The syllabus for Your Personal Odyssey is to come.  Below is the syllabus for the Odyssey Writing Workshop.

Jeanne Cavelos

Course Description

Odyssey is a workshop for writers of fantastic fiction, which is an umbrella term covering fantasy, science fiction, horror, magical realism, slipstream, alternate history, surrealism, and anything in between. Over half of our class time is spent on lecture/discussion. Lectures provide an advanced, comprehensive curriculum, covering the elements of fiction writing in depth. To improve your writing, you need to understand the various tools and techniques writers can use to create a strong story or novel. We'll study some of the most beautiful and powerful writing in the field to gain understanding of what these tools can do when wielded with skill. We'll also cover the common failings of developing writers and how to avoid those pitfalls. The rest of our class time is spent workshopping your stories and giving you feedback that is both truthful and helpful. Our goal as a class is to provide a supportive yet challenging, energizing environment that will help you improve your writing and make it the best it can be. We will focus first on how to write well, and second on how to write fantastic fiction well. To help make you more aware of the elements that create strong writing and a strong story, you'll read short stories by some of the top writers in the field; read essays on writing and on writing fantastic fiction in particular; and read each other's stories and comment on them. You'll also complete daily journal entries, write a lot of new fiction, and revise some of your previous drafts.



  • Cavelos, Jeanne, ed.  Odyssey Writing Workshop.  Norcross, GA:  XanEdu Publishing Services, 2019.
  • You will need a spiral notebook to use as a journal, or you can type your journal entries on the computer, if you prefer

Each student should perform the following tasks:

---write at least 20,000 words of new fiction

---revise at least 4,000 words of fiction

---read and critique other students' stories, with critiques totaling at least 40,000 words

---complete assigned readings

---complete assigned journal entries

---meet with me for at least three private consultations

Note that many students do much more than these minimum amounts.

Some assignments will be specific to the individual, focused on improving weak areas.

All fiction must be typewritten, double-spaced, in standard manuscript format.  All submissions made during the workshop must be under 6000 words in length.  If you have something longer, you should discuss options with me.

Students are expected to spend at least 60 hours per week outside of class writing and working on class assignments.

After the end of Week 2, you should not submit anything for critique that was written before the workshop began, unless you have significantly, radically revised it since arriving at Odyssey.

A Note on Novels:  You are strongly encouraged to work on short stories while at Odyssey, because most writers improve more quickly when writing short stories.  If, however, you aren't passionate about any short story ideas, and you really want to work on a novel, you are allowed to do so.  You can submit chapters or scenes for workshopping instead of stories.  In your private meetings with me, we should discuss how these various chapters fit together in the overall plot of the novel.  Ideally, you should include a synopsis of the novel as part or all of your pre-class submission (see below), so we can discuss it in our first meeting.  If you plan to work on a novel, I suggest you discuss this with me before Odyssey begins.

Odyssey 2019  Schedule

The course takes place over six weeks.  Each week will have the same basic structure.  Of 23 hours of class time per week, approximately 11 hours will be lectures and class discussions; 3 hours guest lectures, in-class writing exercises, and question-and-answer sessions with guests; 9 hours workshopping sessions.  The following will give you a general idea of the topics covered.  Although we'll focus on different topics each week, we'll actually be discussing most of these topics throughout the six weeks.

Pre-Class Assignments


May 2:  I need to receive from you a second piece of writing (not your application submission) that I can critique before class begins.  Please email your pre-class submission as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file, properly formatted.  The story, chapter, or novel synopsis must not exceed 4,000 words.  You may submit only 1 story or novel excerpt.  This way, by the time I first see you, I will have already read and critiqued two of your pieces (I'm also critiquing your application submission). If you send a novel chapter, I strongly suggest you send the first chapter.  If you want to send a later chapter, include a brief synopsis of the events up to that point.  The total word count of chapter plus synopsis must not exceed 4,000 words. During the first week or so of class, you will turn in a third submission to be workshopped by the entire class (this can't be one of the previous two submissions).  After we workshop that third submission, you will meet individually with me to review those three pieces and how they reflect where you are as a writer and what you need to focus on during the opening weeks of Odyssey.

Favorite Story

May 13:  Pick one of your favorite short stories of fantasy, science fiction, or horror by another writer to share with the class.  The story should be no longer than 10,000 words.  At the top of the document, write the title of the story and the author's name, and below that write "submitted by" and your first name.  Below that, write a few paragraphs explaining why this story is your favorite.  Below that, paste the text of the story.  Email this as a single .doc, .docx, or .rtf file to the Odyssey Resident Supervisor.

