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Odyssey Online Writing Classes

Course Offerings for Winter 2020:

Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction
  Course Meets: January 2 - January 30, 2020
Instructor: Jeanne Cavelos
Application Deadline: December 7, 2019
The Heart of the Matter: Bringing Emotional Resonance to Your Storytelling
  Course Meets: January 6 - February 3, 2020
Instructor: Barbara Ashford
Application Deadline: December 7, 2019
Standing Out: Creating Short Stories with That Crucial Spark
  Course Meets: January 9 - February 6, 2020
Instructor: Scott H. Andrews
Application Deadline: December 7, 2019
And check out our Webinars!

Reactions from Odyssey Online Graduates

"Whether you are a beginner at the craft of writing or a published professional you will benefit from an Odyssey Online Writing Course. I have taken other online courses and the two with Odyssey felt like I was in a physical college classroom. The teachers read my homework carefully and their evaluations motivated me to finish revising my novel. This course is for serious writers who want to improve their craft in a supportive environment. Worth every penny. (They should charge more!)"
                                                                   --Steven Novick

"This was my first Odyssey Online class, and I was nervous it wouldn't be as useful or in-depth as I was hoping. The class definitely blew away my expectations! It was fascinating, rigorous, and I had to work hard to keep up with the homework assignments, which was exactly what I wanted. I learned so much from applying the lesson material in the assignments and analyzing other students' writing in the critiques. I had a great experience and would recommend Odyssey Online to anyone serious about improving their writing."
                                                                   --Andrew Alford

"Odyssey Online was instrumental in the development and completion of my debut novel. When I realized I had a novel on my hands, I knew I was in over my head. Odyssey Online provided me with the tools I desperately needed to improve my weak points (Powerful Dialogue in Fantastic Fiction) and redesign the overarching structure of my novel (Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel), all from the comfort of my own home.

"The instructors were knowledgeable, happy to answer my questions, and went above and beyond the call of duty when helping me through contract negotiations. I would not hesitate to recommend Odyssey Online and have on several occasions, bringing a friend along to Getting the Big Picture. I can hardly wait to see the classes offered next winter."
                                                                   --Jenise Aminoff (writing as Dianna Sanchez)


A Message from Jeanne Cavelos, Director, about the Online Classes:


Since its inception in 1996, the Odyssey Writing Workshop has become one of the most highly respected programs for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror in the world. Through an advanced curriculum, intensive focus, directed study, and detailed feedback, students gain a much deeper understanding of the elements of fiction writing and make major improvements in their work.

In 2010, to further our mission of helping developing writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, we have taken the techniques that are so effective at the workshop and adapted them to create online classes. We've worked very hard to ensure that our online classes are of the same quality and caliber as our in-person workshop and that they deserve to carry the name of Odyssey.

Woman in Headphones Odyssey's online classes are rigorous and demanding, giving you the most for your time and effort. You should not apply unless you are ready to learn and practice new techniques, hear about the weaknesses in your writing, and work to overcome those weaknesses. Classes provide a supportive yet challenging, energizing atmosphere. Taking one of our online classes is a great way to focus on your writing, giving it the time and attention it needs. Each class is focused on a particular element of fiction writing and is designed for writers at a particular skill level.

Taking one of Odyssey's online classes is not equivalent to attending the Odyssey workshop. There is no substitute for devoting yourself solely to your writing for six weeks, with the focus, intensity, group bonding, and extended, directed study such an in-person experience involves.

Man with Three Screens But writers can improve through many different experiences. Odyssey's online classes will provide you with valuable tools and techniques and will guide you as you practice using them. We'll study some of the most beautiful and powerful writing in the field to gain understanding of what these tools can do when wielded with skill. We'll also discuss the common failings of developing writers and explain how to avoid those pitfalls. Classes will also provide you with new insights into the writing process and into your writing in particular, through detailed feedback.

We offer just three online courses each winter and focus them on some of the biggest challenges writers face.

Student Typing with Earbuds In my 32 years working with writers, as a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell and then as director of Odyssey, it's become very clear that writers struggle most with plot and structure. That's why I've decided to bring back my popular class Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction. A story or novel may have compelling characters, an interesting world, and a strong style, but without the engine of a plot, the other elements lie static on the page. Writers struggle to find the best place to start the story, often starting too soon or too late. They get mired in the middle, with the protagonist wandering to various locations, picking up plot coupons in the hope of redeeming them for a climax. The climax often feels weak, forced by the author, or as if it belongs in some other story. Even if the protagonist has run through the plot like a mouse through a maze, the plot often carries no emotional impact. To solve these problems, writers need to master the act structure underlying strong fiction. While writing books and blogs periodically discuss acts, few clearly define what truly comprises an act or explain how plotting in acts can create a more suspenseful, unpredictable, and emotionally satisfying experience for the reader. In addition to studying acts, and in particular three-act structure, the course will cover how to plot within that structure, creating escalations, reversals, and crisis points of impact and emotion. And we'll study how structure and character are intertwined, so the turning points in the plot connect with changes in the character. With a strong act structure, your protagonist will face challenges that will put the character, and readers, through an experience they will never forget.

