature and I completely agree with her.
Oates explains the most powerful writing comes from suppressed thoughts and feelings and subjects often considered taboo.
It’s worth mentioning how much I really enjoyed her advice on the way a writer can play with different forms of writing to improve their craft and I immediately wrote a short story after watching this lesson. Therefore, I can categorically say you will definitely be inspired by Oates if you watch her classes.
James teaches you how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page.
Patterson is the perfect wordsmith to watch if you’re writing commercial fiction. That’s where the money is, so there should be plenty of people out there interested in his lessons. Patterson is older, wiser and more knowledgeable than most of the others and I’m not surprised he was the first writer MasterClass instructor to be chosen from so many, when it all began. However, I really didn’t get much from his lessons that I didn’t already know but don’t be put off by this review if you’re a beginner. He’s my number one pick as the best instructor for a first-time writer.
In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda Rhimes teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television. Rhimes is very good at describing how to pitch your premise and how important it is to present wonderful characters.
You can tell she’s a great producer on top of being an excellent screenwriter because she commands your attention when you watch her.
Her video “Creating Memorable Characters” is very good but her classes “Writing a Script: Structure”, “Editing your script”, and “Working in a Writers’ Room” are her best and well-worth watching.
Hollywood is often described as seedy, fast, and impossible to penetrate unless you have connections. Kudos to Rhimes for being one of the few instructors who talks about making people who work with you and for you feel valued as well as giving them plenty of opportunities. She stresses how important it is to be nice and kind and to have fun. All this is discussed in her video “Showrunning”.
In short, Rhimes’ delivery is great. She smiles a lot and gives you plenty of constructive advice, especially if you’re interested in screenwriting. She also speaks with enthusiasm and comes across as a very kind, humble and approachable person.
Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie teaches you his techniques for crafting believable characters, vivid worlds, and spellbinding stories.
I really did expect so much more from Rushdie. Knowing he writes books that have caused so much controversy I thought I was going to be bowled over with some of his ideas but I was disappointed. His suggestions were just so standard and he pontificates on one point for too long, not giving himself enough time to teach us more.
On the upside, he speaks very well, enunciating each word with a very clipped British accent. The production team also did an excellent job providing scenes of India as well as old videos and photos of Rushdie.
New York Times bestselling author David Sedaris teaches you how to turn everyday moments into seriously funny stories that connect with audiences.
Sedaris is here to teach humour and you’ll discover he does that well after watching his videos. Don’t expect him to make you laugh as you watch his lessons, instead you can expect very serious and constructive advice on how to become a better non-fiction writer and reader to audiences.
Sedaris finds humour in everyday situations and he’ll often reference his family and friends. You can consider yourself lucky you’re not one of his relatives because it can get pretty personal. However, his sister Lisa joins him in his lesson “Writing About Loved Ones” and she explains her brother is gentle in his approach and removes anything anyone finds offensive immediately and that’s commendable.
He doesn’t just give you writing suggestions, he tells you how to live a better and more fulfilling life. For example, he says that when you’re observing a situation, don’t interrupt, let the situation play its way out to see how a potential story could be formed.
Sedaris teaches you what would be a good essay length and how many characters you should put in an essay. His subjects can be irreverent, sexual and highly sensitive. Nothing is off limits for him and he likes to spark controversy. He wants to evoke feelings and reactions from his readers and people who listen to him tell his stories. Sometimes you feel sorry for him because he appears vulnerable but this could be something Sedaris deliberately orchestrates.
You can’t watch Sedaris without developing a personal opinion of him. At times, he comes across as an egoist and it makes you wonder whether he wants to get more out of his life than just being an author. He seems like a man who enjoys his celebrity status. He writes to make people laugh but his serious tone and the lines on his face, especially the vertical frown between his eyes, makes you wonder whether he’s actually a pessimist.
If you have any doubts about Sadaris’ character after reading this, watch his video on “Growing as a Writer”, and you’ll discover he’s a kind and gracious writer who really appreciates his readers. He’s also someone who really wants to help you become a better writer.
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting. He’s very good at showing you all the details that go in to creating a fantastic screenplay.
Both screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin and Shonda Rhimes, bring in a group of young wannabe screenwriters to a roundtable discussion for selected case studies but they take a different approach. Sorkin is more interactive with them and he shows more interest in his guests’ screenplays. Rhimes, on the other hand, basically asks them to comment on her own work for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. I prefer Sorkin’s approach. I feel like I learned more from his case study videos.
Sorkin is quick to admit, right from the start, he’s much better at writing than speaking but that’s not the only reason he gets 3-stars for delivery. He has a strange sense of humour. In his classes with wannabe screenwriters, he convincingly puts down a couple of them and seems to relish in their embarrassment before telling them he’s just having a laugh. Awkward! That aside, Sorkin’s lessons on screenwriting are full of helpful tips and you’ll come away from his classes knowing a lot more about how to write better, stronger dialogue.
The Goosebumps author teaches you how to generate ideas, outline a plot, and hook young readers from the first page.
When I started watching Stine’s lessons I thought I was going to be bored. Boy, was I wrong! He made me giggle more than any other instructor!
Stine is obviously the best person to watch if you’re planning on writing children’s books and even if you write fiction for older readers you’ll appreciate all of his advice. I wish I’d watched his lessons before I published my two books because I could’ve avoided quite a few mistakes.
Not sure whether to write in the first person or the third person? Stine will guide you in the right direction. Not sure how to create a scary story with a hint of humour? Stine will give you all sorts of terrific ideas. His workbook includes 20 fantastic storylines for anyone who wants to write children’s horror.
This celebrated author of The Joy Luck Club shares her approach to voice, story, and the craft of bringing narratives to life from beginning to end.
Amy Tan is the perfect choice for more experienced writers. Tan goes above and beyond to share with you some of her unique techniques that have helped her get to where she is today and that’s at the top of the writing game. Her suggestions for better characterisation are excellent and you’ll learn a lot on how to develop a better ending for your book.
There’s also some really great advice on finding your inner voice and writing naturally. These are just a couple of the many subjects she covers that the other writing instructors haven’t touched upon and this is important because agents are looking for writers who have a unique inner voice with an individual writing style.
I hope you enjoyed all of my reviews. Good luck on your writing journey!
Thanks for visiting my Cherry Blossom Stories Blog!
In Japan, cherry blossoms represent the fleeting nature of life which is characteristic of many Japanese traditions. Their striking beauty appears, lasts for a couple of weeks, then swiftly fades away.
The transient nature of the cherry blossoms teaches us to appreciate and celebrate our time on this magnificent planet. This sensitivity towards ephemera is called mono no aware (物の哀れ) in Japanese. I think this is a very interesting theme and I've tried to weave it into my novels and short stories. You may have also noticed cherry blossoms are a key feature on the cover of all my books.
I try to post at least once every couple of months and I usually write about Japan, especially Tokyo. I will share with you my thoughts on Japan-related fiction as well as a variety of other subjects linked to the Land of the Rising Sun. I also feature exclusive interviews and articles on well-known people who are movers and shakers in Japan and I run competitions now and again, giving you the chance to win signed copies of my books and other cool prizes!
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Buy the Books
If you love Japan and the Japanese culture you'll really enjoy Tokyo Hearts, Tokyo Tales, and Tokyo 2060.
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