Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Always a great product and service I've been buying for years, the product and service is always at the highest level. I gave it 5 stars, which is something I never do as nothing is perfect. I just couldn't find anything to hold it back from 5 stars.
Date published: 2020-05-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Educational Though I have not finished the course, what I have watched so far has helped me in my story writing. I have gone back over my newest novel and made some changes that came from taking this course. As a novice writer this is extremely helpful.
Date published: 2020-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this course two weeks ago and I have done two classes and I am very impressed on all that I have learned.
Date published: 2020-04-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from superior to solitaire As an 84 year old, house bound due to the virus, I felt that perhaps this would be a good time to learn a new skill. I have not yet completed the course but am enjoying it immensely. I have dabbled at writing, never published, but who knows? The program is well laid out, easy to follow and Professor Hynes delivers to subject well. Much better that some of my engineering profs.
Date published: 2020-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Writing Great Fiction. I love it! I like that the course is broken up into manageable time frames.
Date published: 2020-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Storytelling Tips and Techniques I have always wanted to write a book yet never have actually it pen to paper, or if I did I felt like what I had wrote was disorganized. I appreciate how well organized each lecture is and how every concept or technique is broken down in a way that can be easily understood.
Date published: 2020-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learned so much! I am so happy I took this course because I am in the middle of my first writing project and I had so many questions such as: If I start writing in first person does the entire book need to follow suit?
Date published: 2020-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly Stands Out Let me start out declaring that I am an old engineer and have no interest whatsoever in writing fiction myself. I purchased this course because I watch them while on my exercise bike and I'm running out of topics that interest me. I enjoy reading fiction, so I thought I would take a "peak behind the curtain" and see something of the mechanics of fiction writing. I am so glad I did! James Hynes does a masterful job of presenting the material in an organized and interesting manner, with excellent examples and comparisons. His presentation is comfortable and engaging and the insertion of "bullet point" graphics is appropriate and helpful. I've watched dozens of Great Courses, and no one surpasses him. I'm still not interested in writing fiction, but I think that anyone who is considering it or is beginning to write, would benefit greatly from this course. It was enjoyable, worth my time, and I gained a much better understanding of what it takes to write fiction. I HIGHLY recommend it, even to those who, like me, aren't planning to become fiction writers.
Date published: 2020-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly Engaging I'm actually subscribed to Great Courses Plus and saw this course on Storytelling Tips and Techniques and was curious. I found it absolutely fascinating and helpful. The professor is engaging and animated about his topic, bringing it to life with a multitude of interesting examples. I'm currently up to Lecture 16 now and counting. :)
Date published: 2020-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect description! I’ve learned and tried writing techniques that are helpful with amazing results.
Date published: 2020-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots of information. This is actually the second time I am going through this course. James Mynes has some great insight into the 'mechanics' of great foction. I especially enjoy the way he breaks down some of the calssics of literature and exposes the secrets that enhance our enjoyment.
Date published: 2020-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Tips Very interesting. Great advice. Helped me get my points across. Every lecture gave me an idea how to make my novel better. I'd be watching the DVD and he would say something that hit home. I would stop the presentation, go to my book and adjust it. Sometimes it would help add pages and always clarity to my work.
Date published: 2020-02-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Online course works fine but CD's do not load I can view the CD in explorer but there is no autorun or any other way that I can find to initiate the course. I went online and that works but I would rather use the CDs
Date published: 2020-02-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from audio skips I purchased the online version of Learning Spanish and Writing Great Fiction. Both courses had the audio fade frequently, making it difficult to both hear the Spanish words, but also key words and phrases in the writing course as well. Very disappointed. I eliminated my medium by trying several devices - they all had the audio fade out at the same exact places.