One of my students commented, "This class has changed the way I write. Before, the words 'plot and structure' would make me recoil in anxiety and frustration. Now, I see plot and structure as exciting tools to help me create the kind of stories I want to write." Students have found this course extremely helpful, so if you struggle with plot, I hope you'll apply. This special, extended course will have two-hour class meetings, rather than our usual ninety minutes, so we can cover all the content with plenty of time for discussion and questions. As the demands of running Odyssey grow, it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to teach an online class, so this is the first class I've offered in three years. I'm not sure when I'll be teaching online again or teaching this course again.

Webinar Screen One of our most highly rated instructors, award-winning author Barbara Ashford, is tackling another major challenge for writers in her course, The Heart of the Matter: Bringing Emotional Resonance to Your Storytelling. Writers are constantly frustrated to discover that the characters and situations that seem so moving and powerful to them leave readers shrugging and saying, "Meh." If you want your work to be imbued with emotion, if you want your readers to care as much about your characters as you do, this is the course for you. The Heart of the Matter will not only show you how to get character emotions on the page in a powerful and affecting way; it will explain how to infuse each element of your story--setting, description, character, plot, point of view--with emotion, so emotion resonates through your story with great impact. Learn how to orchestrate the overall emotional experience of readers. When Barbara last offered this class in 2017, one of her students, Derrick Boden, said this: "I couldn't have asked for more from Barbara's 'Heart of the Matter' workshop. Building emotional resonance is critical to a successful story, and this course offers a clear roadmap to success--along with extremely insightful feedback along the way. Barbara's energetic and interactive lectures are a goldmine of quality content, and along with the constructive assignments and well-curated reading list this course is an incredible experience. I would recommend this course to anyone looking to take their writing to the next level."

Woman with Two Screens Scott H. Andrews, editor-in-chief and publisher of the fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a seven-time Hugo Award finalist, taught for Odyssey Online for the first time in 2018. The response to his class, Standing Out: Creating Short Stories with That Crucial Spark, was extremely enthusiastic. Students who took the class found it fascinating and very helpful; those who weren't able to get in have been asking us to offer it again. Scott is doing more than that, offering an expanded version of the course with classes running 1 hour and 50 minutes, rather than our usual 90 minutes.

Why does a story need "spark"? Scott receives far too many well-crafted, engaging stories each month to publish. For him to publish a story, it needs to be special; it needs to have that crucial spark. Creating a story with that crucial spark is one of the major challenges writers face. What exactly is a "spark"? This course will involve studying and discussing stories that have a spark. Scott will then explain various ways to create a spark--with a fascinating concept or thematic impact or emotional resonance or potent voice. Students will learn the most effective techniques to create a spark, practice those techniques, and then work to add a spark to their own work. Having that spark can make the difference between personalized rejections and sales. If you want to write works that are more than competent, that captivate or enthrall or delight, this course is for you. One of Scott's students, Christine Row, said, "Scott Andrews did an amazing job of analyzing works with that elusive sense of 'spark' and distilling the reasons why certain stories stay with us for life. He provided numerous insights and examples of how Concept, Voice, Emotional Resonance, and Theme contribute to a story that hooks the reader. The most valuable insights of his class, however, could be found in the impeccably detailed critiques that he provided for students' assignments. The general principles emphasized within all his critiques, as well as the specific comments on my work, have changed my writing process. His class has both widened my perspective as an author (looking beyond my initial choices for story), as well as narrowed my focus within scenes. While I have a lot of practice ahead to take my writing to the next level, I finally have an understanding of the methods that make certain stories leap off the page."

Woman with Webinar Screen Odyssey's online classes operate through five components:

  • Lectures and discussions: Lectures and discussions are scheduled for particular times, and students are expected to attend all of them at the scheduled times. Students receive access to these sessions through GoToMeeting.com. At class time, you call the class phone number or plug in your USB headset and go to the appropriate Web site (no GoToMeeting account is required). You will see and hear the instructor live, giving the lecture, and your computer screen will become the instructor's blackboard, where various examples and notes will be displayed.

    By clicking on the appropriate icon, you can raise your hand. You can also verbally ask a question and listen to the questions of other students.

    Some sessions will involve more discussion, with students commenting on their experiences with the assigned work. You can get to know your classmates and form supportive friendships.

  • Class materials: Supporting materials are posted on a class discussion group, which you will be asked to join when you enroll in the class. You will be required to print out some materials, so you can refer to them during lectures.

