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Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction

Instructor:  Jeanne Cavelos
Level:  Advanced
Class Times:  There will be three live class meetings.
Thursday, January 2, 2020,
Thursday, January 16, 2020, and
Thursday, January 30, 2020,

7:00 pm-9:00 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  December 7, 2019
Tuition:  $249.00

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.

Reactions from Graduates of Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction

Whether you are a beginner at the craft of writing or a published professional you will benefit from an Odyssey Online Writing Course. I have taken other online courses and the two with Odyssey felt like I was in a physical college classroom. The teachers read my homework carefully and their evaluations motivated me to finish revising my novel. This course is for serious writers who want to improve their craft in a supportive environment. Worth every penny. (They should charge more!)
                                                                           --Steven Novick

The work that Jeanne Cavelos puts into this class, including individual feedback, is incomparable to any other online class that I've ever seen (including ones that I've taught!). Of course, I knew of her consummate dedication in the summer workshop, but I didn't think it was possible for her to carry it over to an online class in a way that would inspire me so much. In the winter before I attended the 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop, I took an online class from elsewhere which promised some individual feedback and interaction. It was more expensive than the Odyssey Online classes, and knowing the amount of dedication that it takes to provide any individual feedback, I didn't expect much. Even so, I was disappointed when it turned out that everything including the "feedback" was totally recorded from previous years.

Jeanne is truly doing a great job with this class, both in providing students with direct feedback and with the detailed design of the homework. Two particularly useful aspects were the structure of the Critiquing Worksheet and the fact that I was critiquing other students' outlines. The fact that I was working with outlines instead of full stories had two positive consequences for me: First of all, it meant that I could learn from doing four stories (and revise my approach along the way) in a concentrated way that I believe reinforced my learning. Second, it has made me rethink the value of an outline. In the past, I occasionally would write an outline before diving into writing the story, but I never analyzed the outline in the depth that's suggested by the Critiquing Worksheet. After I'd written a whole story, I might have asked some of those questions, but by then I was often too invested in the story to make significant improvements.

It's truly hard to describe the huge difference between this Odyssey class and other online classes that I have taken. Thanks so much, Jeanne.
                                                                           --Michael Main

Odyssey Online's class on Three-Act Structure is a delight, a reminder of the challenge and the thrill of learning with Jeanne Cavelos. If you haven't attended Odyssey yet, try one of Odyssey's online classes--you won't be disappointed with what you learn, and you'll get a taste of what the intensive summer workshop is like. I found this online format more effective in several ways, actually. Rather than being overwhelmed with a packed schedule of daily lectures, homework assignments, journal writing, stories to read, stories to write, and stories to critique, I was able to focus on a single subject while maintaining my daily routine. This class was on Three-Act Structure, and while Jeanne discussed three-act structure in detail at the summer workshop, this course was an invaluable review. Plus, there's something wonderful about being at your day job and secretly plotting things that probably aren't going to get you in trouble. The online class went further, expanding my understanding of story structure, in large part because I had the time to engage in deep practice through the well-chosen stories we read, the well-considered homework questions, and the outline writing exercises. If you're serious about writing speculative fiction, I highly recommend you try out Odyssey Online.
                                                                           --Chip Houser

I took the Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction course and learned an (almost) entirely new language: the vocabulary of captivating storytelling. Despite my experience as an author/editor, thanks to Odyssey and our supportive, expert instructor (Jeanne Cavelos), I realized how much I didn't know about the craft and skill in building the foundation of a solid story. Nothing is so humbling as recognizing one's own ignorance! But that's the first step toward greater knowledge, and with the information-rich lectures, challenging homework, story analyses, group critiques and one-on-one time with Ms. Cavelos, I'm now fired up and ready to take on my works-in-progress--this time, able to understand what works, what doesn't, and what will let my plots and characters transcend any clichés or easy paths. Thank you, Odyssey!
                                                                           --Kira Lerner


Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction


NOTE: Class meetings for this course are 2 hours long, rather than our usual 90 minutes.

Course Description:

Does your story or novel lack momentum, suspense, and escalation? Are you missing crisis points of impact and emotion? Do you start in the wrong place? Get lost in the middle? Have a climax that leaves readers confused or unmoved? Are your protagonists wandering around without clear goals? Do you feel you're making plot decisions randomly?

