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UBCx: How to Write a Novel: Writing the Draft

Move from outline to draft writing with crucial craft lessons from MFA faculty on scene design, dialogue, character development and plot.

6 weeks
4–6 hours per week
Instructor-led on a course schedule
Cost to Enroll
$295 USD

There is one session available:

After a course session ends, it will be archivedOpens in a new tab.
Starts Apr 23, 2024
Ends Jun 8, 2024

About this course

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Have you created an outline and now feel prepared to start writing your novel? Or have you started a novel draft only to find your interest or confidence waning? In this course, the international best-selling authors and professors from The University of British Columbia’s renowned School of Creative Writing introduce the essential fiction craft toolbox for writers struggling with the common hurdles of first drafts.

While ideas and inspiration are often enough to ignite interest in writing a novel, writers can quickly lose confidence, especially when their best efforts have inadvertently produced flat characters, waning conflicts, tangled plots and weak dialogue. Reaching your goal of writing (and perhaps, publishing) a novel requires an understanding of fiction’s deeper mechanics and a familiarity with the specific craft elements that will help translate your creativity and imagination into compelling paragraphs, scenes and chapters.

Through writing exercises aimed at developing new skills, concrete examples from published novels, feedback and discussion with fellow writers and opportunities to identify and strengthen weaknesses in their own projects, learners will broaden their knowledge of fiction craft as they explore creating memorable characters, the art of scene design, tactics for managing unwieldy plots and steps for writing layered and meaningful dialogue.

Whether you’re beginning your novel draft or nearing the end, this course is a unique opportunity to learn the essentials of strong fiction writing from award-winning authors sharing their proven methods and approaches.

The course is recommended for professional and aspiring writers, writing groups, those participating in NaNoWriMo, teachers and anyone who has a novel in progress.

At a glance

  • Institution: UBCx
  • Subject: Humanities
  • Level: Intermediate
  • Prerequisites:

    Students should be beginning or in the process of writing a novel.

  • Language: English
  • Video Transcript: English
  • Associated skills: Fiction Writing, Imagination, Creativity, Creative Writing, Selling Techniques, Writing

What you'll learn

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  • The elements of complex, dimensional characters
  • How to craft believable dramatic dialogue
  • Tactics for managing complicated plots
  • The demands of high emotional stakes from scene level to story level
  • Strategies for seeing your draft through to completion


Every Week

Students will watch instructor videos, interviews with authors and readings. Each week there is at least one assignment, regular group discussion topics and instructor feedback in the form of a question & answer podcast.

Week 1: Introduction / The Aesthetic Journey

  • Introduction to the course.
  • Ways to structure and organize your writing time.
  • Point of view: from whose perspective will the reader experience the story? Each comes with its advantages and disadvantages.
  • Types of prose and their uses.
  • Voice: a strong, consistent stylistic quality that permeates your writing.
  • Beginnings. The first sentence, first paragraph, and first page.

Assignment : Explore several different openings for your novel and assess the impact of each one.

Week 2: The Art of Conflict and Tension

  • Active and Passive Characters. How to give a character more agency.
  • Character Complexity and Conflict. Internal, interpersonal and societal antagonisms help build complex and fully realized characters.
  • Tension in Scene.
  • Backstory and Flashbacks.

Assignment : Tackle a scene that illustrates a key “turning point” that offers crucial insight into your main character.

Week 3: Crafting Believable Dramatic Dialogue

  • What is the function of dialogue in fiction?
  • How dialogue differs from everyday speech?
  • What dialogue should never do.
  • What are the hallmarks of great dialogue.
  • How to work with subtext.
  • Exploring the depths of your character: what is spoken, what is unspoken and what is unspeakable.
  • How to format dialogue and work with dialogue tags.

Assignment : Write dialogue in several different forms, exploring the multiple ways it will function in your novel.

Week 4: Managing Plot

  • The evolving outline. What to do when you start to stray from your initial outline.
  • Troubleshooting Structural Problems..
  • Troubleshooting plot in five popular fiction genres (literary, speculative, crime, historical and romance).
  • Endings. How to navigate through writing an effective ending.

Assignment : Write the end of your novel: the last chapter, last scene, last moments. Tools of analysis.

Week 5: Research

  • Why do research? What can research bring to different types of fiction writing?
  • When to do research.
  • What should you research?
  • How do you best incorporate research?
  • Case studies. Historical Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Crime Fiction, and Socio-Political fiction.
  • The ethics of research.
  • Writing about yourself and your family.

Assignment : you will apply this week’s work in an exercise that challenges you to evaluate several different ways of incorporating research.

Week 6: Mind over Manuscript

  • Blind Alleys. How to identify and back out of them.
  • Procrastination and Hitting the Wall. Ways to combat these mental blocks
  • Grappling with Theme.
  • Dos and don'ts.

Assignment : This week's assignment will be to complete the Tool of Analysis. This will help you identify your weaknesses and ultimately provide the solutions to overcome them.

Learner testimonials

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"My writing has been jump-started by this course. I was worried about being able to bring my story to fruition, and now I know why! With the tools provided, and Nancy and Annabel’s gentle exploration of various pitfalls, together with humor and insight, I now have the means to finish my novel." - Wendy Jensen

Frequently Asked Questions

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Do I need to complete "How to Write a Novel: Structure and Outline" to take this course?

No. As long as you are in the process of writing a novel, this course will be valuable to you. Of course, we strongly recommend starting with an outline, as your novel writing process will be much more efficient, but it’s not required.

Is this course related to an existing UBC writing class?

This is an entirely new course, created by instructors with years of experience teaching the art of fiction writing to undergraduate and graduate university students as well as members of the community.

What are the other courses in the series?

How to Write a Novel:Structure and Outline explores the core elements of fiction writing necessary to build an outline: a blueprint for a successful draft of your novel. How to Write a Novel: Edit and Revise, is suitable for students who have completed a full draft of their novel.

I have more questions about the course content!

Contact us with your questions, and we'll be happy to answer!

More about this course

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Sample Course Material

What will it be like to take the course? Each week, we'll present video lessons created by UBC Creative Writing Professors Annabel Lyon & Nancy Lee, along with readings, video interviews with other authors, assignments and the opportunity to discuss your work with the other learners in the class.

Sample course material: "Troubleshooting Plot: Addressing Genre-Specific Challenges - Historical Fiction" (PDF)

Our instructors will be available each week to answer learner questions through a lively Q&A podcast, created only for students in the course. They won’t be providing feedback on your writing directly – this is a course aimed at giving you the tools and techniques to take you through the writing process long after the course ends.

Sample video lesson: From "The Active/Passive Time-line" in week two of the course. Nancy Lee describes how to troubleshoot an overly passive character.


Sample interview: Paula Hawkins
In this interview, Paula Hawkins, author of the multi-million copy bestseller The Girl on the Train, talks to Nancy & Annabel about the difficulty of endings for a thriller writer.


Sample video lesson: From "Why Should I Do Research?" in week four of the course.
In this lesson, Annabel Lyon discusses why research is important for fiction writers.

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