Date published: 2020-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Writing Great Fiction This was a Christmas present to myself. I wanted to get back into writing, but just could not get started. So I thought reviewing the basics again might get me started. I have not finished the course yet, but pulled out my completed novel and started a new draft based on the course. Using Mr.Hynes suggestions.
Date published: 2020-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative It's alright. Can seem to drag out, and the camera angles, like how it switches, seems off putting. It also has a bit of a dark atmosphere about it. But It is informative, and a good learning tool if you are aspiring to be a writer. It's always good to humble yourself as a constant student, and it's great to have a teacher available online for your subjects of interest.
Date published: 2020-02-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Writing fiction I have yet to receive my purchased DVD and accompanying material. I purchased it on January 22. fedex have not yet delivered it. What happened????
Date published: 2020-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Writing Great Fiction I am half way through this writing course. All of the chapters have exceeded my expectations and taught me the "How to" in writing fiction. I look forward to finishing the course and doing the rewrite on my novel.
Date published: 2020-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tells exactly what the course is about. Haven't finished all 24 lectures yet, but what I have watched I am completely happy. The instructor does an excellent job at motivating me. An inner voice told me to purchase this course and I'm so glad I did.
Date published: 2020-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great for serious beginners! I’ve been writing for many years and always find it helpful to review the basics before I start a new book.
Date published: 2019-11-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Valuable Information I really like the format of these lessons, and the professor is knowledgeable and interesting. I just wish he would use more contemporary examples of fiction, and not just classic ones.
Date published: 2019-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very educational I am on lecture #4 of "Writing Great Fiction" , and I've learned so much already. So happy I purchased this course.
Date published: 2019-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Writing Tool I stumbled across this course from a flyer delivered through the mail. I found the course very informative and a great tool in my learning how to write fiction. I wrote my first book thinking anyone could write and not realizing any of the things that go into writing a good novel. This course addressed many of the things I didn't know about when I started and now adds one more layer to my learning process. The lectures were well presented and touched on many of the topics I needed to learn and understand. James Hynes did a wonderful job of explaining "Points of View" that I was having a hard time understanding. I printed off all the material so I could reference it when questions come up in the future.
Date published: 2019-09-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from enjoyed the course Shipping charges are a rip-off but course is well presented.
Date published: 2019-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Comprehensive treatment of the topic. Well organized.
Date published: 2019-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Have Learned a Lot I bought this some time ago, and have just been slowly working through each lesson. I have learned so much, and have not yet finished the course. Well worth the investment.
Date published: 2019-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Practical examples Mr. Hynes gave clear and practical examples of the techniques he explained. He had a sense of humor which made his lectures all the most enjoyable. I was able to apply his suggestions to my own writing. I felt my writing and editing improved because of this course.
Date published: 2019-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this a month ago and have been watching it ever since. The speaker's knowledge of the subject matter is excellent and the examples he uses very interesting. I will be able to improve my writing skills using this material.
Date published: 2019-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely helpful This instructor was compelling and interesting. Provided me with excellent information. I highly recommend this course for anyone pondering the idea of writing a book, or even a second book.
Date published: 2019-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A learnign experience I expected this course to be informative on a technical level, but the professor goes beyond that. There are courses on editing/refining and the development of stories and characters but this course also focuses on story/plot. And, truth be told, that is why most people write either for themselves or professionally. I learned something from this series of lectures that will improve my writing and give me a deeper appreciation of the story I am telling. The professor does draw heavily on literary examples both from the classics and more generic works that do slow the lecture but all his points come across and he love of the subject always is always evident. I found these lectures ot be enjoyable and think I have improved as an amateur writer.
Date published: 2019-05-19
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Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques
Course Trailer
Starting the Writing Process
1: Starting the Writing Process

