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383945: Story Structure for the Novel

  • Winter 2022
  • Section 1
  • 3 Credits
  • 01/12/2022 to 03/22/2022
  • Modified 03/08/2022

Meeting Times

This class is a hybrid class with asynchronous materials posted on canvas and optional meetings on Saturdays at 10 am PT on Zoom. 


Many aspiring novelists write with the hope that inspiration will come. The result is time wasted on a flabby novel with no clear shape and a sagging pace. On the other hand, story structure gives your novel a skeleton; it forms the bones of your story. And just as adding flesh and clothing to a body makes that body more unique, so does any creative addition the writer makes to his or her basic structure. This course teaches you how to build that skeleton, from a solid premise line to building the moral argument of your novel. You ensure that your novel has what story structure guru John Truby calls the "seven key steps," and you learn how reversals and reveals, as well as character wants and needs, can drive your story to a satisfying conclusion. Exercises are worksheets which focus on structural elements such as character ghosts, story world, and more. By the end of the course, you have in hand a six-page synopsis that works.


In this class, students will learn how to structure a novel. Students will investigate how to implement moral choices, reveals and reversals, storyworld, point of view, and more into their novels. Students will also study how to create a premise line that can anchor their novel writing, and how to write a synopsis that gives their novel a structure.


By the end of this course students will:

  • Recognize the basic structure of a novel and how they work in crafting good fiction.
  • Have a clear understanding of how to shape their novel and finish it, using the techniques taught in the class.
  • Be able to polish and complete a synopsis that will act as a blueprint for their finishing the novels they started in the course.
  • Be able to revise their novels when they are finished using the techniques taught in the class.


Wired for Story

  • Author: Lisa Cron
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press
  • Edition: paperback
  • ISBN: 1607742454
  • Availability: anywhere books are sold
  • Price: Around 14 dollars.

The Anatomy of Story

  • Author: John Truby
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber
  • Edition: paperback
  • ISBN: 0865479933
  • Availability: everywhere books are sold
  • Price: around 11 dollars.

To order textbooks through UCLA, visit: ( or phone UCLA Lu Valle Commons at (310) 823-7283. Many textbooks are also available for purchase online through such sites as


If you are taking the course for a grade, your grade depends on completing all assignments, critiquing or commenting on at least two people each week and responding to all discussion questions. You must have your assignments in on time (Unless you notify me with an excuse.) Attitude also counts--by that I mean being able to give and accept criticism without being rude or offensive to me or to anyone in the class. I want the class to be a safe place--and I've included notes on how to give and accept critiques.  Of course it is very difficult to grade creative writing, because someone who is a struggling writer might be working really, really hard, while someone who is more expert may be tossing off assignments easily. I don't feel that you should be comparing yourself to one another (I don't!) so If you do the work, participate and have a good attitude, you will be golden!

For an A, you must complete all assignments and critique at least two people each week, and respond to all discussion questions.

For a B, you must complete at least 8 or 9 of the assignments, and the critiques, and 8 or 9 discussion questions..

For a C, you must complete at least 6 or 7 of the assignments, plus the critiques, and 6 or 7 discussion questions.

Anything below that is failing.

You should have a really good idea of how you are doing by my comments throughout the class. And of course, you can always email me and ask! I don't use the Grade rubric in the class because I prefer my own system. But ask, ask, ask if you want to know.

You will be graded on the basis of submissions. 5 points if you are on time.

5 points if you give feedback to two people.


Grading scheme or breakdown of assignments. Please note that answering discussions and attending Zoom meetings are not required.

All writing assignments and critiques.   A Pass
8 writing assignments and critiques.    B Pass
6 writing assignments and critiques.  C Pass
4 or less writing assignments and critiques F Fail




These are the guidelines for your grades.

Each week you will be required to:
Read a brief lecture.
Read and critique the work of at least two people in your group.
Do the structure worksheet.

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 (50%), participation in weekly craft discussions (30%), written critiques of other students’ work (20%). Regular participation is expected. Please check in as often as possible.

Although there are several practical reasons why you might enroll in this class for credit, many of you are not for­ credit students. The opportunity to take the course without having to worry about a final grade can be a very good thing. For one, focusing on grades can sidetrack some students from creative exploration and learning through risk ­taking. In the worst cases, the student might pay more attention to the letter grade than the comments provided. 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 didn’t 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) 825­9971 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.

Course Policies

Inclusive Teaching Statement

Welcome to Caroline Leavitt’s Classroom

I love the diversity of writers in my class. I welcome both beginners and accomplished writers, people from all over the globe and of all colors and genders. What I look for in each student is how hard they test themselves, what risks they are willing to take in their work, and how they support others.

I love the intimacy of my hybrid class because it gives writers—and myself-- a better chance of getting to know one another.