Readings & Journal Entry

May 31:  In May, you will receive the Odyssey custom text by mail.  You will be required to read about half of the text and to write a journal entry about those pieces before the start of Odyssey.


Week 1 (June 1-5) Introduction and orientation.  What is fantastic fiction and why do we want to write it?  How is writing fantastic fiction different from writing other types of fiction?  How is it the same?  Discussion of critiquing guidelines.

How to approach writing a first draft.  The effect your process has on your ultimate product.  How to revise.  Creativity and problem solving.

Showing versus telling.  How to make your fiction vivid and involving.  Degrees of showing.  Deciding when to show and when to tell.  Methods of conveying emotion.

Workshop student stories (students cannot turn in for workshopping either their application submissions or their pre-class submissions during this first week).  Readings on revision, and reading of a short story by J. G. Faherty.  Students have their initial private meeting with me during week 1 or week 2.

June 4, 7-8 pm, question-and-answer session with J. G. Faherty.

June 5, guest lecture by J. G. Faherty on horror as the backbone of genre fiction. Covering how we find horror in many shades across all the genres (romance, mystery, thriller, SF, dark fantasy, paranormal/magic realism, weird fiction, etc.) and how different genres intersect in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. Horror is the heart of so much speculative fiction, and overlaps in so many different ways, and it always has, right from the beginning. For instance, Shelley's Frankenstein is both horror and SF. A Song of Ice and Fire is horror and fantasy. Silence of the Lambs--horror. We'll go into what defines horror, why it's necessary to so many plots (the emotional impact), and how it sneaks in without anyone realizing it.  Afternoon workshopping session with Greg Faherty, and he will have individual conferences afterward with students whose stories were sent to him ahead of time.

Week 2 (June 8-12) Originality in genre fiction.  Why is so much F/SF/H so familiar?  Developing your own ideas, your own sensibility.  What is the "truth" at the center of your story?  Theme and premise.  Working within a genre.  The importance of unity and how to write a unified story.

Developing a setting.  The novum.  Making your setting an integral part of the story.  Choosing significant details while considering the point of view.  When and how to include details.  Creating atmosphere.  The connections between setting, plot, character, and theme.  The strangeness budget.  Common weaknesses in setting.

Workshop new or revised student stories.  Readings on character, and reading of a short story by Brandon Sanderson.

June 9, 2:30-3:30 pm, question-and-answer session with drop-in guest John Joseph Adams.

June 11, 7:00-9:15 pm, guest lecture by Brandon Sanderson on magic systems.  Brandon will discuss "Sanderson's Laws," four rules that help to create better magic systems, and he'll explain how the rules of magic should be tied to plot, characterization, and worldbuilding.

June 12, Afternoon workshopping session with Brandon, question-and-answer session with Brandon, and he will have individual conferences afterward with students whose stories were sent to him ahead of time.

Week 3 (June 15-19) Creating characters who are interesting, believable, and make us care.  Various ways of revealing character.  Which characters do we love?  Which do we hate?  Which don't we care about?  The importance of a character's goal.  The Johari window.  Internal conflict and the character arc.  The growth arc versus the transformation arc.  Externalizing internal conflict.  The connection between character and plot.  The causal chain of character.  Challenging your character.  Writing powerful dialogue.  Subtext.  Common weaknesses in character.

The advantages and disadvantages of various points of view.  Which viewpoints can work best in which types of stories.  The effects point of view can have.  The connection between point of view, voice, and style.  Types of distance in point of view.  How to minimize distance.  Developing a strong, consistent point of view.  Common weaknesses in point of view.

Readings on plot, and reading of a short story by Eric James Stone.  Students will have private meetings with me during week 3 or 4 assessing their progress and discussing problems and possible ways of solving them.

June 16, 2:30-3:30 pm, question-and-answer session with drop-in guest Carrie Vaughn.  After, Carrie will have individual conferences with students whose stories were sent to her ahead of time.

June 18, 7-8 pm, question-and-answer session with Eric James Stone.

June 19, guest lecture by Eric James Stone on making your science-fiction science believable. Eric will discuss how to come up with science fiction ideas and how to make them sound plausible. Where to research scientific concepts and how much research is enough. Getting the reader to trust your authorial voice. Avoiding--or disguising--the infodump. Distinguishing advanced technology from magic. Creating aliens that make evolutionary sense. How to break the laws of physics and get away with it. Continuing trends, converging technologies, and black swans.  Afternoon workshopping session with Eric, and he will have individual conferences afterward with students whose stories were sent to him ahead of time.