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a writer like facing the blank page. Start your course in fiction writing with some strategies for beginnings. You'll examine several ways to ease into a story, including the "5W's" of journalism, outlines, and opening in medias res ("in the midst of things"). The good news, as you'll see, is that there are no hard and fast rules.

30 min
Building Fictional Worlds through Evocation
2: Building Fictional Worlds through Evocation

"Show, don't tell" is the mantra of many writing workshops. But what does this mean? Find out how to choose just the right detail to evoke a scene, develop a character, and advance your story. After arming yourself with several strategies for "showing," you'll consider when it's OK to "tell."

29 min
How Characters Are Different from People
3: How Characters Are Different from People

Characters are illusions, and the illusion often hinges on how much access a writer gives us to a character's thoughts. Begin this unit on character with an examination of how writers choose which moments in a character's life to dramatize, and then consider how knowledge of a character's thoughts affects the story.

30 min
Fictional Characters, Imagined and Observed
4: Fictional Characters, Imagined and Observed

Continue your study of character with a look at several approaches for building a character. Some writers draw from life, whereas others draw from the imagination. Some build characters "inside out," others from the "outside in." Some develop characters by psychology, others by circumstances. Professor Hynes shows you a range of options.

30 min
Call Me Ishmael-Introducing a Character
5: Call Me Ishmael-Introducing a Character

Now that you now have a wealth of strategies for developing character, how do you get your character into your story? In this lecture, you'll run through five different ways authors introduce characters. You'll also see two methods for building a story: the exploratory method and the "iceberg theory" of character creation.

30 min
Characters-Round and Flat, Major and Minor
6: Characters-Round and Flat, Major and Minor

Books come in all forms and sizes, and so do characters. Learn the hallmarks of different character types, like round vs. flat and major vs. minor. See what purpose each type of character serves, and discover the relationship between a character and his or her desires.

29 min
The Mechanics of Writing Dialogue
7: The Mechanics of Writing Dialogue

Shift your attention from building characters to figuring out what they should say. This lecture provides an overview of the nuts and bolts of dialogue, from the rules of punctuation to the way writers use dialogue tags to add clarity to a conversation. See how what a character says can create meaning and evoke mood....

29 min
Integrating Dialogue into a Narrative
8: Integrating Dialogue into a Narrative

Turn from the mechanics of dialogue to discover how it can be used to evoke character or advance the story. After surveying how dialect is a powerful tool, if used carefully, Professor Hynes shows you how writers smoothly weave exposition into dialogue, and he considers the significance of what is not said in an exchange.

30 min
And Then-Turning a Story into a Plot
9: And Then-Turning a Story into a Plot

Characters breathe life into your story, but without plot, even the most engaging character can fall flat. This lecture opens a six-lecture unit on plotting, a critical skill for any writer who wants to keep the reader turning pages. Professor Hynes begins the unit by breaking down story and plot into a few fundamental components.

30 min
Plotting with the Freytag Pyramid
10: Plotting with the Freytag Pyramid

Whether you're writing literary fiction or a potboiler, your story needs a structure. Freytag's Pyramid is the classic structure for moving a story from an initial situation through a series of conflicts to a resolution. Examine every stage of the pyramid with examples ranging from The Wizard of Oz to Middlemarch to Game of Thrones.

31 min
Adding Complexity to Plots
11: Adding Complexity to Plots

Now that you've learned the basic elements of storytelling, it's time to go beyond the fundamentals and explore several smaller-scale techniques that can make your plot more subtle and satisfying. Your study includes the elements of suspense, flash-forwards, flashbacks, and foreshadowing.

31 min
Structuring a Narrative without a Plot
12: Structuring a Narrative without a Plot

Not all stories have a traditional plot that can be modeled along Freytag's Pyramid. Contemporary short fiction, for instance, is often relatively plotless. See what drives momentum in stories such as Chekhov's "The Kiss" and Joyce's "The Dead," and then turn to "plotless" novels such as Mrs. Dalloway.

31 min
In the Beginning-How to Start a Plot
13: In the Beginning-How to Start a Plot

Revisit beginnings. How do you get started with a story? In this lecture, Professor Hynes shifts from the techniques of plotting to offer several clear strategies for putting these techniques into action. He also provides invaluable advice about making choices on the page-and understanding the implications of those choices.

30 min
Happily Ever After-How to End a Plot
14: Happily Ever After-How to End a Plot

Starting a narrative may be daunting, but ending one can be just as tricky. After discussing some famous examples of bad endings, Professor Hynes gives you tips for creating believable, satisfying endings, whether this means finding an answer to the story's opening gambit, or tracing a narrative to its logical end.

32 min
Seeing through Other Eyes-Point of View
15: Seeing through Other Eyes-Point of View

What happens in a story depends in large part on who tells it. The three-lecture unit on point of view begins with a quick tour of the major points of view, from the third-person omniscient to the subjective first person. You'll also see how point of view is linked to time. As it turns out, when a story is told matters just as much as who tells it.

