In the past few years, MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) have become increasingly popular. You can now find these free courses online in almost any discipline from personal finance to guitar lessons to computer programming to advanced physics. Well-respected instructors present lessons from top-notch institutions around the world and in many languages. There are many sites available, with some offering credits and verification of completion.
Over the past two and a half years, I’ve taken five of these classes from Coursera. Three of those, I took specifically as supplemental courses for my writing:
- The Social Context of Mental Health and Illness
- Presumed Innocent? The Social Science of Wrongful Conviction
- Introduction to Forensic Science
But those don’t look like writing courses, you might be thinking. No, but what better way to learn more about topics I might want to write about than to take a (free) class? Since I’m interested in writing mysteries, these are all relevant subjects. The first is a psychology course explaining various mental health topics, treatments available, reasons people may or may not receive treatment, and the consequences for the ill, the family, and society. The second class examines the legal system, how wrongful convictions are reached, and what is done to overturn them. And the Forensic Science course, which I just finished recently, is a hardcore science class. Think CSI and crime labs – it examines crime scene processing, firearms and ballistics, blood spatter, drugs and alcohol, establishing time of death, chemical element testing, DNA, and poisons.
Some of these MOOCs offer straightforward writing courses, which I’m sure are worth checking out. But don’t forget to consider other options if you want to go in-depth to study a specific topic for writing a book. Nobody wants to read a crime novel in which the writer confuses blood types or poisons their victim incorrectly. These sites offer amazing information for free and on your own schedule; be sure to take advantage of them!