Let's Write a Story! | Julia Gousseva | Skillshare

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

6 Lessons (35m)
    • 1. Introduction

      0:57
    • 2. Story Basics

      5:42
    • 3. Character & Desire

      6:37
    • 4. Specific Goals

      9:17
    • 5. What's at Stake?

      12:30
    • 6. Conclusion

      0:25
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About This Class

Do you want to write a short story but don't know where to start? Or have you started writing but gave up because you did not know how to develop your story? 

This short class will show you how to create your main character, give that character a specific goal, and put some obstacles in his/her way to make the story more exciting for you and for your readers.

Meet Your Teacher

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Julia Gousseva

Writer, Creative Writing Teacher

Teacher

Julia Gousseva

Writer, Creative Writing Teacher

How to Write an Original Short Story

Have you always wanted to write fiction but don’t know where to start? Have you started writing but got stuck and don’t know how to finish? Do you have ideas but find it hard to develop them into a complete story that makes sense? Or do you experience writer's block, get stuck, and lose motivation?

If you have experienced any of these problems or if you simply want a clear and specific way to develop your idea into a story, you’re in the right place.
 
This course will present an approach to writing stories that I have developed over a number of years and refined with my students in face-to-face classes.

This approach is a step... See full profile

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Transcripts

1. Introduction: Welcome to the class. My name is Julia Cassava, and I've been writing and teaching college level writing classes for many years. My goal today is to help you come up with a story idea and develop it into a brief summary . We'll start by discussing possible main characters. Then we'll dig deeper into curator development by thinking about your characters. Desire or the main goal that he or she wants to accomplish, will learn to take the turn general goals in the specific ones and then we'll make your plot more exciting by raising the stakes were curator. Your project for this class is to write a summary of your story it made. Your list should be enough, but you can write more if you feel inspired. I hope you find this class enjoyable and useful. I'd love to see what you come up with. Please share your summary with the class in the project gallery. Let's get started 2. Story Basics: All right, so the begin with Let's talk about a few things that we need to figure out before actually beginning to write. And one of those things is this question. What kind of story they want, right. I think the best way to to decide on that is to think about what kind of stories do you like to read? And if you enjoy reading those stories, you probably know how how they're supposed to be organized, what kind of characters they have. And most more importantly, you enjoy those kinds of stories. So if you enjoyed eating something, you're gonna probably into writing it. So what kind of story could it be? Maybe it's going to be a love story. And then, if that's the case, you have to think about what kind of love story is it going to be? Do you want it to have a happy ending? Do you want to show that love conquers all kind of a message? Or maybe you want to show that the love can hurt or maybe something else. But if it's a love story, least he of the general idea of the type of story want to write Or maybe it's something different. Maybe you want to write a mystery. And again, if you decided the mystery, think about what kind of mysteries do you enjoy. Maybe you like causes. Tell Mr is more like Agatha Christie style when there's a puzzle and people are trying to solve that puzzle to find the criminal. But maybe not so much blood and gore. Or maybe you do want to write, Ah, more modern type story with blood and gore and guts on the pavement, which is perfectly fine. Just just decide what what appeals to you. What do you like and what kind of start would you like to read? Maybe you want to do realistic fiction. Ah, a lot of times we several the stories about murders and dragons and theories and different worlds. But a lot of people enjoy reading about people like them. More realistic fiction. You could write three young adults you could write for adults, and it's ah, it'll be a story about kind of everyday people that probably put in the circumstances. They did not expect something that's a good that weight approach, realistic fiction. Or maybe you traveled somewhere and want to write about that other. No other country, other place people enjoy traveling. And a lot of people enjoy traveling by fiction, sort of an escape into a different world. So realistic fiction could be a good choices. Well, if that's something that appeals to you, or maybe it's fantasy, you know, dragons and the theories and witches again, that's pretty popular Harry Potter book. Of course, that's amazing popularity. Tolkien's books severe popular to people like that kind of stuff. So if you like it, don't don't try to think about all what's popular. What's to the right? Think about what do you like reading and what would you injure writing and then go with that? Or maybe it's something else. Maybe it's a combination of some of these young honors that could work as well, so you don't have to make all those decisions right away. But I think if you have an idea of what kind of story you want to write, that