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CW 65 W — Scene by Scene: The Building Blocks of Narrative

Quarter: Winter
Course Format: Flex Online (About Formats)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Jan 16—Mar 22
Refund Deadline: Jan 19
Units: 3
Tuition: $1000
Instructor(s): Deborah Johnson
Limit: 19
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Closed
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Flex Online(About Formats)
Jan 16—Mar 22
10 weeks
Refund Date
Jan 19
3 Units
Deborah Johnson
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Do you have an idea for a novel or a work of creative nonfiction but feel overwhelmed by not knowing how to go about the task of writing your story? This course, which is appropriate for writers of all levels, will demystify the art of storytelling by teaching you how to write scenes—the basic building blocks of all stories, whether real or imagined. You’ll end up learning everything you need to know about writing a novel or a work of creative nonfiction, since a great scene contains all the elements of a great story. Each week, we will isolate one key element of the craft of storytelling, looking at it up close within the context of a particular scene from a published novel or work of nonfiction. We will also practice that week’s skill in a scene-writing assignment. Among other things, you’ll learn how to create compelling and complex characters and show their emotions, write realistic and dynamic dialogue laden with subtext, build each scene toward a focal point or climax, and find the beginning and ending of your scenes. In the final weeks of the course, we will learn how to string scenes together to create a dramatic arc, and each student will create a short story, novel chapter, or work of creative nonfiction that will be workshopped by the group as a whole. Once you understand how stories are built scene by scene, writing a book yourself will seem much more achievable.


Deborah Johnson’s novel The Secret of Magic received the 2015 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. Her previous novel, The Air Between Us, received the Mississippi Library Association Award for fiction. She worked in Rome for many years as an editor and translator and as a broadcaster at Vatican Radio. She is completing a new novel, a ghost story about the beginnings of rock and roll set in 1950s Mississippi.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Bret Anthony Johnston , Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer (ISBN 978-0812975482)
(Required) Tom Perrotta, Little Children (ISBN 978-0312315733)
(Required) Jennifer Egan, The Keep (ISBN 978-1400079742)
(Required) Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (ISBN 978-0812981223)