I set out common goals, understanding that some writers may flourish using structure, while others may prefer to wait for the muse! I assign reading, and I always encourage writers to test-drive the material. Is it helpful? Then great, use it! Not helpful? Then it shouldn’t be in your writers’ toolbox.

I invite students into my own writing world, letting them know that even professional writers have difficulties to work through. I let them critique other writers, so they gain confidence in their own judgement. The best part of each week is the Zoom class where I give a mini talk on what’s coming up in the next week, and then 3 or 4 writers are “spotlighted”—which leads to fascinating discussions about writing—and our lives.

Some writers are intensely shy, but my writers know they can always message me privately. They also always know I am more than happy to work with them until they feel they have gotten a writing concept. And I want my students to know that they can always, always reach out to me privately if they experience exclusion in my class.

We’ve had a lot of writers of color, a lot of writers who are  members of the LGBTQ community and when they worry about writing their truths, I encourage them because there are always other people out there who are going to read the work and feel seen. Part of my class is a series of personal questions because I believe the personal always leads to the universal in writing, so all of us get to know one another on a much richer, and deeper level.

Workshop Guidelines

In this class, we will be  critiquing the works of others in their worksheets. (You DO get a chance to submit 750 words of writing at the last week of class). I do this because when you can learn to pick out what is and isn’t working in someone else’s work and why, it makes it that much easier to pick it out in your own work. Good feedback can be short or long, and what I am looking for is simply your response to the work. What did you like and why? What didn’t work for you and do you have suggestions for the writer?

Starting in Week one, we will have Saturday classes for 4 minutes on Zoom. I will give a little lecture on whatever we are working on, and then we will spotlight 3 students and look at your work in regards to whatever structural issue we are doing. That means that although EVERYONE does the assignment and EVERYONE will be critiqued by ME, only two or three people will be critiqued in the Zoom class. A lot of times what happens is that we have time for more than the students listed, or students don't want to be in the spotlight, but just want to listen. That's all okay.

Remember that the most important word here is kind. No personal attacks, please. No arguments. You are making suggestions or observations that the writer can take into their next draft. We should all always assume that all work is a work in progress.

Please note that you may not resubmit work. Just one assignment per week, please.

So what kind of feedback is good? Start by commenting on what you liked in the submission.  Were the characters alive and did they interest you? Did you like the dialogue? Did the piece make you feel?

Consider the week’s assignment. If the worksheet is to talk about how a character is going to change,  can you suggest a way for it to do it even better than the writer did?

Here are some examples of good feedback:

  • I loved that the character starts out in conflict. I wonder if you can itnensify that.
  • Although I loved what you wrote, I wasn’t sure what the moral choice of your character was. Did you mean for him to choose between marrying his partner or quitting his job? That would be a great choice!

Here are examples of feedback we don’t want to see:

  • I didn’t like this character at all.
  • Not only will this decimate the writer, but it’s unhelpful. 

Want to know a better way to write this? Take a look:

  • Although I really like the way you are creating your character,  wasn’t sure why the character was doing what he was doing. Maybe you could give him some inner thoughts so we understand him more. I also wondered if we could see more dialogue that showed how the characters were really feeling, rather than just telling us where they were going. That would be great!

See the difference?

Online Netiquette

Sharing thoughts politely and respectfully can sometimes pose a challenge when working online—we lack our usual communication tools of voice intonation, facial expression, and gestures. Also, we may well find ourselves disagreeing in our conversations about published writing and about one another’s work. So we must make an extra effort in our postings to be polite and respectful. Well -reasoned, polite, and respectful disagreement is always welcome; indeed, one of the ways we can learn from one another is by sharing different perspectives.

Partly why I offer Zoom video sessions as so we can get to know one another much better. We can read visual cues and come to realize that all of us are a community.


Every week starts on a Wednesday and ends on a Tuesday. The assignments include writing original material and commenting on fellow student exercises. You have until the following Monday to complete all assignments and the next day, Tuesday, to complete the critiques. I will not read or comment on work that is posted after that time, unless there is a most excellent excuse.

Life, of course, sometimes intrudes, but I will always let you know via announcement. If any of you need days off for any reason, or must be late with assignments, please let me know.

Once a week is over, I do not go back to it to check late assignments UNLESS a student has contacted me and has a good excuse.

The Writers’ Workshop

Instruction in the Writers’ Program follows the guidelines established by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) guidelines for the teaching of creative writing, which include a “challenging writers’ workshop” as a hallmark. They define this as
…a seminar in which students critique one another’s work under the mentorship of an accomplished writer-teacher. The workshop is writing intensive, offering each student multiple opportunities for submission and revision of creative work. (AWP)
This method of instruction is considered the gold standard for developing writers at all levels of expertise, and workshopping is a key learning tool in nearly every course offered by the Writers’ Program. Workshopping teaches you to read and respond to written work from a variety of perspectives, and hearing critique of your own writing will help you understand how successfully your work achieves your goals. Every student is expected to participate fully in workshopping activities as defined by and guided by Writers’ Program instructors.

