The Writing Life: Form and Theory of the Novel (10-week course)
This course is not open to the public, but rather by admission only. For more information on the Online Writing Certificate Program and its application process, please click here. This first course in the OWC series introduces the fundamentals of novel design. Students will read and analyze two published novels, developing their own ideas about how authors create the effects they do on the page. The class will look first at a bestselling genre novel, considering such key questions as: How does the inciting incident prepare readers for the climax? How do scenes build on the tension of previous scenes, raising the stakes? And how do characters’ internal drives interface with external challenges to create a meaningful plot? The class will then revisit these questions with a work of literary fiction, considering whether and how these fundamentals apply to a quieter novel. Weekly discussion questions and writing prompts will help students think about how best to construct their own books. In the second half of the quarter, students will share a section of their novel-in-progress for supportive discussion by the class, gaining vital insight for the drafting and development they will be doing in workshop throughout the remainder of the certificate program. This course will also help students to develop the habits of successful fiction writers. The goal is for each student to reach a better understanding of how to shape a novel, a better grasp on the individual writing process, and a greater ability to constructively self-evaluate.
Sounding the Depths: Writing With Emotional Resonance (10-week course)
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. —Franz Kafka We read for many reasons; not least of them to be moved. Good writing wakes us up; it shocks us with recognition of our lives’ precious beauty. But how does the writer invest a piece of work with this emotive power? How do technical elements such as point of view, voice, tone, characterization, and setting contribute to making a piece of writing deeply felt? In this course, open to writers of fiction, memoir, and nonfiction, we will examine excerpts from authors such as Tahmima Anam and Maggie Nelson, with an eye toward making our own writing matter to the reader. We’ll consider meditations on craft from George Saunders, Seamus Heaney, Alice LaPlante, and others. Each week, we’ll try specific techniques—the art of the significant insignificant detail, the power of the unanswerable question—designed to locate sentiment but avoid sentimentality. Throughout the course, students will receive weekly feedback from peers and the instructor and will have the opportunity to submit up to 15 pages of polished writing for one-on-one instructor feedback. Students will finish this course with a completed story or essay, a sharpened sense of what makes writing evocative, and a clear practice for bringing those techniques to their future work.
I Laughed So Hard I Cried: Writing Comedy and Tragedy (10-week course)
No theme is so human, said Henry James, as “the close connexion of bliss and bale.” The things that make us laugh are often a hair’s breadth from the things that make us cry—and writing shows its power when it gives rise to either response in a reader. In this course, we will practice writing comedy and tragedy while learning from published short stories, novel excerpts, and creative nonfiction readings. We will analyze George Saunders’s mythical story on parenting while broke, Lydia Davis’s epistolary “Letter to a Funeral Parlor,” Nick Flynn’s memoir of getting to know his homeless father, and other writings both sad and funny. We will consider what kind of material is best suited for a comic work versus a tragic one, and we will embark on a variety of exercises designed to find the point where the two meet. Each student will complete two pieces of creative writing in the genre of their choice while participating in a supportive community of exchange with their peers. This course is suitable for writers of all levels who possess a willingness to have fun while still tackling the tough stuff.
Writing in Community: Awakening the Creative Spirit (10-week course)
Success in writing ends up being largely practical: Can you carve out the time? For many of us, the hardest part is simply sitting down and getting words onto the page. Doing exactly that is the focus of this course. In each ninety-minute class session, you will accomplish a significant amount of new writing, in community with a group of like-minded students. We’ll begin with a brief craft discussion or close reading, which will form the seed of a prompt designed to turn your mind—and your material—in new directions. The next half hour will comprise an in-class writing session, either working directly from the prompt or using it to inspire a new section in something you’re already working on. We will take a short break for small-group sharing and guided peer feedback, designed to ignite further ideas for developing the piece you’ve just completed. You’ll have the opportunity to integrate that feedback—or work off of a second prompt—in another twenty-minute writing session. Finally, we will come together briefly as a class to share reflections, struggles, and successes from the day’s writing. This schedule may sometimes vary, but we’ll always have an eye on reaping the focus, inspiration, and productivity that happen when we support one another in accomplishing our goals. You will finish the course with a stack of new writing, a more varied and vibrant writing practice, and a stronger sense of how community can bring the creative spirit alive.