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One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes

Instructor:  Barbara Ashford
Level:  Intermediate
Class Times:  There will be three live class meetings.
Wednesday, January 3, 2018,
Wednesday, January 17, 2018, and
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  Thursday, December 7, 2017
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.

Reactions from Barbara Ashford's Students

This course was amazing. I feel like I can navigate writing a scene better now because I have the tools and vocabulary to do it! Thanks, Barbara, for a wonderful course!
                                                                           --Danielle DeLisle

This course offers a clear roadmap to success--along with extremely insightful feedback along the way. Barbara's energetic and interactive lectures are a goldmine of quality content, and along with the constructive assignments and well-curated reading list this course is an incredible experience. I would recommend this course to anyone looking to take their writing to the next level.
                                                                           --Derrick Boden

This class has been an inspiring and transformative experience for me as a writer. . . . Through assignments and examples, Barbara taught us how to think about stories in terms of the promise they make to readers, and then she gave us techniques for measuring whether our openings, conflict, scenes, climax, and resolution were fulfilling that promise. We studied methods for infusing our stories with drama. Class gave me tangible ways to . . . evaluate my stories, and revise my stories to make them more satisfying for my reader. Barbara is extremely personable and invested in her students. This was an enriching experience that helped me strengthen a weakness in my writing.
                                                                           --Heather Henry

Barbara is an incredibly knowledgeable and effective instructor who completely blew away all my expectations for the course. . . . I learned more about theme, story structure, characterization, and world building than I'd thought possible for three short classes. Her analysis of my novel excerpts has helped me redirect my wandering plot issues, and every critique I received has been detailed, analytical and thought provoking. This course over-delivered and will be something I refer back to for many works to come.
                                                                           --Christine Row


One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes


Course Description:
Compelling scenes pull readers into a new world, evoke an emotional response to the characters and conflicts, and encourage readers to turn the page to find out what happens next. Failure to fine-tune these essential building blocks of your story can dilute its power and impact.

This course will explore ways to help you add tension, drama, and power to your scenes by

  • examining the fundamentals of scene design–from its overall shape to its individual beats;
  • exploring the characteristics of effective scenes and the common pitfalls that can undermine their impact;
  • providing tools to diagnose "ailing" scenes and bring them back to life;
  • discussing the "special needs" of opening and closing scenes, and flashbacks;
  • considering each scene as "part of the whole" by understanding its role in developing characters, showcasing the world, and fulfilling the implicit promise you are making to readers.

The course is intended for all fiction writers, with an emphasis on those who write fantastic fiction, and is appropriate for writers of middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction. It will be most valuable for intermediate writers, since it assumes students already understand the basics of 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 scenes excerpted from various novels and short stories, as well as a chapter of James Scott Bell's book Plot & Structure. All required readings will be emailed to students before the course begins.

In addition, students will be required to watch the movie Casablanca (Dir. Michael Curtiz. Warner Bros., 1942), which they must rent or buy if they don't already own. (A copy might be available in your local library as well.) Barbara will also reference other movies, the titles of which will be provided to students in advance. While not required viewing, a familiarity with these films will help students better understand the context of Barbara's examples.

Students will be required to read some material before the first class meeting. Assignments will include readings, writing exercises, scene submissions, critiques, and scene analysis. Barbara will provide feedback on your homework before the next class session.

Homework will be assigned on January 3 and 17, with due dates, respectively, of January 9 and 23. You will also be required to provide critiques of some of your classmates' work, which will be due on January 16 and 30. 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.

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

You should reserve a minimum of 5 hours to complete homework and critiques.

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

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.

Students are expected to follow the policies about attendance and behavior 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 3: 
First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. The fundamental elements of a good scene. Elements that add "spice" to your scenes. Scenes and sequels. James Scott Bell's "four chords." Understanding scene polarity. Techniques for hooking your readers in every scene. Keys to creating powerful opening scenes and common pitfalls that can undermine their effectiveness. Understanding the promise of your story and how each scene supports it. Assignment of homework.
January 9: 
Homework is due.
January 16: 
Critiques are due.
January 17: 
Second class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. Techniques for building intensity within a scene and creating scene endings that prompt readers to turn the page. Identifying inner and outer turning points in a scene. Using beats to deepen characterization, conflict, and emotional turning points. Set-ups and payoffs. Techniques to increase the drama of every scene. Assignment of new homework.
January 23: 
Homework is due.
January 24: 
Some students will have private meetings with Barbara between 7:30-8:45 PM EST.
January 28: 
Some students will have private meetings with Barbara between 7:30-8:45 PM EST.
January 30: 
Critiques are due.
January 31: 
Third class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. Pacing, rhythm, and tempo. Diagnosing and treating "ailing" scenes. Fulfilling the promise you make to readers. "Special needs" scenes: closings and flashbacks. The relationship between your opening and closing scenes. Using the controlling idea to evaluate the effectiveness of your ending. Some students will have private meetings with Barbara after class.

Barbara Ashford Award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford has been praised by reviewers and readers alike for her compelling characters, heartfelt storytelling, and powerful scenes.

Barbara's first published series was the dark fantasy trilogy Trickster's Game (written as Barbara Campbell). Published by DAW Books, Trickster's Game was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Society's 2010 Fantasy Award for adult literature.

Barbara's background as a professional actress, lyricist, and librettist has helped her delve deeply into character and explore the complexities of human nature on the stage as well as on the page. Her musical adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd has been optioned for Broadway.

She drew on her musical theatre roots for her second 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 has taught five previous online courses for Odyssey and has served on the staff of the Odyssey Critique Service for more than ten years. You can visit her dual selves at barbara-campbell.com and barbara-ashford.com.

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