Scope of Work for Instructors

Each Writers’ Program instructor has signed an agreement to teach the curriculum in their course, following a syllabus of their own design with approval by the Writers’ Program director. Instructors are never obligated to read, review, critique, respond to, or otherwise address student work that has not been developed for their course or in response to specific assignments in their course. Individualized instruction like this falls into the category of a consultation, which is a separate service your instructor can provide through special arrangement with the Writers’ Program.

Underage Students

As UCLA's principal provider of continuing education, the majority of UCLA Extension courses are designed for the post-baccalaureate professional-level student. Enrollment is therefore normally reserved for adult students 18 years of age and older. The Writers’ Program may consent to enroll younger students based on special academic competence and approval of the instructor. Minors who enroll in a Writers’ Program course without first receiving permission from both the department and the instructor are subject to withdrawal.  To request approval, please contact the Writers’ Program at 310/825-9415.

Institutional Policies

Student Conduct

Students are subject to disciplinary action for several types of misconduct or attempted misconduct, including but not limited to academic dishonesty, such as cheating, multiple submission, plagiarism, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University; or behavioral misconduct, such as theft or misuse of the intellectual property of others, harassment, or disruption of the learning environment. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the Student Rights & Responsibilities Policy and to report concerns regarding 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, 1145 Gayley Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024; Voice/TTY: (310) 825-7031. View the University’s full Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence at

Additional Items

Protecting Privacy and Data During Live Instruction

Live meeting sessions for this class, when applicable, are being conducted over Zoom. As the host, the instructor may be recording live sessions. Only the host has the ability to record meetings, no recording by other means is permitted. Recorded sessions will be posted in the Videos area of this class unless otherwise notified. Due to privacy, recordings are not available for download and are only accessible via Canvas for the duration of the class. If you have privacy concerns and do not wish to appear in the recording, do not turn on your video and/or audio. If you also prefer to use a pseudonym instead of your name, please let the instructor know what name you will be using so that the instructor knows who you are during the session. To rename yourself during a Zoom meeting, click on Participants, click on your name, click on More, click on Rename. If you would like to ask a question, you may do so privately through the Zoom chat by addressing your chat question to the instructor only (and not to ""everyone""). Additionally, chat may be used and moderated for live questions, and saving of chats is enabled. If you have questions or concerns about this, please contact the instructor via Canvas Inbox.

Pursuant to the terms of the agreement between Zoom and UCLA Extension, the data is used solely for this purpose and Zoom is prohibited from re-disclosing this information. UCLA Extension also does not use the data for any other purpose. Recordings will be deleted when no longer necessary. However, recordings may become part of an administrative disciplinary record if misconduct occurs during a video conference.

Course and Instructor Evaluation

UCLA Extension values your feedback on course and instructor evaluations. We ask all students to take a few minutes to complete an end-of-course evaluation survey. Updates to the course and instruction are influenced by your feedback. Understanding your student experience is essential to ensure continuing excellence in the online classroom and is appreciated by your instructor and the UCLA Extension academic leadership.

Your participation in a survey is voluntary, and your responses are confidential. After instructors submit grades, they will be given an evaluation report, but this report will not contain your name.

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:


Course calendar and related activities
When Module Title Notes
Week 1
The dreaded premise or desire line: how to write it and why it’s important

Lecture : What is a premise line and why will it help you figure out your novel? Why you should write something that will change your life and how to figure out what that thing is.
Reading: John Truby, The Anatomy of Story Chapter Two
Why you should write something that will change your life and how to figure out what that thing is.
Worksheet: I always believe that writing is a journey, that it is not, as Doctorow said, like driving in the dark with only headlights. You also need a map. And that map is your premise. Go to your fave bookstore online and read some of the premises (descriptions of the novel.) Then write one of your own for your novel in progress. This might seem like a short assignment, but it’s really hard!
Saturday Zoom Class with 3 writers in the spotlight.

Week 2
The Perils of Point of View

Lecture: Point of View
Reading for discussion: Lisa Cron, Chapter 3 I'll Feel What He's Feeling.

1. Think about your novel. How could it change if you used a different point of view?

  1. Could your novel be more intimate if you made it into first person or third?

3. Give me a six sentence paragraph about your main character in first person. Now rewrite it into third.



Week 3
The Moral Argument

Lecture: What is a moral argument and how does it deepen a novel?
 Wired for Story, Chapter Two.
Worksheet Assignment: For a rich novel, you need to know the moral and psychological needs of your main characters—the how and why of their change through the novel.

