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The University of British Columbia

How to Write a Novel: Writing the Draft

The University of British Columbia via edX Professional Education


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.



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.


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