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364817: Nonfiction: Essential Beginnings

  • Winter 2019
  • Section 1
  • 2 Credits
  • 01/29/2019 to 03/05/2019
  • Modified 09/25/2018


Sometimes the best stories are true. To help you turn your personal experiences, anecdotes from everyday life, and family stories into compelling narratives, this workshop teaches beginning writers the basic elements of good storytelling.  You learn how to excavate memories and discover fresh or unexpected facets of your life stories. Through weekly exercises, you generate new material and learn an array of fictional techniques to tell your nonfiction story, including how to play with voice, focus on a small unit of time, and describe landscape and character. By the course's completion, you will have in hand a series of short sketches or a draft of a nonfiction piece.


This course is designed to teach beginning writers the skills necessary to write nonfiction stories, anecdotes and personal narratives. Students will learn in a supportive environment about the various forms of nonfiction writing and how to tell stories, develop ideas, use fictional techniques, use language with precision and clarity, structure stories, and even market your pieces. Students will practice skills by writing short pieces every week, using prompts and techniques learned in class, and/or develop a longer personal essay.


By the end of this course, successful students will be able to:

  • write several short pieces
  • develop ideas
  • tell a coherent story
  • use fiction techniques to develop stories
  • learn how to edit your work
  • learn how to submit articles
  • have several short pieces of writing


For supplemental reading, the books listed below are suggested, but not required.

Writer’s Market

  • Author: Robert Lee Brewer
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
  • Edition: 2017
  • ISBN: 1440347735
  • Optional
  • Availability: campus bookstore; Amazon

This books lists details on what publications are buying submission guidelines, etc. 

Writer's Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing

  • Author: Michelle Ruberg
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
  • Edition: 2nd
  • ISBN: 1582973342
  • Optional
  • Availability: campus bookstore, elsewhere

A good, all-purpose guide to magazine writing.

The Elements of Style

  • Author: William Strunk Jr.
  • Publisher: Pearson
  • Edition: 4th
  • ISBN: 020530902X
  • Optional
  • Availability: campus bookstore, elsewhere

This is a classic. Every writer should have this book. 


You can take this course for a letter grade or on a Pass/Fail or No Grade basis.

When requested, grades will be based on: timely completion of writing exercises (70%), and participation in weekly discussions (30%). Regular participation is expected.

When you enrolled in the course, you were asked to indicate whether you wanted to take the class for a grade or not. If you did NOT select an option, the choice defaulted to a letter grade. It is possible you are unwittingly taking the class for a grade, so double check your status to make sure it reflects your intention.

You may request a grading status change anytime before the midpoint of this class by phoning the Registrar’s Office at (310) 825-9971 or requesting a grading status change online by logging into “MyExtension” at After the midpoint of this class (but before the instructor’s submission of final course grades) you should ask for the instructor’s approval of a status change.

Grades, should you desire them, will be based on written assignments (10 points for each of 5 written assignments, 20 points for the last assignment, for a total of 70 points); and class participation (30 points).

Letter grades will be assigned as follows:

A = 90 - 100 points

B = 80 - 89 points

C = 70 – 79 points

F =  69 or lower 

Assignments are generally due by the next class session, unless otherwise noted. Meeting deadlines is critical in the professional writing world. Editors hate missed deadlines – so do I.

Because each of the writing assignments builds on previous assignments, it is essential that you meet your deadlines. Two points will be deducted for each late assignment. If you can’t make it into class, you may email your assignment before the class meeting time.

Course documents will be posted online via Canvas. It will be up to you to read and, if desired, to print online documents. These are for class use only and not to be distributed

Course Policies

Workshopping Guidelines

Class participation, primarily through in-class and on-line discussion, is part of your grade. Please observe proper work shop etiquette: Be kind. Be constructive.

When commenting on someone’s work:

-- State what you like about a piece along with any constructive suggestions for improvements, or questions. Be a careful, considerate reader/listener.

-- Focus on the technical aspects of the work. For instance, is there something that is not clear? Ask for clarification. Are there details that are missing? Ask for those details.

-- Always assume this is a draft, a work-in-progress and react accordingly, looking at ways to improve the next draft.

-- (I shouldn’t have to say this, but:) There will be no personal attacks, insults, or harassment of any kind.

-- Feedback is most helpful if it makes specific points. It is least helpful when it deals in generalizations. For example:

Example 1 – These comments are NOT helpful:

"Your piece is great."

"I really didn't like this. It just didn't work for me."

These comments are not helpful because they are uninformative; they leave the writer nothing specific to work on.

Example 2 – These comments are helpful:

"Your lead was strong and pulled me right into the story.”

 “I liked the description in the scene – I felt as if I could see it.”

 “I was confused about who was talking.”