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 start by defining key units of structure--the scene, chapter, and act--and explore why we need acts. We'll discuss the effect of acts, the importance of acts, how acts work in short fiction and novels, and how acts are used in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. How does one identify an act? When are three acts appropriate? Why are three acts so popular and powerful? We'll learn how to plot in three acts. What makes a strong three-act plot and what makes a weak three-act plot? We'll look at powerful methods and weak methods of ending an act. We'll explore how to create a causal chain that generates escalations and leads to a strong climax, the qualities of a strong climax, how subplots work within three-act structure, the unifying role of theme, and the critical connection between structure and character transformation. With a strong act structure, the protagonist will face challenges that will put him, and readers, through an experience they will never forget.

Students will study examples, dissect plots, perform exercises to practice techniques, write new material, revise the plot of a story they have written, and outline a new plot that incorporates all the concepts discussed.

Students will also provide critiques of their classmates' work and reply to online discussion questions during the course.

Students must be ready to hear about the weaknesses in their writing and to work to strengthen them. Students must be willing to change their current writing process and try new approaches. Students must also be ready to give feedback to their classmates that is both truthful and helpful.

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

Each student will have a private meeting with Jeanne.

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.

The course will be most valuable for advanced students, since it will assume students already understand plot at an intermediate level, including concepts like exposition, conflict, crises, climax, resolution; how character and setting interact to create plot; the difference between idea and plot; and the relationships between internal and external conflict and internal and external stakes.

Students will be required to read several short stories. Readings will be made available before the course begins.

In addition, students will be required to read one novel and watch one movie, which they are responsible for obtaining. I've listed sample editions below; students can use any edition.

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Buy Fahrenheit 451: A Novel at Amazon.com

The Road Warrior. Dir. George Miller. Warner, 1982. DVD.
Buy Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior at Amazon.com

Students will be required to do a pre-class assignment before our first class meeting, which will include reading and viewing all the material above, reading a lesson on critiquing, and answering some questions.

Homework will be assigned on January 2 and January 16, with due dates, respectively, of January 8 and January 22. You will also be required to provide critiques of some of your classmates' work, which will be due on January 15 and 29. 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 files or rich text files.

You should reserve a minimum of 7 hours each week to complete homework. Some students, on some weeks, have spent over 14 hours on homework.

Assignments will include reading, studying movies, critiquing, outlining and analyzing stories written by others, outlining and analyzing a story you have written, revising that outline, and outlining and writing new fiction. I will return your homework with my feedback by the next class session.

Students will also be required to reply to online discussion questions during the course.

Students are expected to follow the policies about assignments and class materials established in the Odyssey Online Student Handbook.

Since we will have only 3 class meetings, 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 the instructor.

Classes will be recorded and made available to students for a limited time. On rare occasions, students' computers do not allow them to access the recordings, so we cannot promise that this will work for you.

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 on the Online Classes page.

Tentative Schedule:

January 2: 
First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. Why three-act structure is important. Definitions of terms. The purpose of acts, the power of acts. How to recognize an act. How to plot in acts. The importance of character to plot and structure. The relation of conflict to plot and structure. How many acts does your story need? What happens in each act. Discussion of some of the stories read in advance. Assignment of homework.
January 8: 
Homework is due.
January 15: 
Critiques are due. Homework is returned with my feedback.
January 16: 

Second class meeting. Discussion of homework. Introduction of more advanced concepts. Tension, suspense, escalation, and the causal chain. Methods of escalation. The character arc and the causal chain. Creating a powerful climax and a powerful end to the character arc. The critical connection between structure and character change. External conflict and internal conflict. The mirror moment, darkest hour, epiphany. Study and discussion of other stories and sample outlines. Strong three-act structure and weak three-act structure. Strong endings to acts. Assignment of homework.
January 17: 
Some students will have private meetings with Jeanne between 7:15-8:30 PM EST.
January 22: 
Homework is due.
January 24: 
Some students will have private meetings with Jeanne between 7:15-8:30 PM EST.
January 26: 
Some students will have private meetings with Jeanne between 7:15-8:30 PM EST.
January 29: 
Critiques are due. Homework is returned with my feedback.
January 30: 
Third class meeting. Discussion of homework. Challenges of three-act structure in fantastic fiction. Common weaknesses in three-act structure. Fine-tuning your three-act structure. Tying structure and plot to theme. The incorporation of subplots in three-act structure. Discussion of additional examples.

Jeanne Cavelos Jeanne Cavelos is the founder and director of the Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust. She has taught the Odyssey Writing Workshop since 1996 and has taught Odyssey Online Classes since 2010. You can find more information about Jeanne here.

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