will definitely be helpful. Um, all right, so we're good with that. Let's move London. The next question is, what does a story need? Or more specifically, what do you need to start writing and Actually, that's not a mother lot. You can start with very simple things. I think you just need two things. One is you need to decide who your main character is going to be. And if it's a short story, it's gotta have one main character. If it's a novel, then you can have a bunch of characters and a bunch of plots and subplots. But right now we're talking about the short story. So one main character and this man character needs a problem, a goal or a desire. That's what's going to move your story forward. If your character is just happy sitting on his wall and nothing is gonna happen, the story is going to be boring. But if your character has a problem that he needs to overcome or a burning desire or a goal , then your story will be describing the characters efforts to accomplish that goal and then the obstacles and his or her way. And that's that's a good start for a story. All right, so once we have that settled, you have you mean character. You have ah, problem, goal or desire, or at least you know that's what you need. Let's see if we can make it more specific, and we do need to decide who is your main character. Is it going to be a woman? Possibly maybe a man, maybe an animal? Maybe some other creature, maybe a child. If you're writing for Children and then decide how will this story end? And they're really just the three ways that the story can end. If you think about this logically so well said, your character is going to set a goal, right? So what's gonna happen with that goal? By the end of the story? Perhaps the man character accomplishes his goal or her goal that works or feels to accomplish that goal or decides that that goal was not worth it. You know that happens in life, too. We're pursuing something, and then we realize, Well, maybe that's not as important as we thought. Maybe we need to change that goal, and that's about it. So that's the basics of, Ah, the outline of your story or the basic elements that you need to get started. So you may want to take a break from the video, think about those things, and then we'll continue 3. Character & Desire: in the previous lesson who talked about the main character, and the goal is to things that you need to start writing your story. So now let's focus on those two things. So the character and the goal. So let's talk about them a little bit more, and we can start by discussing the name of your main character. And you may think while the name may be is not so important. But I think it is important. Names do mean something and also the way that we tend to use our names. Also, tell us something about us or about the characters. So, for example, let's say you have a character and the character's name is Bob. So it's a short name, right? Um, not very unusual. Pretty common name. And why is he calling himself Bob? This abbreviated version is here, young guy, Is he just very informal? Or is he trying to be informal and maybe trying to fit in with a certain group of people? So all those things that can the decide or think about as you give you a character name Or maybe he doesn't go by Bob. Maybe he goes by Bobby and that sounds even more informal. Date. So maybe he's a younger character. Or again, maybe an older character trying to fit in. Or maybe this has nothing to do with fitting in at all. Maybe he was named after Bobby Fischer, the great chess player, and then you can think about while How is that affecting him? Does that mean that his parents wanted him to become a chess player? Um, did he or that he failed at that? Or did you decide to pursue something else? Eso again? The little bit of a history behind it Name. Or maybe he doesn't go by Barber. Bobby. Maybe he prefers a more formal name like Robert. A longer name, right more. Ah, kind of neutral sounding. It's harder to tell his age or his Ah, his status by that. So he goes by Robert, and you can think about that. Why did he make that choice? Or maybe he goes by Mr Robert Bastable, district attorney, and that's exactly how he introduces himself a little bit on right? Why? Why would he tell us what his title is, what his job is? Well, maybe he was just a selfish jerk. That's possible. And he wants to tell you that while he is better than you are, or maybe not at all, maybe it's the opposite. Maybe he was the first person his family to go to school to go to, even to finish high school, let alone go to law school and then get to this high position. So he's very proud of it. And that's why he introduces himself that way. And people may or may not appreciate this kind of introduction or maybe ready for this one . Maybe his name is Branislav Nikolayevich Ivanov Krosinsky. How is that try put another Starbucks cup and actually, maybe that was the problem in his native Moscow. This name was perfectly fine. And then he moved to New York, and he likes to get coffee at Starbucks and imagine spelling that don't on his cup every morning. So maybe Branislav Nikolai Vich decided he just wants to fit in, and he doesn't want people to stare at him and ask him, How do you spell that? So he just says My name is Bob, and that makes things easier for him. So if you go with that, then there are all kinds of questions about his identity and culture and fitting in an assimilation so you can get all in all kinds of interesting issues here again, this is These are just examples, right? We're looking at names, and we're not going to get into character development