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Powerful Dialogue in Fantastic Fiction

Instructor:  Jeanne Cavelos
Level:  Intermediate to Advanced
Class Times:  There will be three live class meetings.
Thursday, January 2, 2014,
Thursday, January 16, 2014, and
Thursday, January 30, 2014,
7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  December 7, 2013
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.

Powerful Dialogue in Fantastic Fiction


Course Description:
Powerful dialogue can leave readers hanging on every word. It can delight and surprise readers. It can resonate long after the book is closed. It can drive the story forward, reveal character, show the nuances in relationships, develop internal or external conflict, provide a powerful contrast with action, convey subtext, alter pace, build atmosphere, carry cultural or educational differences, increase tension, and reveal setting and other information.

But often dialogue is weak. Often valuable space in a story is wasted on dialogue that wanders, that does not move the story ahead, or that does not feel believable. Dialogue takes up a large percentage of most fictional works. To write a strong story, you need to know how to write powerful dialogue. You need to know which dialogue is worth including; how to incorporate dialogue with action, description, and thought for the greatest impact; how to distinguish different speakers; how to suggest dialect without making your text unreadable; how to provide verisimilitude while writing tight, compressed dialogue; how to make dialogue believable for your characters and world; how to reveal personality and relationships through dialogue; how to use sound and rhythm to create emotion and impact; when to show and when to tell in dialogue; how to build strong conflict, tension, and contrasts; how to write dialogue that accomplishes multiple goals; and how to most effectively create subtext through dialogue. In this course, we'll explore many powerful and little-known concepts and techniques that will allow you to do all of these things. We'll study weak dialogue and powerful dialogue to learn what not to do and what to do. We'll explore ways of avoiding common traps and alternatives you can use

Students will study and analyze examples, perform exercises to practice techniques, write new material, and revise dialogue from a story they have already written.

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 critiques to your classmates that are 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 me.

The course is intended for writers of fantastic fiction, an umbrella term encompassing fantasy, science fiction, horror, magical realism, and anything in between. Yet powerful dialogue 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 intermediate or advanced students, since it will assume students already understand the basics of dialogue, including formatting, punctuation, dialogue tags, avoiding handshaking dialogue, avoiding infodumps, writing realistic dialogue, and avoiding talking heads.

Students will be required to read several short stories and essays. Before the course begins, readings will be made available either via snail mail or email.

In addition, students will be required watch two movies and an episode of a TV series, which they must rent or buy if they don't already own. I've listed sample editions below; students can use any editions.

The Godfather Part II--The Coppola Restoration. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola.
      Paramount, 2008. DVD.
Buy The Godfather, Part II (Two-Disc Widescreen Edition) at Amazon.com

Valkyrie. Dir. Bryan Singer. United Artists, 2009. DVD.
Buy Valkyrie (Single-Disc Edition) at Amazon.com

"Click to Start" (Season 1, Episode 1). Web Therapy. Dir. Don Roos. Showtime.
      19 July 2011. Television.
Buy Web Therapy--The Complete First Season from Amazon.com

Students will be required to read some material before our first class meeting, including a lesson on critiquing, and to answer 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, rich text files, or ascii files.

You should reserve a minimum of 7 hours to complete each homework assignment.

Assignments will include reading and analyzing assigned texts, critiquing, performing exercises to practice techniques, writing new material, analyzing your previously written material, and revising previously written material. I will return your homework with my feedback by 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 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. Achieving both verisimilitude and compression. Creating an individual idiolect for each character. Using syntax, dialect, diction, and sentence length to reflect personality and background. Styles of communication. Revealing character through the nature of his responses. The Sloane principle. Reflecting your world in dialogue. Discussion of pre-class assignment. Assignment of homework.
January 8:      Homework is due.
January 10:      Some students will have private meetings with me between 7:00-8:30 PM EST.
January 15:      Critiques are due.
January 16:      Second class meeting. Discussion of homework. Dialogue as disguised conflict. Character goals in dialogue. Developing external and internal conflict. How to increase tension in dialogue. Making sure you are moving the story ahead. Cutting the fat, manipulating pacing. Revealing relationships and the power dynamic through dialogue. On-the-nose versus oblique dialogue. Implicature and subtext. Silence, beats, volleying, the barrage, turns in the power dynamic. Types of conversations, including high-context and low-context dialogue. Creating compelling dialogue that readers find both surprising and believable. How to incorporate dialogue with other elements for maximum impact. Homework is returned with my feedback. Assignment of homework.
January 17:      Some students will have private meetings with me between 7:00-8:30 PM EST.
January 22:      Homework is due.
January 24:      Some students will have private meetings with me between 7:00-8:30 PM EST.
January 29:      Critiques are due.
January 30:      Third class meeting. Discussion of homework. Achieving multiple purposes in your dialogue. Using sound and rhythm to create emotion and impact. Manipulating showing and telling in dialogue. Contrasting dialogue with other sources of information. Building atmosphere with dialogue. Revealing setting and other information through dialogue. Discussion of additional examples. Homework is returned with my feedback.
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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