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FICT 161 W — Writing Mysteries and Thrillers: Misdirection, Mayhem, and More

Quarter: Summer
Course Format: Flex Online (About Formats)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Jun 20—Aug 26
Refund Deadline: Jun 23
Units: 3
Tuition: $910
Instructor(s): Deborah Johnson
Limit: 17
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Flex Online(About Formats)
Jun 20—Aug 26
10 weeks
Refund Date
Jun 23
3 Units
Deborah Johnson
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Have you ever delightedly sifted red herrings from clues in a great mystery novel or marveled at its plot twists? Have you ever closed the cover of an irresistible page-turner and thought, "I’d love to be able to do that, but I have no idea where to start"? This course will demystify the steps involved in creating and crafting a suspenseful thriller or mystery plot. First, we will hone our basic idea down to its most compelling essence. Using this foundation, we will learn how to build characters who enhance our story. Finally, we will turn our attention to the actual plotting of our mystery, thriller, or suspense novel—where to lay clues and how to misdirect the reader with well-placed distractions and interesting subplots. We will focus on the essentials of pacing and the art of ratcheting up the tension as the novel approaches its climactic moment. Short weekly writing assignments will allow us a chance to practice what we learn. Along the way, we will read experts such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Tana French, and Benjamin Black (John Banville). Students will emerge from this course with the first chapter of their novel and strong knowledge of how to proceed from there.


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 lived for many years in Rome, where she worked 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) Elizabeth George, Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel (ISBN 978-1984878335)
(Required) Tana French, In the Woods: A Novel (ISBN 978-0143113492)
(Required) James Patterson and David Ellis , The Black Book (ISBN 978-1455542673)