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Sign up for this fully on-demand class with novelist David Hopkins!

Stealing from Shakespeare: How to Tell Stories Like the Bard

On-Demand Video Course

Led by David Hopkins, author of The Dryad’s Crown, Wear Chainmail to the Apocalypse, and the co-author of the memoir about Dallas burlesque legend, Tammi True.

David is a novelist and essayist who has written for D Magazine, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, and Infinite Worlds Magazine. He taught Shakespeare for twelve years in the public schools. Even after his time in the classroom, David keeps coming back to Shakespeare for guidance.
  William Shakespeare’s work has moved audiences for centuries, but writers often approach his work with a mixture of awe and intimidation. In this class, we’re not going to learn how to better worship the Bard; we’re going to steal from him!

Great artists often emulate the old masters. Let’s see what we can learn from Shakespeare. Instead of focusing on his poetic verses and flowery prose, we’re examining:

  • Shakespeare's plot structure
  • The interplay of characters
  • And the various tricks he used to maintain his prolific writing career—producing approximately two plays a year for twenty years!

This course is open to writers of all levels and genres. It’s not necessary to have a thorough knowledge of Shakespeare’s work before taking this class. You will learn as we go.
This class will be beneficial for anyone who wants to improve their productivity while writing stories that delights readers. This class hopes to provide a framework for studying other writers. Every great author has something to share. Let’s learn from the best. Remember: “Be not afraid of greatness."



We’ll look at Shakespeare’s influences, going all the way back to Aristotle’s Poetics, and we’ll discuss the secret to being a productive writer. We’ll answer the eternal question: Where do ideas come from? We’ll also explore the difference between episodic and dramatic works—and why it matters.
Shakespeare’s stories rarely lagged in the middle. And yet, nowadays, so many stories suffer in the middle. Much of what’s wrong with storytelling today can be traced back to a poor understanding of Freytag’s Pyramid, which was inspired in part by Shakespeare’s five-act structure. We’re going to redeem the five-act structure!

Shakespeare was a genre writer. He had a keen understanding of tropes and how to exploit them as well as how to subvert expectations. But Shakespeare was probably best known for his ability to develop characters who moved the plot with meaningful consequences. Many novice writers stumble over these issues. This week, we’ll deal with it head on!
Shakespeare had a certain way he liked to introduce main characters. He had a certain approach to establishing the setting. He had ways he preferred to build tension and handle violent moments. There are numerous tricks that he employed, which defy easy categorization. During this last week, we’ll cover as many of them as possible.


  • You want to be a prolific writer.
  • You want to become a master of the five-act structure.
  • You want to write fascinating, dynamic characters.
  • You believe you could learn a thing or two from William Shakespeare.


"The course is excellent. The instructor, David Hopkins, delivers the material effectively, he leans into the camera to make it appear as though he's talking directly to you. Very effective. His presentation style, and occasional levity, worked. The length of the videos was just right -- good balance between short and long; bite-sized for easy consumption and reflection.   I related to David as a working commercial writer myself. Too often, academics get behind a podium and speak about this in the abstract, or come down from the creative mountain to address striving writers. With this course, it felt like David was talking to us from his writing office (which, it appeared, he was).  The feature interviews were a great touch. I really enjoyed them.  The course content was a good balance between understanding Shakespearean writing style and application to personal writing skills. Assignments were appropriate. As someone who doesn't have a lot of free time, I fit this course in. Any more content/assignments may have been too much. This was just right." - Dennis A.

Course curriculum

  • 1

    Week 1: Influence, Ideas, and Intention

    • Course Syllabus

    • UPDATE: An Important Note about this Lecture Series

    • Video 1: Introduction

    • Video 2: The Disclaimers

    • Video 3: The Poetics

    • Assignment: Identifying the Complication and Unravelling

    • Video 4: The Muse

    • Video 5: Originality

    • Assignment: Adapting Ten Stories

    • Video 6: Episodic vs. Dramatic

    • Bonus Video with Brad McEntire

  • 2

    Week 2: Plot Structure

    • Video 1: Overlaying the Golden Ratio

    • A Confession (Regarding Act Breaks)

    • Video 2: Deep Dive into the Five Acts

    • Video 3: Dammit, Freytag!

    • Video 4: No More Messy Middles

    • Video 5: The Ebb and Flow of Action

    • Assignment: Fix a Messy Middle

    • Assignment: Outline Five Stories

  • 3

    Week 3: Genre and Character

    • Video 1: Genre, The Necessary Spoiler

    • Video 2: How Funny Can I Make This Tragedy? How Sad Can I Make This Comedy?

    • Video 3: Characters who Embody the Genre

    • Assignment: Rewrite a story. Shift the genre.

    • Assignment: Describe a Character Through Their Relationships

    • Video 4: Getting Inside the Character's Head

    • Video 5: Consequences

    • Bonus Video with Raphael Parry

  • 4

    Week 4: The Tricks

    • Video 1: Introducing Characters

    • Video 2: In Medias Res

    • Video 3: The Play's the Thing, Indicating the Form

    • Video 4: Exploring Opposites

    • Video 5: The Stranger Things Shakespeare has Done

    • Video 6: Final Thoughts

    • Assignment: Creating a Narrative Guidebook

    • Assignment: And the Final Challenge

    • Bonus Video with Maryam Baig

Enroll Now

Sign up for this fully on-demand class with novelist David Hopkins!