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Writing Certificate




The Certificate Program in Novel Writing is intended to be a part-time program, fully compatible with the other demands in your life. The program is designed with long works of fiction in mind. 

The Certificate curriculum comprises five core courses (which are a series of workshops, built upon the MFA model of peer and instructor review), one elective, and the optional One-on-One Tutorial. Students are required to take the courses in sequence, one per quarter. The elective may be taken at any time but must be completed prior to the tutorial. 

Students are required to take all courses for a Letter Grade and must maintain a B average. Students who earn a grade below C- may not be eligible to continue in the program.

The Certificate Program has a set and sequential curriculum designed to be completed in two years. These courses are the Flex Online format (mostly asynchronous).

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, OWC 306

One-on-One Tutorial, OWC 310 - This is optional/not required to receive the Certificate. But this option 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 OWC 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.
Learn more about the current Online Certificate Program Instructors

OWC 101 The Writing Life: Form and Theory of the Novel
This first course in the OWC series introduces the fundamentals of novel design. Students will read and analyze two published novels, developing their own ideas about how authors create the effects they do on the page. The class will look first at a bestselling genre novel, considering such key questions as: How does the inciting incident prepare readers for the climax? How do scenes build on the tension of previous scenes, raising the stakes? And how do characters’ internal drives interface with external challenges to create a meaningful plot? The class will then revisit these questions with a work of literary fiction, considering whether and how these fundamentals apply to a quieter novel. Weekly discussion questions and writing prompts will help students think about how best to construct their own books. In the second half of the quarter, students will share a section of their novel-in-progress for supportive discussion by the class, gaining vital insight for the drafting and development they will be doing in workshop throughout the remainder of the certificate program. This course will also help students to develop the work habits of successful fiction writers. The goal is for each student to reach a better understanding of how to shape a novel, a better grasp on the individual writing process, and a greater ability to constructively self-evaluate.

The Novel Series
This is a four-part series of workshops, built upon the MFA model of peer and instructor review. Students learn by studying what's on the page identifying the strengths of the work, and figuring out how to revise. In each workshop, the focus will be on honing students' craft as novelists, and of course on writing their novels. In order to complete a book-length manuscript within the duration of the certificate program, each student should produce at least 50 new (or substantially revised) pages per quarter. Not all of this work will be workshopped. In each of the first three workshops, students will be submitting up to 6500 words for fellow students to read and discuss. Following the MFA model, the student up for workshop remains "silent" for several days, "listening" to the conversation surrounding the work, before joining in with questions and comments. Though these are not literature courses, instructors will likely ask students to read one to two published novels, along with excerpts from other books to facilitate the discussion of craft.

OWC 303 Novel I: The Powerful Beginning
A novel is both anchored and set in motion by the person at the helm of the story. Character reveals itself under pressure, and we will begin by making sure that your novel starts in the right place, with a conflict compelling enough to reveal who these people are and to ensure that they are on the verge of some kind of dramatic action. The challenges that our characters face up front help us to know who they are at the beginning of a book, and also set up expectations for how they might change by the end. Students will spend time thinking about the trajectory they envision not only for their protagonists but also for the secondary characters, and discussing issues related to characterization, such as point of view, dialogue, and voice.

OWC 304 Novel II: Plot and Structure
In this course, students will focus on how to create and sustain the “long middle” of their novels, continuing their journey toward the completion of their manuscript. The long middle is the area where plot and structure of the novel are most important, because we may have lost that burst of energy that propelled our beginnings, but the end is not yet in sight. This course will teach students how to continue building suspense and intensity past the inciting incident by alternating between different subplots and points of view, to ensure modulation; and framing scenes and chapters for maximum tension, to keep readers turning pages.   

OWC 305 Novel III: Subtext, Theme, and Language
In this course, we will continue to build on the foundational elements of storytelling that have been laid down in the previous courses. We will home in on the relationships among present action, backstory, and subtext. We will ponder the crucial collision point between plot and characterization. Your novel's subconscious concerns will slowly rise to the surface as we delve deeper and try to uncover your theme. This course will have an extensive workshop component, so the focus will stay on the students’ novels. The goal will be for each student to complete a draft–however rough it may be–of their novel before thesis instruction. 

OWC 306 Novel IV: Manuscript Preparedness
This last core course will enable students to fill in the holes in their manuscripts, working closely with an instructor who will help 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 the instructor and student feel will best advance the completion of the manuscript. Students will each create an individualized plan of action during the first week, then be placed into small groups where the instructor will facilitate the exchange of significant sections of the manuscripts in progress. Chat and bulletin boards will allow students to receive support from both the instructor and their peers on process and good work habits, and to exchange words of encouragement. The goal is for each student to exit the program with a solid finished draft of a novel. Whether it's a first draft or final draft will vary from student to student, but everyone should be able to complete a book.

The novel is a broad canvas. Learning how to write a novel requires a varied skill set. While a workshop may make you aware of certain deficits in your novel, you still need to figure out how to fix them. 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. We recommend that you think about your weaknesses as a novelist and choose a course that will help to strengthen them. 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.
Certificate Program 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, as long as it is worth 3 units, 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 Certificate students who wish to work intensively with an instructor for 10 weeks, launching a revision. Before the quarter begins, the instructor will read the student’s entire novel and provide developmental editing suggestions and line notes on the manuscript. 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 new material—up to 100 additional pages—getting feedback on each scheduled submission.  Instructors are drawn from the core OWC instructor pool, as well as other established novelists who teach creative writing courses through Continuing Studies. We seek to pair students with authors based on a shared genre, style, or aesthetic sensibility. We always ask the student for any 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.