The Writers' Greenhouse
Story Elements:  creative writing course

Course overview

Develop your story architecture over 12 weeks in a collaborative, supportive group

We use games, activities, and discussions, and sometimes write snippets in class. We focus on practising the elements of building stories, not your prose style. Some sessions generate plots, which we add to our plot-bank; in other sessions we take plots from our bank to work on. At the end of the course, we share out that bulging file of story plans. We also practise writing synopses, summaries, and cover blurbs.

Each session gives you ideas, principles, and activities to apply to your own writing, but you don't have to be writing a novel at the moment. The course steadily encourages you to work more on your own writing and most people leave with a good idea of what they want to write, if they aren't working on something already.

I also read your writing: as well as weekly mini-assignments to write blurbs, synopses, etc, you get at least three prose assignments across the course on which I give you personal feedback. These can be your own story (which I encourage) or one of the group stories we've been creating. These assignments always come after sessions which have generated scenes which you can write.

Email to book your place, read on for a week-by-week description, or jump down to the FAQs.

Weekly topics

Week 1: Premise

  • premise versus plot
  • building on a premise
  • overview of the course's elements

Week 2: Characters

  • creating richer, more complex characters
  • character developments
  • characters' theory of mind

Week 3: Place

  • creating a richer sense of place
  • point-of-view place & changing perceptions
  • scene locations

Week 4: Time

  • creating a richer sense of time & setting
  • research & using signifiers
  • attitudes within a time

Week 5: Plot-layering

  • complex plots
  • genres with obvious endings
  • adding layers of plot development

Week 6: Tension & stakes

  • raising the story's stakes so it matters more
  • raising & developing the tension so the interest keeps developing
  • ordering the narrative's events for high stakes & high tension

Week 7: Plot point-of-view

  • first-person narratives & third-person narrators
  • unreliable / contradictory narratives
  • multiple points-of-view and choosing points of view

Week 8: Beginnings

  • setting up the main plot
  • bridging tension to carry the reader through
  • first lines, first paragraphs, first scenes

Week 9: Symbols& theme

  • building a props cupboard
  • natural symbolism
  • themes that matter to you

Week 10: Subplots

  • creating rich, fully-fledged subplots
  • choosing subplots for contrast & impact on the story
  • balancing & ordering subplot(s) and main plot

Week 11: Detail

  • using your novel's "dead space" for characters, point of view, place, time, back-story, side-stories & symbolism
  • dialogue
  • detail in the prose

Week 12: The Grand Finalé

  • reviewing & using all the course's elements to map out a story
  • types of endings
  • the grand finalé


Wednesday evenings 7pm–9:30pm,
25 April 2018 to 11 July 2018

If the Wednesday class is full, I will open a second class on Thursday evenings


Upper Wolvercote (North Oxford). There's free parking, a great bus route (#6), and beautiful canal-side walking routes.


£320 total for 12 weeks, payable in instalments with a £35 deposit

To book

Email me for a booking form.

Exploring premises Premise storm Characters Discussing characters Location, location, location Sharing characters' stories Point-of-view place Mapping out characters' story arcs Collaging a sense of place Collaging a sense of place Finished collage  – a sense of place Rapid writing


Frequently asked questions

Is the course suitable for beginners?

Yes: if you've done lots of writing before, great, and if you haven't, that's fine too. The course and the materials are multi-level and use process-teaching: in practice, this means you try out different techniques and experiment with them in class, to explore each topic.

Can I pay in instalments?

Yes. You pay a £35 deposit and can then pay the rest in instalments. Usually, that's three instalments, at weeks 1, 5, and 9. If you prefer to pay weekly or need to shift the payment dates to match your salary date, that's fine.

Do I need to be working on a novel?

No. Throughout the course, we create and work on collaborative stories together. These go into the Plot Bank, which is shared out at the end of the class. You don't work directly on your own novel in the course, but each week's booklet gives you tips on applying what you've learnt to your own novel and you can also submit parts of your own novel for feedback.

Do you give feedback on our writing?

Yes. The course includes feedback on 3 pieces of writing up to 2000 words each. This can be your own independent writing or a piece of writing emerging from that class.

How much homework do we need to do?

The homework takes about 20-30 minutes a week, and is always consolidating / based on something we did in class – for example, writing up the back-cover blurb for a story we've invented, or the character arc that you've already been mapped out in class. The exception is the 3 pieces of prose writing that I give you feedback on: obviously that takes longer than 20-30 minutes and it's up to you how much you submit, but it's a good opportunity to get feedback on your writing.

What if I have to miss a class?

At the end of each class, I give out a booklet summarising what we've covered in that class. If you miss a class, I usually suggest you come five or ten minutes early to the next class, so I can talk you through what we did. I also email you play-it-yourself versions of the activities we did, which include all the instructions, handouts, and suggested answers you need, and can be used on your own or with a friend or two.

Does it matter if I'm dyslexic?

No. Dyslexia will not prevent you from doing the course and it certainly doesn't stop you from writing well. Hans Christian Andersen, Agatha Christie, WB Yeats, Lewis Carroll, Ernest Hemingway, Roald Dahl, and Mark Twain were all dyslexic. You do the writing; let someone else worry about spelling and punctuation. (A proofreader or a friend can fix your spelling and punctuation, if you need them to.) In any case, the course focuses on the different elements of story structure, not on your prose style.

If dyslexia affects your reading: there isn't any extended reading on the course, just prompt questions on discussion cards, game cards, or handouts. These are usually quite short. I colour-code all the materials, so everything is printed on coloured paper, which some people with dyslexia find easier to read. I also use a clear, sans-serif font on everything.

Are the courses accessible for people with physical disabilities?

  • Mobility: I run the courses from home and there are a few steps to get into the house (4 steps from the driveway, 1 to get into the house, 1 into the conservatory, and 1 in the bathroom). I can arrange a ramp for the outside steps, but there isn't enough room to put a ramp at the front door or in the bathroom. If you use a wheelchair, this may be a problem. If you know how I can get useable ramps into more confined spaces, I'd be grateful for the advice and happy to arrange that.
  • Please note I use light Ikea stools for seating; if you'd like a sturdier chair or one with a backrest, just let me know.
  • For any other arrangements you need or questions you might have, just email me and let me know.
  • Email to book your place | Any other questions? Ask me!


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