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  Where This Class Came From and What You Should Gain From It

This class grew out of a question that kept getting posed to me by students. I spent a lot of time thinking about the answer and it seemed to me the answer is actually a different question.

The question was this: How do I tell a good idea for a story from a bad idea for a story? Because the people asking that knew that sometimes they started with ideas that never got completed. We all have that folder with at least a few half-finished stories in it -- some that only got as far as a few lines; others that border on being done, but something stops us from completing it to the point where it's ready to go out the door.

Stories all come from different places and processes will differ from person to person, situation to situation, and even story to story. But I have found that becoming a better writer is not about knowing how to distinguish the good ideas from the bad, but rather trusting myself to be able to take any idea -- even one that is incomplete, flawed, or cliché -- and do something worthwhile with it. The question you should be asking is "How do I learn to take any idea and turn it into a story?"

That is the answer that this course will provide. By the time you have worked your way through this class, you will be able to take a story idea and do the following:

  • Identify what sort of starting point (or combination of starting points) you have.
  • Choose among several possible strategies for fleshing it out.
  • Know what needs to be supplied to make it a complete story.
  • Move it from idea to finished draft.

How to Get the Most from this Class

Galloping through the course may not be the best approach. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not. While it's a good idea to write every day, don't take this class and write as much as you can as fast as you can -- unless circumstances or your specific writing process do dictate that you should.

What I would suggest for most students, though, is that you take it in smaller chunks and give yourself time to think about the material as well as to notice manifestations of it in what you’re currently reading. Keep a notebook of passages and sentences that you think work particularly well, so you can try to figure out how they’re achieving the effect that they are, and keep looking at them as you learn more about some of the internal factors of a story.

You will get the most out of the class if you do some of the exercises, but you may find them particularly effective if you use this class in conjunction with a current project, using aspects of that work as a base for the exercises. If something works well for you, you may want to incorporate it into your writing practice.

I have included "overachiever versions" for those who want to take the various writing exercises farther. I tend in that obnoxious and somewhat competitive direction myself, and so if you really want to sharpen a particular skill, I've included ways to do each exercise at greater length or with a higher difficulty setting.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions or comment, which you can do throughout the course. Your questions and comments will be visible to me as well as other students taking the class. If you’d prefer to ask a question privately, mail me at