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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. Weekly discussion questions and writing prompts will help students think about how best to construct their own books. Students will share bits 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 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.

OWC 303 Novel I: The Powerful Beginning
The beginning of a novel is crucial: establishing a contract with the reader, raising narrative questions, setting the tone and mood of the book, and, of course, introducing the main characters. 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 making meaningful choices that lead to 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 for their characters, and discussing issues related to characterization, such as point of view, dialogue, and voice. In this course, everyone will write and workshop an opening section of up to 5,000 words.

OWC 304 Novel II: Plot and Structure
The middle of a novel often confounds us, as we may have lost that burst of energy that propelled our beginnings, but the end is not yet in sight. While the middle may feel murky, this course helps to shine a light into the distance allowing authors to continue building suspense and intensity past the inciting incident while envisioning the final destination to which the story is leading. Students will learn strategies for writing a great middle, such as alternating between different plot lines; managing point of view; toggling between front story and backstory; and framing scenes and chapters for maximum tension, to keep readers turning pages (and to keep you from losing steam as you write).

OWC 305 Novel III: Subtext, Theme, and Language
As we enter the second half of the novel, we will continue to build on the foundational elements of storytelling that have been laid down in the previous courses. Your novel's subconscious concerns will rise to the surface as we delve deeper, searching for and strengthening the connection between the plot and the 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. While all students may not be at the end yet, the end should be within sight as you near Novel IV.

OWC 306 Novel IV: Manuscript Preparedness
Novels take a long time to get right. While students often have a beginning, a middle, and an end by this point, inevitably there are 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 best advance the completion of the manuscript. 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 a 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, 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.