 “Can you describe what the place looked like? What made it so scary?”

 “What exactly did she do that made you change your mind?”

Ask specific questions:  “What was the time frame? How old were you? When did your father die? What type of dog was it? How small was your house?”

These are better, because they help the writer focus on the specifics in a story.

Formatting Guidelines:

All work submitted for this course should be typed, double-spaced, in 12 point conventional font, such as Times New Roman, with numbered pages. Remember to put your name on every page.

If you must email your story, do not submit a pdf.

Institutional Policies

Student Conduct

Students are subject to disciplinary action for several types of misconduct or attempted misconduct, including but not limited to dishonesty, such as cheating, multiple submission, plagiarism, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University; or theft or misuse of the intellectual property of others or violation of others' copyrights. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with policy provisions which proscribe these and other forms of misconduct at:

Services for Students with Disabilities

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, UCLA Extension provides appropriate accommodations and support services to qualified applicants and students with disabilities. These include, but are not limited to, auxiliary aids/services such as sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices for hearing-impaired individuals, extended time for and proctoring of exams, and registration assistance. Accommodations and types of support services vary and are specifically designed to meet the disability-related needs of each student based on current, verifiable medical documentation. Arrangements for auxiliary aids/services are available only through UCLA Extension’s Service for Students with Disabilities Office at (310) 825-7851 or by email at [email protected]. For complete information see:


Your instructor may post the interim grade Incomplete/I if at the end of the class your overall work is of passing quality but a portion could not be submitted for understandable reasons (e.g. illness). It is your responsibility to petition your instructor for permission to submit work late and to provide an explanation, and it is his or her sole decision whether to accept the explanation. If permitted, the Incomplete/I grade will be posted and a time frame defined for you to submit the missing work, ranging from one to twelve weeks. Incomplete/I grades that remain unchanged after twelve weeks will lapse to F, NP or U. Receiving an I grade entitles you to submit only the missing work your instructor has agreed to accept late, and does not allow other work to be retaken or oblige UCLA Extension to provide continuing access to course materials via Canvas. The Incomplete/I grade is not an option for courses that do not bear credit, such as 700, 800, or 900-level courses. For complete information, see:

All Grades are Final

No change of grade may be made by anyone other than the instructor, and then, only to correct clerical errors. No term grade except Incomplete may be revised by re-examination. The correction of a clerical error may be authorized only by the instructor of record communicating directly with personnel of Student and Alumni Services.

Sexual Harassment

The University of California is committed to creating and maintaining a community where all individuals who participate in University programs and activities can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of harassment, exploitation, or intimidation. Every member of the community should be aware that the University prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence, and that such behavior violates both law and University policy. The University will respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and will take appropriate action to prevent, to correct, and when necessary, to discipline behavior that violates our policy.

All Extension students and instructors who believe they have been sexually harassed are encouraged to contact the Department of Student and Alumni Services for complaint resolution: UCLA Extension, Suite 113, 10995 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Voice/TTY: (310) 825-7031. View the University’s full Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence at

Additional Items

About Your Online Course Materials

Please note the following about online course components at UCLA Extension:

  • Students must have basic computer skills, including the use of word processing software, email, and the ability to use internet browsers, such as Safari, Firefox, or Chrome.
  • Students are responsible for meeting the technical requirements of Canvas and familiarizing themselves with the Canvas Learning Management System.
  • Students are responsible for keeping a copy of all assignments and work submitted, and to be aware of all assignments, due dates, and course guidelines.
  • Students are encouraged to keep and/or download a local copy of their assignment files, as access to the online environment of a specific course is limited to 30 days after the final course date, as listed in the course catalog.

    If you need assistance downloading student materials from your course, please contact Canvas Support or the UCLA Extension Learning Support Team.

UCLA Extension Canvas and Learning Support

For immediate 24/7 Canvas technical support, including holidays, click on Help (located on the menu to the left) where you can call or chat live with a Canvas Support representative.

UCLA Extension Instructional Design and Learning Support
The UCLA Extension Learning Support staff assists both students and instructors with Canvas-related technical support, as well as general and administrative questions.

Learning Support staff is available Monday through Friday, from 8 AM to 5 PM (Pacific Time), except holidays:

Campus Safety Escorts

For students taking classes held on the UCLA campus and in and around Westwood Village, the UCLA Police Department provides a free walking escort service every day of the year from dusk until 1 a.m. Community Service Officers (CSOs) are available to walk students, faculty, staff members and visitors to and from anywhere on campus, in Westwood Village, and in the village apartments. CSOs are uniformed students who have received special training and are employed by the UCLA Police Department. To obtain an escort, please call (310) 794-9255 and allow 15 to 20 minutes for your escort to arrive. For complete information, see:


Class meets Wednesday, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Woodland Hills campus.

