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Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction

 
Instructor:  Jeanne Cavelos
 
 
Level:  Advanced
 
 
Class Times:  There will be three live class meetings.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013,
Wednesday, January 16, 2013, and
Wednesday, January 30, 2013,
7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
 
 
Application Deadline:  December 7, 2012
 
 
Tuition:  $239.00
 
 
 

 
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.
 


Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction
Syllabus


 

Course Description:
One of the greatest weaknesses of developing writers is plot. One of the best tools for strengthening plot is the act. Plotting in acts creates a more suspenseful, unpredictable, and emotionally satisfying experience for the reader. This course will start by defining key units of structure--the scene, chapter, and act--and explore why we need acts. We'll discuss the effect of acts, the importance of acts, how acts work in short fiction and novels, and how acts are used in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. How does one identify an act? When are three acts appropriate? Why are three acts so popular and powerful? We'll learn how to plot in three acts. What makes a strong three-act plot and what makes a weak three-act plot? We'll look at powerful methods and weak methods of ending an act. We'll explore how to create a causal chain that generates escalations and a strong climax, how subplots work within three-act structure, the connection between structure and character transformation, and the unifying role of theme.

Students will study examples, dissect plots, perform exercises to practice techniques, write new material, revise the plot of a story they have written, and outline a new plot that incorporates all the concepts discussed. Students must be ready to hear about the weaknesses in their plotting and to work to strengthen them.

Students will also provide critiques of their classmates' work.

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 feedback to your classmates that is 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.

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 concept of three-act structure 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 advanced students, since it will assume students already understand plot at an intermediate level, including concepts like exposition, conflict, crises, climax, resolution; how character and setting interact to create plot; the difference between idea and plot; and the relationships between internal and external conflict and internal and external stakes

Texts:
Students will be required to read several short stories. Before the course begins, hard copies of some stories will be mailed to students; other stories will be made available online.

In addition, students will be required to read one novel and watch two movies, which they must buy or rent if they don't already own. I've listed sample editions below; students can use any edition.

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Buy Fahrenheit 451 at Amazon.com

Inception. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Warner, 2010. DVD.
Buy Inception at Amazon.com

Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. Dir. George Lucas. Twentieth Century Fox, 2004. DVD.
Buy Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope (Widescreen Edition) from Amazon.com

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

Homework will be assigned on January 2 and January 16, with due dates, respectively, of January 8 and January 22. You will also be required to provide critiques of some of your classmates' work, which will be due on January 15 and 29. 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 each week to complete homework. Some students, on some weeks, have spent over 14 hours on homework.

Assignments will include reading, studying movies, critiquing, outlining and analyzing stories written by others, outlining and analyzing a story you have written, revising that outline, and writing new fiction. I will return your homework with my feedback by the next class session.

Students are expected to follow guidelines about postings to the Yahoo Group in the Odyssey Online Student Handbook.

Attendance:
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 2: 
First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. Definitions of terms. The purpose of acts, the power of acts. How to recognize an act. How to plot in acts. Discussion of stories read in advance. Assignment of homework.
 
 
January 8: 
Homework is due.
 
 
January 11: 
Some students will have private meetings with Jeanne between 7:00-8:30 PM EST.
 
 
January 15: 
Critiques are due.
 
 
January 16: 

Second class meeting. Discussion of homework. Introduction of more advanced concepts. The effects of acts. Study and discussion of other stories and sample outlines. Strong three-act structure and weak three-act structure. Strong endings to acts. Class brainstorming of a three-act plot. Homework is returned with my feedback. Assignment of homework.
 
 
January 18: 
Some students will have private meetings with Jeanne between 7:00-8:30 PM EST.
 
 
January 22: 
Homework is due.
 
 
January 25: 
Some students will have private meetings with Jeanne between 7:00-8:30 PM EST.
 
 
January 29: 
Critiques are due.
 
 
January 30: 
Third class meeting. Discussion of homework. The causal chain, escalation, and powerful climaxes. The connection between structure and character change. Fine-tuning your three-act structure. Tying structure and plot to theme. The use of subplots in three-act structure. Discussion of additional examples. Homework is returned with my feedback.

Instructor:
Jeanne Cavelos Jeanne Cavelos is the founder and director of the Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust. She has taught the Odyssey Writing Workshop since 1996 and has taught Odyssey Online Classes since 2010. You can find more information about Jeanne here.

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