Twisted Timelines with Tess Sharpe

Want to use cool techniques like flashbacks and flash-forwards, but worried they'll melt the brains of your readers? Carnegie Award-nominated YA author Tess Sharpe will show you how to make them work.

Your Instructor: Tess Sharpe, author of Kirkus Best Read FAR FROM YOU

Where: Online — Available everywhere!

When: January 26, 2017 - February 23, 2017

Enrollment: 16 students

Price: $325

Class Description


Wuthering Heights

The Naked Lunch

What do these books have in common?

They all use non-linear structures to tell the story.

Flashbacks, flash-forwards and other multilinear techniques can turn a pedestrian narrative into a turbo-charged superhighway of story superlatives.

We'd all like to master writing fiction like this, but it's a technique which challenges even the experts.

And now you can learn how in Twisted Timelines, under the tutelage of Tess Sharpe, author of the Carnegie Award-nominated Far From You.

Tess will help you understand the power of telling a story in whatever order grips the reader best. And in this four-week workshop—which will include writing assignments, peer reviews, and Q&A with your instructor—she will guide you through the process of setting up, outlining, and revising a narrative which takes its reader along a far from ordinary path.

What This Class Covers

Week One: The Basics of Non-Linear Structures

Lecture: The first lecture will focus on the basics of working on a non-linear story, exploring the differences between primary and secondary timelines; how to juxtapose timelines to achieve narrative goals; how to establish patterns within the non-linear narrative to guide the reader; and how to anchor the reader within the dual narratives.

Assignment: Time to draw some story architecture! Students will sketch out the approach to their non-linear stories and identify their primary and secondary timelines. They will explore the rules and patterns of their chosen structure and literary devices, and choose a way to anchor the reader in their dual narratives. Examples will be provided.

Week Two: Focus on Flashbacks and Flash-Forwards

Lecture: In Week Two, you'll hone in on the secondary timeline: how to utilize deviations from the primary timeline, such as flashbacks or flash-forwards, to inform the reader, create tension, introduce plot twists, build character, or simply evoke a certain emotion. You'll discuss further ways to juxtapose primary and secondary timelines to serve the plot and create seamless pairing of timeline sections. 

Assignment: Two chapters, sections, or scenes that demonstrate the use of primary and the secondary timelines. This can be as simple as building character history and moving the plot forward, or as complex as juxtaposing the differences (and/or similarities) between past and present. Due to the depth of this assignment, critiques will be delivered and discussed at the end of class. 

Week Three: Outlining and Revising the Non-Linear Novel

Lecture: Outlining and revising a straightforward linear story can be frustrating, but non-linear novels with multiple timelines can present a special brand of hell! Tess will offer some methods for building a non-linear novel from the ground up, including story mapping and timeline building.

You'll also explore what happens when you’ve finally reached The End and you’re ready to revise. How do you approach revisions of a novel whose timelines are difficult to disrupt? How do you ditch or add chapters when you’re working in a specific timeline pattern? How do you even begin without losing your mind? Tess will offer you tips for how she stays organized. 

Assignment: Continue to work on the Week Two assignment.

Week Four: Epistolary and More

Lecture: The final lecture will focus on other unusual storytelling structures and devices, such as epistolary and multi-POV and how they can be applied to contemporary novels. You'll also discuss the use of certain dramatic devices (such as the Chorus) as well as other unusual approaches. To wrap things up, Tess will dedicate ample time to exploring any questions that have cropped up throughout the course.

Assignment: Critiques of Week Two’s assignment will be returned to students at the end of Week Four.

Goals Of This Class

  • Examine the basics of non-linear structures and how to use them to achieve your narrative goals
  • Explore primary and secondary timelines and the techniques you need to anchor the reader in the story
  • Learn how to draft a non-linear novel using a variety of techniques like story-mapping and the creation of a master timeline
  • Review unusual narrative devices and how you can exploit these in your storytelling
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