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One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes

Instructor:  Barbara Ashford
Level:  Intermediate
Class Times:  There will be three class meetings.
Monday, January 5, 2015,
Monday, January 19, 2015, and
Monday, February 2, 2015,
7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  December 9, 2014
Tuition:  $239.00

For a description of the class, its assignments, requirements, and
schedule, see the syllabus below.
To apply, click here.

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

One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes


Course Description:
Any story or novel is only as strong as its individual scenes. 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 down 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. The course will be most valuable for intermediate writers, since it will assume 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, energizing environment that will students improve their writing.

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. Before the course begins, readings will be made available either via snail mail or email.

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, including a lesson on critiquing.

Homework will be assigned on January 5 and 19, with due dates, respectively, of January 11 and 25. You will also be required to provide critiques of some of your classmates' work, which will be due on January 18 and February 1. 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 to complete each homework assignment.

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.

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 Jeanne Cavelos.

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 make up any work.

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. The fundamental elements of a good scene. Elements that add "spice" to your scenes. The scene as a mini-story. Understanding scene polarity. Scenes and sequels. James Scott Bell's "four chords." Techniques for hooking your readers, holding their attention, and encouraging them to read on. Assignment of homework.
January 11:      Homework is due.
January 18:      Critiques are due.
January 19:      Second class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. Turning points. Using beats to deepen characterization, conflict, and emotional turning points. Choice vs. dilemma. Set-ups and payoffs. Techniques to deepen the drama of every scene. "Special needs" scenes: keys to creating powerful openings, closings, and flashbacks. Assignment of new homework. Some students will have private meetings with Barbara after class.
January 25:      Homework is due.
January 26:      Some students will have private meetings with me between 7:30-8:45 PM EST.
February 1:      Critiques are due.
February 2:      Third class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. Pacing, rhythm, and tempo. Text vs. subtext. Diagnosing and treating "ailing" scenes. Scenes as a part of the "big picture" of your story or novel. Fulfilling the promise you make to readers. Some students will have private meetings with Barbara after class.

Barbara Ashford Award-winning novelist and librettist Barbara Ashford has been praised by reviewers and readers alike for her compelling characters and her "emotional, heartfelt" storytelling. Her 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 Far from the Madding Crowd has recently been optioned for Broadway.

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.

She returned to her musical theatre roots for her latest novels, 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 2000 Odyssey workshop graduate, Barbara has taught at the workshop in New Hampshire and in Odyssey's online classroom. For the past nine years, she has provided detailed feedback to writers through the Odyssey Critique Service.

Barbara 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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