Questions for all to fill out:

  1. At the start of your novel, what if your character’s moral need? In other words how is your character hurting others?
  2. At the start of your novel, what is your character’s psychological need? In other words, how is your character hurting himself?
  3. At the end of your novel, how has your character’s moral need changed based on what he has learned?
  4. At the end of your novel, how has your character’s psychological need changed based on what he has learned?
  5. What has your character learned about himself?
  6. What has your character learned about others?
  7. What would you say your own psychological and moral needs were?

Saturday Zoom Class with 3 writers in the spotlight.

Week 4
Going deeper with character. This includes figuring out your character’s wants, needs and character ghost.

Lecture: What is the character’s goal?
Reading: Wired for Story, Chapter Four
Worksheet: Week 1 showed you the main character and the premise of your novel, but this week we want to focus on where your character is going to end up.

For everyone, a few sentences for each question please:

  1. Where is your character starting out? What is it that they want and why?
  2. What is at stake for your character if they do not get what they want?
  3. What is your ending going to look like? How is your character going to end up? Do they get what they want?
  4. Is there a way you can think of for your character to change more?
  5. How does this idea resonate for you personally? Why does it matter to you?

How will this character matter to others?
Saturday Zoom Class with 3 writers in the spotlight.

Week 5
The Ghost and the Wound. How it deepens characters.

Lecture: What scars does a character have that stop them from having what they want?  What is it from the character’s past that drives them?
Reading: The Anatomy of Story, Chapter 8

  1. The ghost comes from a trauma. It’s a wound that hasn’t healed. What is your main character’s ghost?
  2. How did the ghost influence your character’s beliefs or actions? For example, if a character was present when his baby brother drowned and he couldn’t save him that would certainly haunt him.
  3. How did that ghost bring forth a misbelief? If we look at the question above, the misbelief might be that the character caused his baby brother’s death, which made him a bad person who needed to be punished in order to have atonement or some kind.

Saturday Zoom Class with 3 writers in the spotlight.

Week 6
Reversals and reveals

Lectures: How and why reveals and reversals drive your plot.
John Truby, The Anatomy of story 108-144; Wired for Story, Chapter 7

  1. List three reversals or reveals in your novel. Then tell us how those reversals or   reveals are going to change the trajectory of your protagonist.
    For example, The sheriff in Jaws doesn’t want to act on the shark until people start being eaten. Now he has to take action. Finding out that the shark is eating people is a reveal.
  2. Tell us about a reveal or reversal that changed the trajectory of your own life.

Saturday Zoom Class with 3 writers in the spotlight..

Week 7
Storyworld. It isn't just setting!

Lecture: How does setting become a character in your novel?
 Lisa Cron Wired for Story Chapter 5
Worksheet Assignment
: Characters don't exist in a vacuum. Their world, the town they live in, the place they want to live in, all impacts their choice, and to make your story work, you want to also see that story world change as the character changes. For example, if your character ends up living on a farm alone, and he begins the story living in the city with a wife and two kids, we want to know what happened? Why did he move and choose to be solitary? What forces were at play?

  1. What is your character’s storyworld and how is he going to fit into it—or not fit into it?
  2. As your character changes, how does his storyworld change?
  3. What is your personal storyworld and how has it impacted you and your life?

Saturday Zoom Class with 3 writers in the spotlight

Week 8
Subplots and character webs

Because your characters just don't exist in a vacuum.

Lecture: How does setting become a character in your novel?
Reading: Lisa Cron Wired for Story Chapter 5

Please post a comment or question about the reading.
Writing Assignment: We’ve covered our main character’s journey, but how should the other characters fit into the main story?

  1. What is the subplot of your novel?
  2. How does your subplot amplify your main plot? Why is it necessary for your protagonist’s growth?
  3. How does your subplot force action from your protagonist?
  4. What would you say is the subplot in your own life and why
Week 9
That all important first chapter

Reading: Wired for Story, Chapter One, How to Hook the Reader

1. Give two different ways you could open your novel and explain how they set the conflict.
2. What opening of a book really grabbed you?
3. How is your first chapter going to show your character’s issue?
4. What is the question that your first chapter is asking—which will be answered in your last chapter?
5. How are you ending your first chapter in a way that will keep readers reading?
Saturday Zoom Class with 3 writers in the spotlight.


Week 10
Synopsis, plus 750 pages of your writing

Lecture: Why I love synopsis and why you should, too.

Reading: Lisa Cron Wired for Story, Chapter 8

John Truby, The Anatomy of Story. Chapter 3, the 7 key steps of story structure

Worksheet: Your synopsis, up to 6 pages double spaced.

PLUS 750 words of your writing.

Saturday Zoom Class with 3 writers in the spotlight.