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Effective Endings in Speculative Fiction

Instructor:  C. C. Finlay
Level:  Intermediate to Advanced
Class Times:  There will be three live class meetings.
Thursday, January 22, 2015,
Thursday, February 5, 2015, and
Thursday, February 19, 2015,
7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  December 26, 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.

Effective Endings in Speculative Fiction


Course Description:
Endings can make or break stories. Legendary science fiction editor Gardner Dozois has said "I think last lines of stories are very important, and a bad last line for a story can diminish the value of even a good story by, say, forty percent." While we won't try to calculate percentages in this class, we will examine how the right ending can help fix a broken story or make a good story great.

We will do that by studying the way story beginnings set up endings. We will look at characters and the way the ending needs to provide a satisfying conclusion to their narrative arc. We will discuss the importance of taking risks and being audacious, how satisfying endings depend on making bold and meaningful story choices. Finally, we will examine the endings themselves--the last scene, the last image, the last line.

The method of the course will be to focus extensively on examples, providing students with critical tools and critical practice that they can apply to their own work. The process will be iterative, reflecting the draft/revision process of writing. Ideas and tools will be introduced and applied, practiced in homework and critique, and then reviewed in greater depth and applied again. Students will study and analyze stories, perform exercises to practice techniques, write new material, and revise the ending to a story they have already written.

Students must be ready to hear about the weaknesses in their writing and to work to strengthen them. They must also be ready to give critiques to classmates that are both truthful and helpful.

Our goal as a class is to provide a supportive yet challenging, energizing environment that will students improve their writing.

The course is intended for all writers but will have an emphasis on speculative fiction, an umbrella term encompassing science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, and related story forms. The focus will be on short stories, not novels, but many of the lessons will apply to both.

The course will be most valuable for intermediate to advanced writers, since it will assume students already understand the basics of story-telling.

Students will be required to read several short stories and essays. Readings will be made available by email before the first class. Up to two additional short readings may be distributed after the course begins. Any additional readings will be shared at least one week prior to class.

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 22 and February 5, with due dates, respectively, of January 28 and February 11. You will also be required to provide critiques of some of your classmates' work, which will be due on February 4 and February 18. 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 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 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 22:      First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. Discussion of initial reactions to assigned stories. Review how beginnings, character, and boldness contribute to the effectiveness of endings. Discuss the structure of endings. Final scene. Last sentence. Review tools for creating effective endings. Final image. Emotional impact. Revelation. The importance of creating room for the reader to complete the story. Discuss different types of final lines. Review assigned stories again in light of class discussion. Review critique process and expectations. Assignment of homework.
January 28:      Homework is due.
February 4:      Critiques are due.
February 5:      Second class meeting. Discussion of homework. Brief discussion of critiques. Discussion of reactions to assigned stories. Critical analysis of assigned stories. Discussion of titles and how they can establish expectations for stories. The connection between titles and themes, endings, and last lines. More detailed review of story beginnings, including types of opening hooks. Discussion of how beginnings create expectations that must be satisfied by story endings. Identifying the emotional arc of the story's character and the way the ending must provide an opportunity for readers to engage with that emotion. Review of different ways that endings can be broken. How to know when the problem is the ending and when the problem is located earlier in the story. How to identify and fix those problems. Homework is returned with feedback. Assignment of homework.
February 11:      Homework is due.
February 16:      Some students will have private meetings with me between 8:30-9:45 PM EST.
February 17:      Some students will have private meetings with me between 8:30-9:45 PM EST.
February 18:      Some students will have private meetings with me between 8:30-9:45 PM EST.
February 18:      Critiques are due.
February 19:      Third class meeting. Discussion of homework. Brief discussion of critiques. Review of critique process and how to use those skills in revising your own stories. Discuss the role of surprise in telling meaningful stories. Review different kinds of surprise. Discuss how great endings both surprise the reader and feel inevitable at the same time. Review ways this is accomplished. Discuss the importance of taking risks. Review the spectrum of bold stories with imperfect endings to safe stories with predictable outcomes. Discuss the impact of the final scene vs. the final line, and the role of each in creating an effective ending. Discuss how these lessons can apply to larger stories, including novels, novellas, and series. Present tools for students to continue their studies after the conclusion of this course. Homework is returned with feedback.

C.C. Finlay C.C. Finlay is the author of four novels and dozens of short stories. His fiction has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Sidewise awards and collected in many Year's Best volumes. More recently, he has also been editor for the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. From 2000-2007, he was administrator of the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, and currently serves as one of OWW's Resident Editors. He has previously been an instructor at the Clarion Writers Workshop, the Clarion Young Adult Workshop, and the Alpha Writers Workshop, as well as numerous convention workshops. You can find out more about him at ccfinlay.com.

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