(Note: schedule may change slightly in the event of a speaker or per class discussions.)

 *WEEK 1 – Overview of nonfiction writing; needs assessment

 *WEEK 2 –  Elements of good story telling

 *WEEK 3 –   Narrative story telling 

 *WEEK 4 –  The personal essay and memoir 

 *WEEK 5 –  Developing ideas; editing tips

 *WEEK 6 –  Last class! The business of writing, marketing, etc.

Course calendar and related activities
When Topic Notes
Week 1 class meeting
Week 1
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Woodland Hills campus
Overview of nonfiction writing

Introduction; skills and needs assessment; overview of what we’ll be doing; writing goals. Meet your classmates.

We will look at the different types of nonfiction writing, such as profile, how to, retrospective, service, interview, memoir, research/fact‑based, Q&A, travel, true‑life crime, personal essay, trades, online writing, blogs, consumer magazines, newspapers (yes, there are still newspapers), the internet, etc.

 What interests you? What do you want to write? Do you want to publish your writing or just write for personal satisfaction? What type of writing have you done? Do you have any story ideas? What do you want to learn? What are your goals?

Homework assignment week 1: Write a short (100-300) word bio. You may write it in first person, third person, as-told-to, etc.; you may quote yourself, etc. Also, tell me what you hope to learn in this class. Please email this to me before the second class meeting. (This is just for me, we will not share this in class. This gives me a chance to know you; gives you a writing warm-up.) (10 points)

Week 2 class meeting
Week 2
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Woodland Hills campus
Elements of good story telling

WEEK 2 – Elements of good story telling.

 Applying fiction techniques to nonfiction writing; finding your voice; setting a tone; finding the details; focusing your story; using description, time, place, and character to tell a story. Point of view. Types of story starters (anecdotes, scenic, chronological, etc).

 Homework assignment week 2: Write a 100 to 300 word anecdote about something that happened to you, a little story. This can be a stand alone piece or part of a longer article, essay, or memoir. You will be given a choice of prompts to get you started. (10 points)

Week 3 class meeting
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Woodland Hills Campus
Narrative storytelling

*WEEK 3 –   Narrative storytelling.  

 Learning to find your voice; structure of a story; adding details; spicing up your prose pot; endings; painting a word picture; using description; using the five senses in writing; developing characters. Finding your focus.

 Homework assignment week 3: Write a 200-600 word narrative using the techniques we discuss in class. This can be a stand alone piece or part of a longer article, essay, or memoir. You will be a choice of prompts to get you started. (10 points)

Week 4 Class Meeting
Week 4
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Woodland Hills
The personal essay and memoir

*WEEK 4 – The personal essay and memoir.

 What is a personal essay? A memoir? What are some of the rules of this form? What are the pros and cons of writing such personal stories? Excavating memories to spark your writing; avoiding pitfalls.

 Read and discuss the essays posted on Canvas.

 Homework assignment week 4: Write a 400-800 word personal essay from one of the in-class prompts and using some of the techniques discussed in class. This can be a stand alone piece or part of a longer article, essay, or memoir. You will be given a choice of prompts to get you started, or you may work on your own idea. (10 points)

Week 5 Class meeting
Week 5
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Woodland Hills
Developing ideas; editing tips

WEEK 5 –   Developing ideas; editing tips

Editing, rewriting, bashing writer’s block.

How to develop an idea into a story. What do editors want? Tips for working with editors. Rewriting and revisions. Strategies for creating clear, concise writing. How to edit your own material and why it’s hard. Bashing writer’s block. Trouble shooting your final feature. What is a query letter?

 In class exercise: Brainstorming; developing story ideas and slanting them for different publications.

 Homework assignment week 5: Write a 300-900 word narrative using the techniques we discuss in class. This can be a stand alone piece or part of a longer article, essay, or memoir. You will have a choice of prompts to get you started or work from your own ideas. (10 points)

 Optional assignment: If desired, come up with three article ideas for a newspaper, magazine or website. This may be for short, online, department pieces or longer 800-1,000 word features. If time permits, we will discuss these ideas – and how to shape them. (not graded)

Last Class
Week 6
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Woodland Hills
The business of writing. Marketing, writing the query letter, and more

*WEEK 6 – LAST CLASS : The business of writing.  Marketing, writing the query letter, and more.

Contracts; copyright; selling your rights; (if desired, a brief discussion of libel). Marketing tips – where can you send your article? Building a specialty. What is a query letter? Why do we need it? How do we write it? Writing for the web (blogs, columns, etc.)

  Optional: If you would like to write a practice query letter, and want a critique, email the letter to me by Aug. 18. Nothing accepted after 5 p.m. on Aug. 18. (no grade)