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The Secrets of a Satisfying Short Story

Instructor:  Nancy Holder
Level:  Beginner to Intermediate
Class Times:  There will be three live class meetings.
Thursday, January 23, 2014,
Thursday, February 6, 2014, and
Thursday, February 20, 2014,
7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  December 27, 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 Secrets of a Satisfying Short Story


Course Description:
The short story is a very demanding form, and it provides no margin for error. Many writers don't understand the bedrock principles that make for a successful short story. They write without a clear sense of what they want to achieve, and without sufficiently developing the key ingredients that will help them achieve it. This course will start by discussing Edgar Allan Poe's criteria for a short story, which offer powerful, clarifying principles. We'll then explore the key concepts of idea, premise, and plot, and how to make sure you aren't writing from an idea but have made the journey from idea to premise to plot. We'll study how the beginning of the story leads to the surprising but inevitable end. We'll discuss why weak endings are the most common problem among writers and how to make your ending strong. We'll work on connecting internal and external conflicts; developing your conflicts through cause and effect; incorporating three-act structure; building compelling characters; creating strong emotion; distinguishing between presenting and representing; identifying and remaining focused on your story; revising your work; and avoiding the temptation to make it cool--also known as the Dancing Taco Theory.

Students will study examples, perform exercises to practice techniques, write new material, and outline a new plot that incorporates all the concepts discussed.

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 Nancy. Students will also provide critiques of their classmates' work, and revise their work in response to feedback.

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 concepts covered are 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 to intermediate students, since it will assume students already understand basic concepts. Yet beginners may also profit from the class, so they, too, are welcome to apply.

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 are required to buy the following textbook:

Hills, L. Rust. Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, rev. ed.
      Boston: Mariner-Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Print.
Buy from Amazon
Buy at Barnes & Noble
Buy at Alibris

Students will be required to read some material before our first class meeting, including a lesson on critiquing.

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 7 hours to complete each homework assignment.

Assignments will include reading, critiquing, analyzing stories written by others, outlining a new plot, writing new fiction, and revising. Nancy will return your homework with her 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 23:      First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. Rust Hills, right and wrong. Edgar Allan Poe's criteria for a short story. What is unity of effect? Internalizing a Unification Checklist. How to dig down to get the "whatness" of your story. Establishing a clear sense of what you want to achieve with a story. Definition of idea, premise, and plot. Making the journey from idea to premise to plot. Exploring the relationship between the beginning and the end, and finding the right ending. Problems of weak endings and how to avoid them. Discussion of pre-class exercises and readings. Assignment of homework. Some students will have private meetings with Nancy after class.
January 29:      Homework is due.
February 5:      Critiques are due.
February 6:      Second class meeting. Discussion of homework. Developing your conflicts through cause and effect. The relationship between internal and external conflict. Plotting with three acts. Class brainstorming of a three-act plot. Finessing into more subtle story construction through foreshadowing, tension, conflict, episodes, resolution, and denouement. Homework is returned with Nancy's feedback. Assignment of homework. Some students will have private meetings with Nancy after class.
February 12:      Homework is due.
February 19:      Critiques are due.
February 20:      Third class meeting. Discussion of homework. Building compelling characters whose problems and weaknesses drive your story. Creating strong emotion. Distinguishing between presenting an idea and representing an idea. Identifying exactly what your story is and remaining focused on that, so your story has unity and power. How to revise. How to use feedback to truly strengthen your story. Avoiding the temptation to make it cool. Discussion of additional examples. Homework is returned with Nancy's feedback. Some students will have private meetings with Nancy after class.


Nancy Holder Nancy Holder is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of adult, young adult, middle grade, and early reader work, both fiction and nonfiction. She has sold approximately 80 novels and 200 short stories, comic books, and essays in various genres. She has taught creative writing classes at the University of California at San Diego, the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference, and other conferences and colleges, and has been on the faculty of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing for seven years. She has also served on the boards of Clarion (San Diego) and the Horror Writers Association.

Wicked, her young adult dark fantasy series, was optioned by DreamWorks, and she has received five Bram Stoker Awards, including Best Novel for Dead in the Water, edited by Jeanne Cavelos. As an editor, she was nominated for a Stoker for Outsiders: 22 All New Stories from the Edge, which contains work by a number of previous Odyssey writers-in-residence. She received a Pioneer Award from the Romantic Times Convention for her work in young adult literature. She also recently won a Scribe award for her novel, Saving Grace: Tough Love, based on the TV show of the same name.

She has done tie-in work for Smallville; Saving Grace; The Hulk; Hellboy; Sabrina the Teen Age Witch; Highlander; Zorro; Kolchak the Night Stalker; The Domino Lady; The Spider; the Avenger; and Sherlock Holmes, as well two dozen novels for Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She also produced the first volume of The Angel Casefiles and the first two volumes of the BtVS Watcher's Guide. She has written material for house series such as Nancy Drew; Camp Confidential; Pretty Freekin Scary, and for packagers such as becker&meyer!

She has also written a lot of horror, urban fantasy, science fiction and fantasy. She writes columns for the Science Fiction Writers of America Bulletin and the Horror Writers Association newsletter. She also edits and writes comic books, graphic novels, and prose for Moonstone Books.

Her new work includes the young adult vampire series Crusade, and The Wolf Springs Chronicles, a young adult werewolf series. Her licensed tribute book Buffy: the Making of a Slayer will be released by 47 North (amazon) in December. She also has selections in Dear Teen Me; IDW's VWars shared world; Zombie Apocalypse: Fightback!; An Apple for the Creature, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner; Shards and Ashes, edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong; and Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes. "Clockwork Airlock," a steampunk story, appeared in FutureDaze.

She is a member of:
The Romance Writers of America and various sub-chapters
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
The International Association of Media Tie-in Writers
The Horror Writers Association

Her teaching philosophy is this: As the Talmud says, "Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.'" She believes that is best done with kind, specific guidance that inspires and encourages the student to keep going. No one on this earth was born published, and yet many have managed to do it. There are definitely ways to make it more likely, and she is delighted to share her thoughts on the matter with Odyssey.

Her literary crush is Edgar Allan Poe, and she loves the heavy metal stylings of Sir Christopher Lee. She lives in San Diego with her daughter, Belle, and they have sold two short stories together. Feel free to contact her @nancyholder or https://www.facebook.com/holder.nancy.

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