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Bodies and Heartbeats: Crafting Character from the Inside Out

Instructor:  Elaine Isaak
Level:  Intermediate
Class Times:  There will be three live class meetings.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013,
Wednesday, February 6, 2013, and
Wednesday, February 20, 2013,
7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  December 27, 2012
Tuition:  $229.00

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.

Bodies and Heartbeats: Crafting Character from the Inside Out

  Course Description:

  If you will try being fictional for a while, you will find that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.
                --Richard Bach

In her critiques as a guest lecturer at the Odyssey Writing Workshop and as a critiquer for the Odyssey Critique Service, Elaine Isaak has become legendary for identifying weaknesses in character and suggesting brilliant yet simple ways to strengthen characters. This course will help you to develop a clearer sense of what makes a powerful character and will teach you the techniques you need to develop strong characters.

The first duty of the fiction writer is to make the reader care about people that don't exist. In this workshop, we'll talk about how to create the core of a sympathetic character and bring that character to life through words so that the reader invests in the dreams and challenges of your imagined people. Students will study and discuss examples, perform exercises to practice creating sympathetic and believable characters, and write short-shorts that put these new skills into practice. Students will also provide critiques of their classmates' work.

Students must be ready to hear about the weaknesses in their characters and to work to strengthen them.

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.

Each student will have a private meeting with Elaine.

The course is intended for writers of fantastic fiction, an umbrella term encompassing fantasy, science fiction, horror, magical realism, and anything in between. Yet the need to create characters that make the reader care 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 students, since it will assume students already understand the basics of characterization.

Homework will be assigned on January 23 and February 6, with due dates, respectively, of January 29 and February 12. You will also be required to provide critiques of some of your classmates' work, which will be due on February 5 and 19. 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 6 hours each week to complete homework.

Assignments will include readings, writing exercises, critiques, and writing new fiction. Elaine 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.

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

Since we will have only 3 classes, 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.

There is no method for making up any missed classes.

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 here.

Tentative Schedule:

January 23: 
First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. What makes a character sympathetic? Character from the inside out: what drives your character? Establishing goal, motivation and conflict. Goals people care about, motivations that show character depth, conflict that will create internal and external tension. Examples of characters we care about. Assignment of homework.
January 29: 
Homework is due.
February 5: 
Critiques are due.
February 6: 

Second class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. The nitty-gritty: how do you show what your character is after? how do you suggest motivation? Using point of view to reveal character. Back story, subtext, secrets in layers. Some ways to analyze how your character is working (PASATFWOT, the window). Assignment of new homework. Some students will have private meetings with Elaine after class.
February 12: 
Homework is due.
February 13: 
Some students will have private meetings with Elaine between 7:00-8:30 PM EST.
February 19: 
Critiques are due.
February 20: 
Third class meeting. Discussion of previous homework assignment. Characters together--relationship is key. Power dynamics. Considerations of character for longer works and series works. Ensemble casting--who to include and how. Showing the antagonist. Character = plot: deriving scenes from your character's emotional core. Some students will have private meetings with Elaine after class.


Elaine Isaak Elaine Isaak is the author of The Singer's Crown and sequels The Eunuch's Heir and The Bastard Queen, and the "Tales of Bladesend" epic novella series. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies like Live Free or Undead, Escape Clauses, and Flush Fiction from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. Elaine writes traditional fantasy in a mythic and historic vein, harrowing tales of complex human relationships in the realms of fantasy. Magic may offer the choice of transcendence--or tragedy--and the quest never leaves you untouched.

In addition to her novels, she has written how-to articles for The Writer magazine, and authored the Lady Blade fantasy writing column at AlienSkin magazine for three years. Her speaking engagements have included local chapters of Romance Writers of America as well as other writing groups, the World Science Fiction and World Fantasy Conventions.

Elaine is a graduate of the 1997 Odyssey Writing Workshop, has served as a guest lecturer at Odyssey 2011 and 2012, and has edited manuscripts for the Odyssey Critique Service since 2009.

Visit www.ElaineIsaak.com to find out why you do not want to be her hero.

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Updated Oct 14, 2012
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