too much right now because I'd like us to keep to our main outline, right, the character, the goal and how do we move this story forward? But I think you can see that just by looking at these names, you can already start developing your character. All right, so let's kind of stop it. That and let's look at the goals. The question we need to look at as we start developing the story is, what does your character want and before we look at it more specifically, let's take a look at this wonderful quote by Kurt Vonnegut. Make your characters want something right away, even if it's only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaningless of modern life still have to drink water from time to time. A nice little quote with some sarcasm there, but what we really need is, ah to remember this first part, they need to want something right away. If your characters don't want anything, then there's no reason for you to write the story, and there's no reason for your readers to read that story, so we need to come up with some kind of a goal or desire. So let's take a look at that. So what does your character want? And could be a lot of different things. We're gonna look at the three simple examples right now. The 1st 1 will be your character probably wants to to be happy. Who doesn't, right? Most people want to be happy. But what does that mean exactly for your character? How does your character define being happy? And when you write that, don't think about yourself and what makes you happy? Think about your specific character and what that character needs to do to accomplish that happiness. Or maybe your character wants to find love. A lot of people want to do that, and so does your character and again make it more specific. What kind of love? What does he mean by that? What does he need to do? How does he see the accomplishment of this goal? And then we can talk about how he's gonna go about doing it. War. Maybe he wants to travel the world again. That's a desire that many people have. So a lot of your readers will be able to relate to any of these three goals. But you do need to make the more specific. And of course, these are just examples. So why don't you pause the video right now and think about how you or how your character would define his or her goal and shut down a few ideas, even the third general like minor pretty general right now? So go ahead and jot down some of these general ideas, and then we'll take a look at how to make these goals more specific. 4. Specific Goals: all right, So in the previous lesson, we looked at three very generic goals, and now we're gonna take each one of these goals and make it more specific. So the first goal is to be happy. So we have to think about what does that mean to our character? What would make our character happy? Maybe he wants to move the warmer climate. He's tired of the gray skies and the cold and the snow, right? And he wants sunshine. So he wants to move to a place that doesn't have snow. And he doesn't want to shovel anymore, So that could be his goal. That will make him happy. Or maybe he wants to find a better job. Maybe it's a question of survival, right? He's struggling financially, and if he doesn't get a better job, he just Ah, I don't know. I can't pay his rent, can't eat. Or maybe financially, the job is okay, but he feels that he is not living up to his potential. Or maybe his boss is a jerk and his colleagues are boring and he wants to have a more interesting job, more interesting life, so that could be a goal as well. That could make him happy. Or maybe he can't sleep. And, ah, almost pretty much stuff. Explanatory, right? He can't sleep so he can function. And his apple night. He has headaches. He drinks monster drinks. Nothing works. So he really needs to figure out what's going on and how he can sleep normally so he can live normally. Or maybe he wants to adopt a cat. And you may ask, Adopt a cat. Why? Well, he Maybe he's 18 years old. He still lives with his parents. He's about to move out. And his parents were very strict. They had all these fancy carpets and drapes and they said, no pets, no cats. And he's always wanted the cat. And now finally, he feels he's going to move out, and the first thing he wants to do is get the cat, and that will make him happy, possibly. Or maybe he wants to get over a traumatic event from his past, and you can decide what that event is. But whatever it is, it's ah not allowing him to move on with his life, not allowing you maybe to go to school or to get the job or to start a family. So something happened in his past, right? We need to decide what it was and how is he going to get over it? Or maybe he wants to find his missing brother. That would be a good goal for a mystery type story with an amateur detective. For some reason, maybe the professional detectives are not willing or not able to do that. Or he knows something that he doesn't want to detectives to know. So he goes on his own and starts looking for his brother could be a good goal. And, of course, Ah, once he finds the brother, he thinks it's going to make him happy. All right, let's take a look at another example with a different goal. Let's say he's goal is to find love to General. Let's make it more specifics of What does that mean for our character? Maybe just means he likes a girl across the street and he wants to ask her out on a date, and somehow he doesn't have the courage to to do that. So that's his goal. Or maybe he was in love back in high school, and now he found this former classmate online, and he wants to reconnect with this classmate. But he is so shy he can't even send her a friend request, so that could be could be a goal. And of course, we don't want to keep our story all in online on Internet, so he better send that request and then they need to meet in person and something needs to happen. So that could be a goal. Or maybe to propose to his girlfriend. And he wants to have, ah, a perfect way to propose. And I can see how that could get into, like, humor typewriting right when everything goes wrong, as he's trying to propose. Or it could be a more serious story. Eso What's gonna happen? 