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Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction

Instructor:  Jeanne Cavelos
Level:  Intermediate/Advanced
Class Times:  There will be three class meetings.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011,
Wednesday, January 19, 2011, and
Wednesday, February 2, 2011,
7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  December 9, 2010
Tuition:  $229.00

For a description of the class, its assignments, requirements, schedule, and a biography of the instructor, see below.
To apply, click here. Note: If you wish to apply for more than one class, you must apply for each class with a separate application.

For more information on Odyssey's Online Classes, click here.

Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction


Course Description:
One of the greatest weaknesses of developing writers is plot. One of the best tools for strengthening plot is the act. Plotting in acts creates a more suspenseful, unpredictable, and emotionally satisfying experience for the reader. This course will begin by reviewing plot basics: exposition, conflict, crises, climax, resolution; danger versus desire; how character and setting interact to create plot; the difference between idea and plot; the relationship between internal and external conflict, internal and external stakes. Then we'll move on to define a scene and an act and explore why we need acts. We'll discuss the effect of acts, the importance of acts, and how acts work in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. How does one identify an act? We'll study stories with different numbers of acts and the different feelings these stories evoke. When are three acts appropriate? Why are three acts so popular and powerful? We'll learn how to plot in three acts. We'll study examples of novels with three acts. We'll look at powerful methods and weak methods of ending an act. What makes a strong three-act plot and what makes a weak three-act plot? In our final session, we'll explore subplots, the connection between plot and theme, and other complexities of three-act structure.

Students will study examples, dissect plots, perform exercises to practice techniques, revise the plot of a story they have written, and outline a new plot that incorporates all the concepts discussed. Students must be ready to hear about the weaknesses in their plotting and to work to strengthen them.

Our goal as a class is to provide a supportive yet challenging, energizing environment that will help students improve their writing.

The course is intended for writers of fantastic fiction, an umbrella term encompassing fantasy, science fiction, horror, magical realism, and anything in between. Yet the concept of three-act structure is important in all fiction writing, so fiction writers who focus on other genres could profit from this class and would be welcome.

Students will be required to read several short stories before our first class meeting. Hard copies of these stories will be distributed via Priority Mail before the course begins.

Homework will be assigned on January 5 and January 19, with due dates, respectively, of January 12 and January 26. Any student who misses a deadline may be expelled from the class and will receive no refund.

All assignments should be in standard manuscript format and should be submitted as MS Word 2003 files, rich text files, or ascii files.

You should reserve a minimum of 5 hours per week to complete the assignments.

Assignments will include reading, outlining stories written by others, outlining a story you have written, revising that outline, outlining a story you may write, and analyzing three-act structure. I will return your homework with my feedback by the next class session.

Students are expected to follow guidelines about postings to the Yahoogroup in the Odyssey Online Student Handbook.

Since we will have only 3 classes, attendance at every class is necessary for you to get the most out of this course.

You are expected to attend all classes, except in cases of emergency. In such cases, you should notify Jeanne Cavelos.

There is no method for making up any missed classes.

Any student who misses more than one class may be expelled from the course and will receive no refund.

It is your responsibility to find out what happened in any classes you missed and to complete homework by the deadlines.

Students are expected to follow the policies set out in the Odyssey Online Student Handbook.

Technical Requirements:
Technical requirements for all Odyssey Online Classes are covered here.

Tentative Schedule:

January 5: 

First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. Review of plot basics. Definitions of terms. The purpose of acts, the power of acts. How to plot in acts. Discussion of stories read in advance. Assignment of homework.
January 12: 
Homework is due.
January 19: 

Second class meeting. Discussion of homework. Introduction of more advanced concepts. Stories with different numbers of acts. The effects of acts. Study and discussion of other stories and sample outlines. Strong three-act structure and weak three-act structure. Class brainstorming of a three-act plot. Homework is returned with my feedback. Assignment of homework.
January 26: 
Homework is due.
February 2: 

Third class meeting. Discussion of homework. Fine-tuning your three-act structure. Tying structure and plot to theme. The use of subplots in three-act structure. Class practice with three-act structure. Homework is returned with my feedback.

Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshops. You can find more information about Jeanne here.

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