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Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel

Instructor:  Barbara Ashford
Level:  Intermediate
Class Times:  There will be three live class meetings.
Monday, January 7, 2013,
Monday, January 21, 2013, and
Monday, February 4, 2013,
7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  December 11, 2012
Tuition:  $239.00

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.

Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel


Course Description:
Barbara Ashford believes the most important skill a novelist needs is to be able to see the "big picture" of the novel, to understand where that big picture is lacking or weak, and to make the major changes necessary to create a coherent, complete, powerful, and unified novel. Barbara believes this skill made all the difference in her writing, transforming it from promising but unsalable to compelling and published

Writers often approach revisions as an opportunity to polish their manuscripts rather than to take a hard look at the story itself. If your plot meanders and your protagonist's goals are unclear, polishing your prose won't help.

This course examines the "big picture" elements at the foundation of every novel: premise, promise, theme, world, character, and plot. Whether you've already completed your first draft, are still working on it, or are struggling with revisions, analyzing and strengthening those elements can lift your novel out of the slush pile and onto an agent's desk.

Award-nominated author Barbara Ashford will examine each of these big picture elements and the ways that linking them can create a unified, compelling, powerful story. Through lecture, discussion, and writing exercises, students will analyze their premise, the promise that the novel is making to readers, the themes that arise from the novel, the world they have created, their protagonists' backstory, motivations, and goals, and the plot events they have chosen to lead the reader from the story's promise to its climax. In-depth study of the protagonist's character arc and the causal relationships between plot events will help students add complexity and tension to their novels and emotional power to their storytelling.

The course is intended for all fiction writers, with an emphasis on those who write fantastic fiction. While it is targeted to those who have finished the first draft of a novel and are ready to begin revisions, analyzing these big picture issues can also be valuable to writers who are still working on their first draft or to those on a third or fourth draft still striving to improve it. The course will be most valuable for intermediate writers, since it will assume students already understand the basics of novel writing.

Each student will have a private meeting with Barbara. Students will also provide critiques of their classmates' work, and revise their work in response to feedback.

Our goal as a class is to provide a supportive yet challenging environment that will help students improve their writing. You must be ready to hear about the weaknesses in your writing and to work to strengthen them. You must also be ready to give honest, helpful feedback to your classmates.

Students will be required to read excerpts from two books. Before the course begins, hard copies of these readings will be mailed to students.

Homework will be assigned on January 7 and 21, with due dates, respectively, of January 13 and 27. You will also be required to provide critiques of some of your classmates' work, which will be due on January 20 and February 3. 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, rich text files, or ascii files.

You should reserve a minimum of 5 hours each week to complete homework.

Assignments will include readings, writing exercises, plot and character analysis, critiques, and brainstorming techniques. Barbara will provide feedback on your homework before the next class session.

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

Students will be required to read a lesson on critiquing before the course begins.

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 7: 
First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. Premise vs. promise. The potentials and requirements inherent in your premise. Fulfilling the promise you make to your reader in your opening chapter. Analyzing your protagonist in light of your premise and promise and identifying weaknesses. Do you have the right protagonist for your premise and promise? How to strengthen your protagonist. Digging deeper into your protagonist to understand his/her true nature. Getting complexity on the page. Assignment of homework.
January 13: 
Homework is due.
January 20: 
Critiques are due.
January 21: 

Second class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. Why theme is the net that holds all the elements in your novel together. Discovering the theme of your novel. Is it the right theme for your premise and promise? Is it shown through your protagonist's journey? How a protagonist's unconscious desire can add complexity to your plot. Analyzing your plot in light of premise, promise, and theme. The three levels of conflict. Scene design and analysis. Developing a chain of cause-and-effect. Using key turning points to create a road map for your story. Assignment of new homework. Some students will have private meetings with Barbara after class
January 27: 
Homework is due.
January 28: 
Some students will have private meetings with Barbara between 7:00-8:30 PM EST.
February 3: 
Critiques are due.
February 4: 
Third class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. Analyzing your world. Is it appropriate for your premise, promise, character, and plot? What themes are inherent in it? How to strengthen your world. Putting all the elements together. How unifying premise, promise, character, theme, and plot can increase the power of your novel. Studying examples to identify weaknesses and potential improvements. Some students will have private meetings with Barbara after class.


Barbara Ashford Barbara Ashford is an Odyssey graduate who knows a lot about revising that critical first novel. She spent more than a year rewriting Heartwood, the first book in her Trickster's Game trilogy (written as Barbara Campbell). The process left her with a few gray hairs and a much better novel. Published by DAW Books, Trickster's Game went on to become a finalist for the Mythopoeic Society's Fantasy Award for adult literature.

Before turning to fiction, Barbara worked as an actress and later, as a lyricist and librettist. Her musicals have been performed throughout the world, including the New York Musical Theatre Festival and the Edinburgh International Festival. She returned to her musical theatre roots for her latest novels, Spellcast and Spellcrossed, a fantasy-romance series set in a magical summer stock theatre in Vermont.

Barbara was a guest lecturer at the 2012 Odyssey Workshop and critiques manuscripts for the Odyssey Critique Service.

She lives in New Rochelle, New York, with her husband whom she met while performing in the play Bedroom Farce. You can visit her dual selves at barbara-campbell.com and barbara-ashford.com.

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