20 proposes that could be actually just the beginning of a story. Or maybe his goal is to make to make his girlfriend's parents like him because he knows how much she's influenced by her parents. And if they don't like him, she's not gonna like him anymore. And you can already see potential for conflict there. If she is so reliant on her parents opinions, then even if he manages to make a good impression on them. What's gonna happen later in that relationship? So again potential for more conflict, which will make the story more interesting. Or maybe he wants to convert to his girlfriend's religion. That could be a really interesting story, and you can start with thinking about how does he have a religion right now? How important is that religion to him? And when he converts, what is he going to learn about himself about that religion? About his girlfriend? So that could be an interesting goal as well, and his more general goal of finding love. Or maybe it's, Ah, overcome his fear of dogs. And you can ask fear of dogs finding love. What's the relationship here? What's the connection? While it's possible he's dating this girl who works? Ah, at Ah the kettle and the dogs air her life and she has, I don't know, doesn't dogs. Ah, that she lives with. And he knows that, and he's afraid of dogs. So he's been trying to come up with all kinds of excuses not to go to her house and not to visit her at work. But he knows he can live his whole life right and hide it from her. So he needs to overcome his fear of dogs if he wants to have a chance with her. Or at least that's what you thinks. So that could be an interesting goal. And then you can go with that, all right. And I think I had three goals. So let's look at the last one in this exercise. His goal is to travel the world. So what does that mean exactly? Maybe he wants to prove to himself that he can sail solo around the world. Why does he want to prove that? Well, maybe it's a bit with his friends. Maybe sailing runs in his family. Maybe somebody told him. I bet you can do that. Well, I guess it's the same as a bet, right? Eso You can think of different reasons why he can do that. Maybe he just wants to be independent, and that's his way of proving himself. He's independent. He's an adult. He's a man. People have different goals. That could be, oh, your characters goal. Or maybe he wants to visit a small Russian town where his mother grew up, and it's important for him because of his cultural heritage. But also it could be complicated. Maybe he works for the FBI, and they don't want him to travel to this small Russian town. Or maybe they're cable that. But then when he comes there, he meets somebody and he makes some mistakes. Ah, I don't know. He tells some secrets that he's not supposed to tell somebody or he find something out about his mother or his past that he didn't know before. And that could complicate his life, So gonna. He thinks it's going to make him happy. But that might bring more complications. And that's good. It's gonna make a story more interesting. Or maybe he feels his life is good. He has a lot of money. He's happy. But, ah, he wants to help somebody, someone who's less fortunate. So in his vacation, he's going to go to Africa and the houses there. And of course, it's The story is not gonna and just people the house. And he came back. He is going to change, right? He himself is going to change. You discover something about himself, maybe meet somebody and it could be a good person he meets or a bad person. He could get involved with more conflict. And again the story couldn't get more interesting. Or he wants to reconnect with his heritage by taking the French immersion course in Paris. So he goes to Paris, he starts learning French. And then what happens? All kinds of things can happen, right? So you can decide what's going to happen. And if he is going to pursue that goal, if he's gonna change it or if something more interesting is going to happen or maybe he wants to hike up too much a peach, you because he promised somebody to do it. Maybe he and his grandma was all we're always talking about it and she wanted to go. And now she broke her leg and she cannot go. So he promised to go. He's gonna go by himself, and he's gonna take pictures for her. He's going to Skype with her from there, so that could be an interesting goal as well. And again other things can happen to. So the idea here is to take those general goals, make the more specific, make the more interesting and then start adding complications, and we cannot talk about that as well. But before we dio, I'd like I'd like you to pause and ah, from your list of those gentle goals you created after the last lesson. See if you can make the more specific, like I just did, and then we'll continue. 