Here’s a hypothetical situation: you’ve written a zombie apocalypse novel involving a scene that requires more detailed knowledge about epidemics than you currently have. Maybe one of your characters is an epidemiologist but you don’t know enough about the topic to write her dialogue credibly. You could contact a real epidemiologist and ask them to help you write your character, but chances are they’d be too busy fighting the next strain of superbugs to answer your questions. What do you do?
Well, if your entire book hinges on this topic, you might want to consider learning more about it yourself. After all, authoritative voice is critical in convincing your readers that you have the background to write your story. Google is always an option, but the results you get are rather mixed and in the case of highly technical topics, oftentimes the results are written at a higher level than you’re ready to understand. But short of enrolling in an intro course at your local university which is a) time consuming, and b) expensive, how can you acquire that expertise?
After all, authoritative voice is critical in convincing your readers that you have the background to write your story.
Enter Coursera.org, a perfect example of what’s right with the Internet.
Coursera is a portal for enrolling in university-level online courses without going through the hassle of applying to college, attending classes, or even paying tuition. It’s the perfect resource for somebody who needs a quick introduction to a complicated topic- such as a writer looking to glean some practical knowledge about epidemiology.
Going back to our zombie example, here’s a list of courses that deal with epidemiology. “Epidemics: The Dynamics of Infections Diseases” looks interesting….
Once you create your (free) account, you can enroll in any class. The offerings come from prestigious institutions like Emory, Standford, and Johns Hopkins. Most are free, unless you want to receive a certificate of completion, in which case you have to pay a small fee. If you choose to forego the certificate and go the free route, you don’t have to complete any of the assignments; there’s no commitment to do any actual work. You can just watch the lectures on the topics you’re interested in, and be done with it. They have a mobile app, too, so you can watch your lectures on the bus, while you’re cooking dinner, or at the airport.
Some courses aren’t available right away, but the system will tell you when the next session begins (usually within a few weeks).
All in all, it’s an amazing resource for writers who are looking to build a working knowledge of a specific topic for their novels. For free.