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The Heart of the Matter: Bringing Emotional Resonance to Your Storytelling

Instructor:  Barbara Ashford
Level:  Intermediate
Class Times:  There will be three live class meetings.
Monday, January 6, 2014,
Monday, January 20, 2014, and
Monday, February 3, 2014,
7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  December 10, 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.

The Heart of the Matter: Bringing Emotional Resonance to Your Storytelling


Course Description:
Barbara Ashford believes in storytelling that takes readers on a journey that satisfies their hearts as well as their minds. Readers love stories that force characters to confront their darkest fears, expose their shameful secrets, survive their most wrenching confrontations. But just having your character cry or laugh or scream will never get readers to share the emotions behind those actions. It requires careful crafting – from conception to execution – to achieve that.

This course will take you from "setting the stage"—exploring and understanding the emotions inherent in a story idea—to "getting it on the page" by showing complex emotions through your writing. Award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford will explore ways to infuse drama and emotion into every aspect of storytelling—from description and worldbuilding to character and POV—and will offer suggestions for weaving these elements together to ensure greater emotional resonance.

Lecture, discussion, examples, and writing exercises will help you understand the central emotion at the heart of a story; deepen complexity and conflict; choose plot incidents that push characters' emotional buttons and reveal their true natures; use characterization to demonstrate shifts in emotion, and practice techniques that show emotion on the page.

The class will explore the writer-reader relationship, including ways of fulfilling or subverting reader expectations and crafting scenes to elicit the "correct" emotional response from readers. Barbara will also examine how the author's feelings can impact storytelling and offer practical suggestions for overcoming the discomfort that can arise when writing scenes of raw emotion.

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 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. All readings that are required before the course begins will be mailed to students. Barbara will also reference a variety of 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.

Homework will be assigned on January 6 and 20, with due dates, respectively, of January 12 and 26. You will also be required to provide critiques of some of your classmates' work, which will be due on January 19 and February 2. 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 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 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 6:      First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. The importance of emotion in storytelling. Identifying the emotional heart of your story. Examining ways to infuse that emotion into the building blocks of story. Character vs. characterization. The advantages and disadvantages of using "menus" of character traits. Understanding and uncovering your protagonist's true nature. Adding conflict and complexity to your characters and your world. Assignment of homework.
January 12:      Homework is due.
January 19:      Critiques are due.
January 20:      Second class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. POV and emotion. Understanding the protagonist's emotional journey. Choosing plot events that challenge the protagonist, force her to confront inner conflicts, make difficult choices, and change. The emotional impact of linear vs. non-linear storytelling. Scene design. Using "beats" and characterization to chart emotional shifts and show them on the page. Scene study of techniques that convey emotion, complexity, character, and conflict. Assignment of new homework. Some students will have private meetings with Barbara after class.
January 26:      Homework is due.
January 27:      Some students will have private meetings with Barbara between 7:30-8:45 PM EST.
February 2:      Critiques are due.
February 3:      Third class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. The writer-reader relationship. Fulfilling the promise you make to readers in your opening scenes. Calibrating emotional reveals so they elicit the "right" response from readers. Stylistic red flags that can inadvertently distance readers from your story and techniques to address them. Finding your voice. How our attitudes towards emotion can impact our storytelling. Techniques for tapping into emotions. 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 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.

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.

A 2000 Odyssey workshop graduate, Barbara has taught at the workshop in New Hampshire and in Odyssey's online classroom. For the past eight 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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