5. What's at Stake?: in this part of the lesson. We're going to talk about steaks. What's at stake for your character. In other words, what does your character stand to gain or lose as a result of attempting to accomplish his goal? And what I'm going to do is take three of the goals three of the specific ALS from the whole list of the ones we've discussed. And look at these goals and the stakes possible stakes in more detail. Seven. Goal could be to find a better job. So what is he going to gain if you find a better job while he's gonna have more money, maybe more, more interest in his life, Maybe more self respect or respect from others? And, you know, you can continue with what else he can get if she gets a better job. What if he what? What can he lose if he finds a better job? Well, maybe he lose some free time, right? And maybe his job is gonna be so demanding is gonna have to give up some time with his family, his hobbies. So that could be a negative outcome from accomplishing his goal. What happens if he does not get the better job. While he could lose self respect that he could be stuck in the red, he could lose money. He could, Ah, it could be a struggle for survival. He might give up his apartment and living in his car so you can look at all these different aspects based on the specifics of your story. Let's take a look at the different goal. He wants to prove to himself that he can sail solo around the world. What can he gain or lose? Well, if he doesn't accomplish that goal, what does that look like? He's going to be what, lost in the middle of the ocean? That's probably a bad outcome, right? And if he accomplishes that goal, then what can happen? Maybe he's going to give, get the fame and attention and fortune. But maybe that's a bad thing to Maybe he's going to get so much attention. He's gonna lose his privacy so you can look at different aspects of what can happen even if he does accomplish that goal. And the last one I picked is to visit the small Russian town where his mother drew up. What happens if he accomplishes that goal. Well, you learn more about his past and the he'll understand why his mother is the way she is things like that. And what does he stand to lose while what is it about his past? That he's going to learn more about the past of his family? He's going to learn. Is there a dark family secret? So that could be a complication. If he does not accomplish that, then he might be wondering for the rest of his life. What if, right? What is it about my family family? They need to know. All right, so that's kind of an overview of what, Ah, what is the concept of steaks generally? And now let's take a look at the more specifically, there are three types of steaks, public or outward sticks, personal sticks and ultimate stakes. And it's helpful to have these three types of steaks because their specific ways that you can deal with them in your story and specific things. You can dio to raise each of these different types of stakes in your story. So we're gonna take those same three goals, and we're gonna look at them with each of the three types of sticks. Are you ready? I think so. So let's let's get going. We'll start with public or outward stakes. What does that mean? Ask yourself as you're writing your story. Can things get worse? And actually, the answer should be always? Yes, because that's how you make a story. Interesting. Yes, things can get worse. Make those things worse. The more troubled your characters in, the better your story will get and the more his character will be tested. And that's what people like, right? We can see what he or she is made out of as they're experiencing of these problems. Bigger disasters will happen if he doesn't solve this problem. That's a good the thought to keep in mind, right? So, uh, one problem leads to another, and then each on self problem creates more complications. Let's make it more specific. Let's say his goal is to find a better job. What happens if he doesn't? What kind of a bigger disaster? Let's start with the current disaster. While he's not making enough money and he and his wife are about to have twins if he does not find a better job, it's not just going to be. There's not quite enough money. They're going to be struggling financially, right? So if he doesn't solve this problem, there's going to be a bigger disaster. Just one example. To prove to himself that he can sail solo around the world. Well, let's say he starts and the things were going well. But he sees some slight malfunction with the instruments, and he thinks, whatever you know doesn't matter so much. There's back up and it's OK. I can I can handle it. And then guess what this storm comes. And maybe some of his electrical systems air out, and now he has to rely on that instrument that that wasn't quite working properly before. So if he doesn't solve that problem now, that instrument, he's going to be lost in the ocean in the middle of that storm, right again, just on example, to visit the small Russian town where his mom grew up. If he doesn't do that, what kind of bigger disasters what can happen? Well, maybe he feels that there's a rift in the relationship with his mom and the the less he understands her. The more the relationship, the more they drew apart so, and he feels the only way to understand hers. To go to the town and find out what exactly happened in her past, right? So these are all outside steaks or outward stakes things that affect your character, but things that that start kind of in the outside environment, right? So let's take a look at another type of steaks and actually before we dio. If you'd like to jot down some of the public or outward stakes that you are, that could affect your character, I think that could be helpful. So if you want the positivity and do that, that would be great. And then we'll continue. So now we're gonna take a look at personal sticks. And what exactly