The Elements of Fiction
with Jessie Roy
June 7, 2023 | 8 Weeks |
Real life, made up.
In this course, you’ll immerse yourself in the nuts and bolts of fiction writing and gain new levels of control over your creative process, all while you produce multiple short stories or several chapters of a novel.
Writing fiction can be a lot like juggling—we’re building rich complex characters, developing plot and conflict toward a resolution, all while managing points of view, keeping settings clear and immersive, sketching realistic dialogue, and trying to make our sentences beautiful and pleasurable to read. Together, our class community will focus on one or two elements of fiction at a time, deepening our understanding as we go, to help you build the muscles and instincts of a great literary juggler. By the end of the course, you’ll find yourself writing more agile, complex, and confident prose, and feel ready to tackle bigger goals in your fiction—long forms like the novel, more sophisticated story structures, or new genres you’ve never tried before.
If you’re starting from scratch, this course will support you through the process of generating a new piece of fiction writing; if you’re already working on a larger project like a novel, we’ll jump in with you and help you develop it. In my lectures, which you can watch at your own pace throughout the week, I’ll talk you through my approach to each element of fiction with examples from great published work. Each week, you’ll submit portions of a story or novel chapter and receive feedback from me and your peers on what you’ve written, with full drafts due in weeks 4 and 8. And at the end of the course, you’ll select one story or chapter that you plan to revise and I’ll write you a personal revision letter to guide you through that process, so you can take the support of our class community with you even after the course is finished.
Learning & Writing Goals
In this course, you will:
- Gain a deep understanding of the building blocks of fiction writing and get personal guidance as you put them into practice.
- Pivot from thinking like a reader to thinking like a writer.
- Participate in a writing community, giving and receiving specific, generous feedback.
In this course, you will:
- Build a consistent weekly writing practice, layering on new tools and skills as you go.
- Write two short stories or several chapters of a novel.
- Walk away with a targeted revision letter from me to support you in revising one of your submissions.
Week 1: How Fiction Works
The basics of character and plot, thinking like a reader vs. thinking like a writer, how to give great feedback.
Assignment: Submit the first 3-5 pages of your first story or chapter.
Week 2: Who’s Telling This Story Anyway?: Narrators and Point of View
Characterization through description, POV, and narrators.
Assignment: Refine or reconsider the point of view for your first story or chapter, and add another 3-5 pages.
Week 3: Setting the Scene
What is a scene, scene vs. summary, imagining immersive settings.
Assignment: Submit another 3-5 pages of your first story or chapter, with special attention to immersion in the details of setting and the micro-actions that propel a scene forward.
Week 4: Real People with Real Problems
A deeper look at character and plot.
Assignment: Full Draft of Story or Chapter #1 Due.
Week 5: Letting Your Characters Speak For Themselves
Dialogue, or, people never say what they really mean.
Assignment: Submit 3-5 pages of your second story or chapter, including at least one scene in which two or more people start out very much not on the same page and come to understand each other (imperfectly) through dialogue.
Week 6: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
The arc of a story, another angle on plot.
Assignment: Answer the questions in the prompt to brainstorm possible ways to introduce complications and ratchet up the tension in your work. Then write and submit another 3-5 pages.
Week 7: Flights of Poetic Fancy
What is style, how do sentences work, playing with language, and what we can learn from poets.
Assignment: Write your way toward the end of the story or chapter, generating at least another 3-5 pages, with special attention to moments of high intensity which can be deepened in significance with heightened, poetic language.
Week 8: Revision
Finding the story inside your story.
Assignment: Full Draft of Story or Chapter #2 Due.