  • Writing exercises and assignments: Homework will be assigned at each class meeting and must be completed by the due date. In most courses, you will also offer feedback on some of your classmates' work, and they will provide feedback on your work.

  • Communication with the instructor: Since class sizes are small, you'll have plenty of opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues with the instructor. The instructor will be providing in-depth feedback on your work and offering suggestions and advice. The instructor will also have a one-on-one meeting with each student.

  • Communication with me: I will be sitting in on each class to provide technical support to the instructor. I will be reading the applications and making admissions decisions, coordinating the dissemination of advance materials, setting up the discussion group, providing support if you have technical problems, and making myself available by email and phone if you have questions or problems of any kind during the course.

Our classes are for writers serious about improving their writing. Whether you're a beginner or a published writer, you'll be able to find an Odyssey Online Class to help you attack your weak areas and and level up your writing.

Here are some other details about the courses:

  • Class size: Limited to 14 students, unless otherwise announced.

  • Instructors: Top authors, editors, and agents who are also great teachers serve as instructors for Odyssey's online classes. You can find information about the instructor of each course on the specific class page.

  • Time requirements: Make sure you check the specific class page to find out when lectures will be held. You need to attend class at those times.

    An estimate of the amount of time homework assignments will take is also provided on the specific class page.

  • Work requirements: Assignments may include readings, writing exercises, critiquing, and writing and revising your fiction. See the specific class page for more details.

  • Technological requirements: The computer specifications below may look a bit intimidating, if you're not a technical person. Chances are, if you've bought your computer in the last 5 years,Chances are, if you've bought your computer in the last 5 years, it will fulfill the requirements. So don't panic; just go through them one at a time and make sure you are covered.

    • A USB headset (made up of headphones and microphone) that you can plug into your computer is the best option for listening and speaking in class, because it minimizes the chance of echo and feedback. But you can also use a telephone or computer speakers and microphone. If you use a phone, your phone will be charged for a standard long-distance call during the lectures and discussions.

    • Assignments must be turned in as MS Word files or rich text files.

    • Class materials will be distributed in MS Word files. You must be able to read such files.

  • Computer requirements:
    • Google Chrome v39 or later, Mozilla Firefox v34 or later, Internet Explorer v9 or later, Apple Safari v6 or later; in any of these, JavaScript must be enabled

    • On a PC, Windows 7 or later. On a Mac, Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) or later.

    • 2GB or more of RAM

    • Cable modem, DSL, or better Internet connection (broadband strongly recommended)

    • To see the instructor via webcam, 1 Mbps or more bandwidth (you can check your bandwidth here). If you don't have this much bandwidth, you can still participate but will probably need to close the small window showing the instructor

    GoToMeeting will check your computer here and allow you to try a test session here.

    You can also join your class meetings from any Windows mobile, iPhone, iPad, or Android device, such as a tablet or smartphone. This is not recommended, since your options will be limited, but if this is your only option, it is possible. Download the GoToMeeting app free on the App Store, Google Play and the Windows Mobile Store.

  • Cost: Class tuition varies depending on the course. See the specific class page for more information. The tuition costs quoted are the discounted rates for US students paying by check or money order, and for international students paying by bank draft in US dollars.

    Students have the additional option of paying tuition through PayPal which allows you to charge the costs on a credit card. Those using PayPal need to pay the full rates, which are about 4% higher.

  • How to apply: All prospective students must fill out an Odyssey Online Application and include a 1,000-word writing sample. There is a $10 application fee. If you are admitted to the course, $10 will be deducted from the tuition. If you are not admitted, you will receive feedback on your writing sample. See the specific class page or the top of this page for the application deadlines.

  • Refunds: All tuition payments are non-refundable.

The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to help developing writers realize their potential and make their work the best it can be. My experiences over Odyssey's 24 years have been incredible. Talented writers of all ages, from all over the world, have given their all, improved their writing, and made exciting breakthroughs.

Hands at Keyboard If you're willing to dedicate your time and energy in that quest, if you're willing to hear about the weaknesses in your writing and work to improve them, then I hope you'll apply for one of our online classes.

You can find comments from graduates of Odyssey's Online Classes here.

Please check out the Odyssey Online Frequently Asked Questions page. If you have any additional questions, feel free to e-mail me.

To receive information about future classes, sign up for our free e-newsletter.

If you want help improving your writing but can't make the scheduled times for the classes, or you feel the classes aren't the right option for you, you may want to check out our Odyssey Webinars! If you have completed work, you may find the Odyssey Critique Service helpful. It allows you to receive professional-level feedback on your writing. We also offer consultations, in which you can talk out a writing problem with me, and coaching, which can help you overcome whatever is holding you back in your writing.

In the meantime, I hope you'll find this site a useful resource for your writing.

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Updated Oct 14, 2019
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