30 min
I, Me, Mine-First-Person Point of View
16: I, Me, Mine-First-Person Point of View

First-person narration can be one of the most natural ways to tell a story-but there are several important guidelines to keep in mind. Professor Hynes helps you navigate the different types of first-person storytellers, including the double consciousness, the unreliable narrator, and the retrospective narrator.

31 min
He, She, It-Third-Person Point of View
17: He, She, It-Third-Person Point of View

While first-person narration is an effective way to tell a story, third-person narration offers a wonderful range and flexibility, and allows you to dive just as deeply into your characters' heads-if not more deeply-than the first-person perspective. Survey the spectrum of third-person voices, from the objective and external to the interior stream of consciousness.

31 min
Evoking Setting and Place in Fiction
18: Evoking Setting and Place in Fiction

Time and place are critical in most recent fiction, so today's writer must know how to evoke a setting. But, as with so many techniques in this course, setting exists along a continuum, from the richly detailed (as in Bleak House) to just a few sparse details (as in Pride and Prejudice). Find out when-and how much-to describe your story's setting.

32 min
Pacing in Scenes and Narratives
19: Pacing in Scenes and Narratives

Every narrative has a tempo. Some stories are short, while others are long. Some move at breakneck speed, while others linger over every detail. Discover how to strike the right balance between length and time (the pacing), between length and detail (the density), and between scene and summary.

32 min
Building Scenes
20: Building Scenes

A good scene serves two functions: it advances the larger narrative, and it's interesting in its own right. How do you build compelling scenes? How do you transition from one scene to the next? Learn the fine art of moving from point to point in your narrative so that your story remains smooth and compelling.

32 min
Should I Write in Drafts?
21: Should I Write in Drafts?

So far, this course has focused on the individual elements of good fiction. Now that you have a complete toolkit of writing techniques, how do you put it all together to create a whole story? Professor Hynes discusses the process of writing an entire draft, and offers some words of wisdom to help you maintain momentum.

30 min
Revision without Tears
22: Revision without Tears

Revision is a necessary step in most writing projects. Take a case-study approach to see what techniques authors use to revise their stories. To show you the ropes, Professor Hynes walks you through his own process. Although revision can be difficult, you'll come away from this lecture confident in your abilities to get your story where it needs to be.

31 min
Approaches to Researching Fiction
23: Approaches to Researching Fiction

"Write what you know" is a common dictum, but what happens when you run up against the limits of your knowledge? What if you want to write a story about something other than your own life? What real-life details do you have an obligation to get right? Find out how fiction writers approach the unknown.

33 min
Making a Life as a Fiction Writer
24: Making a Life as a Fiction Writer

You might have a mental image of the writer as a solitary genius toiling away in an ivory tower. But writers today must be adept at both the crafting of words and the business of publishing. To conclude this course, Professor Hynes surveys the publishing landscape today and gives advice for making the leap from hobbyist to professional.

35 min
James Hynes

Whatever your motivation turns out to be, and whatever struggles and triumphs you have with writing and publishing, I hope the act of creation provides as much meaning in your life as it has in mine.


University of Michigan


Novelist and Writing Instructor

About James Hynes

Professor James Hynes is a published novelist who has taught creative writing as a visiting professor at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, the University of Michigan, The University of Texas, Miami University, and Grinnell College. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Michigan and a Master of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Professor Hynes is the author of five works of fiction: Next, which received the 2011 Believer Book Award from the Believer magazine; Kings of Infinite Space, a Washington Post best book for 2004; The Lecturer's Tale and Publish and Perish, which were both New York Times Notable Books of the Year; and The Wild Colonial Boy, which received the Adult Literature Award from the Friends of American Writers and was a New York Times Notable Book for 1990. In addition to his work as a novelist, he has also written book reviews and literary essays, which have appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Boston Review, Salon, and other publications.

Professor Hynes has received several literary grants and teaching fellowships, including a James Michener Fellowship from the University of Iowa, a Teaching-Writing Fellowship from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and a Michigan Council for the Arts writer's grant. He currently lives in Austin, Texas, and is writing a new novel.

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