are personal stakes? I'll think about it this way. Why does your character care about the outcome and what could make this character care more ? And the idea here is that if your character cares about outcome, your readers will care a swell, so to find a better job. Why does it character care? Well, because he probably is is a nest station where he is, he's gonna lose yourself respect. He's gonna lose his place to live, so he really needs to, and he feels it's important to provide for his family. Remember the Twins? So the Twins air coming, and it's important for him to provide for his family, and he's trying to figure out how to do that. So he cares about that right to prove to himself that he can sail solo around the world. Why would that be important? While you can decide the specific details here, but you have to show that it's a goal that maybe his head for a long time. Maybe it's something that his parents did, and now he wants to continue, so show that it's important to him. And then your readers will care a swell and the last one with this visiting a small town. Why does he care about this outcome? While because he cares about his family, he cares about the relationship. So he needs to to be sure that he can improve that relationship, and he feels that this is the only way to do that. All right, so if you'd like to jot down some of those personal stakes for your character, that would be helpful, and then we'll look at the last type of steaks and the last one, our ultimate stakes. So what does that mean? It's the moment when your character makes a commitment and realize that realizes that there's no turning back. He has to go forward with whatever the decision is. And if your characters shows that strong commitment to the goal, then your readers will show strong commitment to your story, son. Again, let's take a look at these examples to find a better job. Well, what what is that moment? And I think about it, is a scene in your story. Maybe he find the makes a decision, and what's the specific thing he's going to do? He picks up the phone phone and calls for an interview. Or he starts looking at classifieds. Or he walks into his boss's office. And then he starts a conversation, right, something specific. There's no turning back when, though, he's going to do it. Ah, the sailing example. What could that be? And again, you can decide it could be the moment where he buys the boat, right? He sells his house, buys the boat so that that's quite a commitment. Or maybe he is sailing and everybody says good bye to him. And the moment when he finds himself in the open ocean and he realizes he's not gonna go back right, he needs to go forward with that or could be a different moment. So again, you can decide. But think about it is a scene specific moment that shows that ultimate commitment and visiting a small town. Well, it could be he's applying for a passport, But maybe that's not too exciting, right? You can have a passport, not go anywhere. Eso maybe one here, uh, walks into the plane into the airplane to fly to the town. That could be that commitment. But if you're writing a story, it might be more interesting to start with something more dramatic. If you start with him going on a plane, then they have to describe the flight, and he's sitting there and it is just not your interesting. So maybe this ultimate commitment. You can show it by when the plane touches down in that small town or when he walks out, and for the first time he smells no different smells and the different atmosphere of the town, and then he starts with that so again, what will be helpful as you're looking at this video is for you to jot down the specifics, takes the three types of steaks, write for your character and what can happen. But can you do to raise those steaks? It Let's, ah, recap things that we talked about. So in this class we talked about what it means or how you can start writing a short story. And the two things you need is the main character, specific main character, right in a specific goal so they can look at this quote and then we'll talk some more. Any character who goes after desire and is impeded is forced to struggle. Otherwise the story's over, and that struggle makes him change. So the ultimate goal of the dramatic code and of the storyteller is to present a change in the character or to illustrate why the change did not occur. And that's really what we talked about, right? So have a character. The character has a desire he needs or a goal. He needs to go after the desire. And, of course, they have to be obstacles. Otherwise, there's nothing to say or is. John Truby says otherwise the story's over and this. He's trying to accomplish that goal. He's struggling, right? It's a challenge. It's difficult, and that struggle makes him change and think about it. That makes sense. Anything. We're faced with a challenge in life, and we choose to, or sometimes we don't have a choice that would try to overcome the challenge. We change right. Something changes in us, or maybe a character stubborn and the character refuses to change, and that's an interesting outcome as well. All right, so think about that and think about how you can the structure your story. 6. Conclusion: Congratulations. You finish the class and now you know how to play the story and how to start writing it. Please post your story summaries in the Project gallery. It will be fun to see next time we'll talk about character development and ways to make your characters so interesting that your readers will care about your characters as much as you do. I hope you enjoy the class. Thank you.