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Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel

Instructor:  Barbara Ashford
Level:  Intermediate
Class Times:  There will be four live class meetings.
Tuesday, January 5, 2016,
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Tuesday, February 2, 2016, and
Tuesday, February 16, 2016,
7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  December 9, 2015
Tuition:  $319.00

For a description of the class, its assignments, requirements, schedule, and a biography of the instructor, see below. Students who took Getting the Big Picture in 2013 are encouraged to apply to the expanded class with a new novel.

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:
Finished the first draft of a novel? In the final stages? Struggling with revisions? Getting the big picture can help bring your novel to life.

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.

Award-winning author Barbara Ashford believes the most important skill required to transform a promising novel into a published one is the ability to see the "big picture," to understand how the building blocks of a novel relate to each other, to identify weaknesses, and to make the necessary changes to strengthen the story.

Barbara will discuss the "big picture" elements at the foundation of every novel: premise, promise, theme, world, character, and plot. The course will explore ways to deepen the connection between these elements and create a more unified and powerful story, the key to lifting a novel out of the slush pile and onto an agent's desk.

Through lecture, discussion, and writing assignments, students will analyze their premise, the promise that the story is making to readers, the themes they are exploring, the world they have created, the protagonist's backstory, motivations, and goals, and the plot events they have chosen to lead the reader from the story's opening to its final page. In-depth study of the protagonist's character arc and the causal relationships between plot events will help students add conflict, 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 and for those striving to improve their third or fourth draft. The course will be most valuable for intermediate writers, since it assumes students already understand the basics of novel writing.

Each student will have one private meeting with Barbara. Barbara will critique each of the three homework assignments and offer feedback. Students will also receive critiques from some of their classmates and must read and critique their classmates' assignments.

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 selections from writing texts and scenes excerpted from various novels. Required textbook chapters will be sent to students via email before the course begins.

Barbara will also reference various movies during the course, the titles of which will be provided to students in advance. It is strongly suggested that students be familiar with these films in order to better understand the context of Barbara's examples.

There will be three homework assignments that will be given to students on January 5, January 19, and February 2, with due dates, respectively, of January 11, January 25, and February 8. You will also be required to provide critiques of some of your classmates' work, which will be due on January 18, February 1, and February 15. 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 5 hours each week to complete homework.

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

The number of critiques students will be required to write is determined by class size; for a maximum class size of 14, students should expect to read and critique 3-4 submissions for each homework assignment.

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

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

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 5: 
First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. Premise vs. promise. The emotional and intellectual promises you make to readers. Making a down payment on your promise in your opening chapter. Analyzing your protagonist in light of your premise and promise and identifying weaknesses in character arc. Digging deeper into your protagonist to understand his/her true nature. Exploring inner conflict. Getting character complexity on the page. Assignment of homework.
January 11: 
Homework is due.
January 18: 
Critiques are due. Homework is returned with Barbara's feedback.
January 19: 

Second class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. The relationship between premise, promise and theme. Theme as the controlling idea. Choosing your supporting cast. Strengthening the relationships between your protagonist and antagonist and between the protagonist and the supporting characters. The essentials of great dialogue. Assignment of new homework. Some students will have private meetings with Barbara after class.
January 25: 
Homework is due.
February 1: 
Critiques are due. Homework is returned with Barbara's feedback.
February 2: 
Third class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. Analyzing your plot in light of premise, promise, and theme. The three levels of conflict. How a protagonist's unconscious desire can add complexity to your plot and influence the choice of plot events. Raising the stakes. Understanding the spine of your story. Using key turning points to create a road map. Developing a chain of cause-and-effect. Managing sub-plots. Creating a powerful opening. Avoiding a flabby middle. Delivering a satisfying ending. Story objective vs. scene objective. Tools to analyze a scene's effectiveness and deepen its impact. Assignment of new homework. Some students will have private meetings with Barbara after class.
February 8: 
Homework is due.
February 9: 
Some students will have private meetings with Barbara between 7:00-8:45 PM EST.
February 15: 
Critiques are due. Homework is returned with Barbara's feedback.
February 16: 
Fourth class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. How the world of your novel relates to the other big picture elements. Building drama into your world. Style and pacing issues that can undermine the power of your storytelling and techniques for addressing them. Tension vs. false tension. Fulfilling the promise you make to readers. Breaking the rules. Practical tips for revision. Some students will have private meetings with Barbara after class.


Barbara Ashford Award-winning novelist and librettist Barbara Ashford 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 musical adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd has recently been optioned for Broadway. She drew on those musical theatre roots for her second novel series, the award-winning Spellcast and its sequel Spellcrossed, set in a magical summer stock theatre. In 2014, DAW Books released the two novels in an omnibus edition: Spells at the Crossroads.

A graduate of the Odyssey workshop, Barbara is a regular instructor in the Odyssey online classroom and has been part of the staff of the Odyssey Critique Service for ten years. You can visit her dual selves at barbara-campbell.com and barbara-ashford.com.

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