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Writing Certificate

Year 1:

Fall: The Writing Life: Form and Theory of the Novel, OWC 101
Winter: Novel I: The Powerful Beginning, OWC 303
Spring: Novel II: Plot and Structure, OWC 304
Summer Break or elective*

Year 2:

Fall: Novel III: Subtext, Theme, and Language, OWC 305
Winter: Novel IV: Manuscript Completion and Revision, OWC 306

One-on-One Tutorial

OWC 310 - This option is not required to receive the certificate, and is available for one calendar year after completing Novel IV.

*Students must complete one elective drawn from the open-enrollment Continuing Studies creative writing courses. The elective may be taken during the Summer break, concurrent with any Novel Writing Certificate courses, or up to a year after Novel IV. Examples of electives include Poetry, Memoir, and courses focused on specific genres or craft elements.

Course Overviews

These descriptions are general frameworks. Individual instructors will bring their own style and interest to their courses.

In each of these courses comprising the core curriculum, everyone will have the opportunity to share 20-30 pages of new writing with classmates and their instructor for critical feedback. We encourage students to write at least twice as much, in order to finish the program with a book-length manuscript.

OWC 101 The Writing Life: Form and Theory of the Novel

This first course in the series introduces the fundamentals of novel design. Through the analysis of two published novels, students will cultivate their understanding of how authors craft their narratives and achieve desired effects. Weekly discussion questions and writing prompts will help students think about how best to construct their own books. Students will have the opportunity to share excerpts from their works-in-progress, engaging in constructive discussions that will offer valuable feedback for their ongoing drafting throughout the program. This course will also help students to develop the habits of successful fiction writers. By the end of this class, each student should have acquired a deeper understanding of how to shape a novel, a better grasp of their individual writing process, and enhanced abilities for constructive self-evaluation.

OWC 303 Novel I: The Powerful Beginning

The beginning of a novel is crucial. The opening not only introduces the main characters and story world but establishes a contract with the reader, raises key narrative questions, and sets the tone. In this course, we will read a wide variety of published novel beginnings, studying what makes for an engaging opening that keeps readers turning pages, and examining the choices that authors make as they launch their narratives, including point of view, voice and pacing. Students will be given a variety of exercises to test different narrative strategies, designed to help find the best way to open their novels. 

OWC 304 Novel II: Plot and Structure

Many authors describe the middle of the book as the hardest part to write. We may have lost that burst of energy that propelled our beginnings, but the end is not yet in sight. This course was designed to shine a light into the distance, by teaching authors how to build suspense and sustain momentum past the inciting incident. Students will learn strategies for writing a great middle, such as alternating between different plot lines; toggling between front story and backstory; and framing scenes and chapters for maximum tension. Not only will all of this keep readers turning pages, it will also keep you from losing steam as you write. 

OWC 305 Novel III: Subtext, Theme, and Language

As you enter the second half of the novel, your novel's subconscious concerns will rise to the surface. This course seeks to find and then strengthen the connection between plot and emerging theme, looking for the subtext beneath the action, and how each sentence works to advance the meaning we want readers to take away from the story. We will also continue to build on the foundational elements of storytelling that have been laid down in the previous courses. By the end of this course, the end of your novel should be in sight.

OWC 306 Novel IV: Manuscript Completion and Revision 

While students often have a beginning, a middle, and an end by this point in the sequence, inevitably there remain holes to be filled in the draft. This last core course will enable students to fill in these holes, working closely with an instructor and in small dedicated groups to identify missing sections, guide the redrafting of chapters that previous workshops have shown to be problematic, perform line editing, or take on any other activities to advance the completion of the manuscript. 


Learning how to write a novel requires a varied skill set, which is why we require you to take a course allowing you to expand or hone your narrative capacities. Continuing Studies offers a variety of courses every quarter in its general course listings, and you may choose something that is either focused on a particular genre or craft element in which you’d like to take a deeper dive. For example:

  • If you have rich characters but find plot challenging, a short story course could help you to work on heightening conflict in scenes with a stronger sense of causality.
  • A poetry course would allow a quicker, more plot-driven writer to slow down and work on developing a quality of imagery and theme leading to more resonant work.
  • A screenwriting class could be beneficial for authors who struggle with dialogue.
  • There are also craft-specific offerings including courses on POV, character, plot, description, and dialogue.

You may or may not be able to work directly on your novel in this course, but it will make you a better artist, and you will bring that artistry back to your novel.

Novel Writing Certificate students will select their elective from the regular, open-enrollment Continuing Studies creative writing course offerings. Students may choose either an online or on-campus course, and must be taken for a letter grade. A list will be emailed each quarter of the upcoming courses that would meet this requirement, so make sure you are enrolling in something that is on that list. Students must complete the elective requirement prior to enrolling in the Tutorial.

Students must earn a C- or better in order to meet this requirement. Courses taken through Stanford Continuing Studies within the past five years may be applied toward this requirement, subject to the program director’s approval. Continuing Studies does not accept transfer credits; therefore, courses taken outside of this program (including at Stanford) will not meet the elective requirement.

OWC 310: One-on-One Tutorial

The One-on-One Tutorial is an optional final step for Novel Writing Certificate students who wish to work intensively with an instructor for 10 weeks on revision. Before the quarter begins, the instructor will read the student’s entire novel and provide line notes on the manuscript and a letter raising larger concerns about the book as a whole that the student might wish to address. Each student-instructor pair will establish the goals of the tutorial and create a schedule of deadlines and meeting times for the quarter. The student will have the opportunity to revise or generate up to 100 additional pages, getting feedback on each scheduled submission. Instructors are typically drawn from the core instructor pool. We always ask the student for preferences and try to honor them, and we never make a pairing without the student's full approval.

Tuition for the One-on-One Tutorial covers manuscripts up to 100,000 words. There is a surcharge for manuscripts over this word count.