*WEEKEND EVENT:  Saturday, June 20, 3:00-4:30 pm:  Odyssey Science Fiction & Fantasy Slam, Barnes & Noble, Nashua, NH.

Week 4 (June 22-26) Building a suspenseful, involving, unpredictable plot.  Using the conventions of the genre to lure your readers in and surprise them.  Different types of plots.  One-act structure.  Three-act structure.  Building suspense, controlling pacing and the flow of information.  Dealing with exposition.  The requirements of story.  The requirements of each scene.  Scenes and sequels.  The MICE Quotient.  Making your plot believable.  The causal chain.  Escalation and unintended consequences.  Beginnings, middles, and endings.  How can you tell if your climax and denouement are working?  Common weaknesses in plot.  Connecting plot and character.  Creating a plot that evokes emotion.

Readings on style, and reading of a short story by E. C. Ambrose.

June 23, 2:30-4:30, possible additional lecture session.

June 25, 7-8 pm, question-and-answer session with E. C. Ambrose.

June 26, guest lecture with E. C. Ambrose about generating plot from the heart of your story. No plot, no problem!  Or should that be, no problem, no plot? So often we get excited about an idea for a story—then we have trouble developing the actual *story* from that idea. We'll brainstorm conflicts and complications based on your story seed, whether that's character, concept or world-building, and talk about how to use those conflicts to develop a plot that will build toward a satisfying conclusion.  Afternoon workshopping session with Elaine, and she will have individual conferences afterward with students whose stories were sent to her ahead of time.

Week 5 (June 29-July 3) Saying what you mean and meaning what you say.  The elements of style.  Avoiding the phony archaic manner and other common pitfalls in fantastic writing.  Writing clear, concise prose and powerful description.  Developing a strong style suitable for your story and your setting.  What makes for a powerful, compelling narrative voice?  Finding your story's voice.  Learning and being inspired by others without copying others.  Rhythm, sound, and other stylistic tools.  Flow.  Common stylistic weaknesses.  How style can reinforce or undermine your novum.

Readings on publishing, and reading of a short story by Barbara Ashford.  Students will have private meetings with me during week 5 or 6 assessing their progress and planning goals and directions for the future.

June 29, 2:30-3:30 pm, question-and-answer session with drop-in guest Sheila Williams.  After, Sheila will have individual conferences with students whose stories were sent to her ahead of time.

July 2, 7-8 pm, question-and-answer session with Barbara Ashford.

July 3, guest lecture by Barbara Ashford on creating compelling scenes. Barbara will discuss techniques to hook readers into every scene, create conflict that pushes the POV character forward on her journey, and craft a strong prompt that encourages readers to turn the page. Exercises and scene analysis will help students determine the inner and outer turning points of character change. Use turning points to calibrate pacing. Break down a scene into beats to focus on the emotional truth of every moment, pinpoint shifts in emotions, and explore ways to color emotions so that the actions and reactions of characters are not only clear, but vivid. Afternoon workshopping session with Barbara, and she will have individual conferences afterward with students whose stories were sent to her ahead of time.

Week 6 (July 8-12) Reading your own material with a critical editor's eye.  Spotting your own weak areas and strengthening them.  Controlling your internal editor.  Continuing your progress beyond this workshop and setting goals.  How to remain productive.

Understanding the publishing industry.  Submitting your work and building a long-term career.  What agents and editors are looking for.  What they can do for you and what they can't do.  Figuring out what a rejection letter really means.  Trends in publishing.  What it takes to succeed in self-publishing.  Ways to make your work stand out.  The pros and cons of various types of publication.  Tips and warnings.  Researching markets.  Assessing your progress over the six weeks and where you go from here.

Workshop final submissions by students.

July 6, 7-8 pm, question-and-answer session with Scott H. Andrews.

July 7, guest lecture by Scott H. Andrews:  "Short Fiction Publishing from the Other Side (Submissions, Slush, What Editors Are[n't] Looking For, Rewrites, and Contracts), Story Openings, and Writing (and Life) as a Workshop Grad and Neo-Pro."  Scott will participate in our afternoon workshopping session, followed by individual conferences with students whose work was sent to him ahead of time.

July 10, 7-9 pm:  graduation party!  Each person will give an assessment of progress over the previous year, and announce writing plans for the following year.  Then we eat and celebrate!