"Good fiction sets off a vivid and continuous dream in the reader's mind." —John Gardner

Take this course, and let's set it off.

The second course of the Workshops Against Empire alternative MFA program—
now available in a self-paced format for just $197!

You know that magical feeling of being transported by fiction—the sense that you're no longer reading the story, you're living it?

It's not actually magic, it's neuroscience. (Which, come to think of it, might be the same thing.)

In this self-paced course, I'll show you how to unleash the true power of scenes in your stories, sharing techniques borrowed from great authors and screenwriters, firmly anchored in neuroscience.

You'll emerge with four powerful scenes that will transform your reader's experience of your novel—and take your command of craft to the next level.

Frequently Asked Questions

Covered in this course

Section One: Anchor Scenes

Fun fact: Fiction appears to run on the same neural architecture as dreams--which means that when a scene is strong enough, the reader's brain literally can't tell the difference between what they're reading and what they're actually experiencing.

Which is to say, effective scenes actually hijack your reader's mind--while conveying far more in the way of character, conflict, backstory, and world building than you could share in any other way.

In the first section of this course, I'll share:

  • Why scene is THE key to getting your reader hooked on and immersed in your story
  • The real meaning of "show, don't tell" (it's not what most people think)
  • How to use 4 key scenes for maximum effect
  • Where to place the key scenes in your novel
  • Where to dramatize and where to summarize
  • The essential role of scenes in effective storytelling
Section Two: Backstory and World Building

One of the most important things the opening of a novel must do is establish the protagonist, their backstory, and the world in which they live. In this second week, I'll share how to create scenes that carry all of that important info in a way that's invisible to your reader (avoiding the appearance of telling and "info dumps"), while also introducing your protagonist in a way that will give your reader no choice but to become invested in their story.

Topics covered in this section include:

  • The secrets of powerful openings
  • Essential backstory vs. nonessential backstory
  • Essential world building vs. nonessential world building
  • The trick to making your reader fall in love with your protagonist right away (even if they're "unlikable")
  • How to use situation and dialogue to carry backstory
  • Best practices for "establishing scenes"
Section Three: Dialogue, Body Language, and Subtext

Great dialogue establishes character in the most vivid, compelling way, while also advancing plot--but what's actually said is just the tip of the iceberg. In the third week of this course, I'll share best practices for dialogue, subtext, and body language, as well as powerful techniques for generating emotion in your reader.

In section three, we'll cover:

  • Dialogue vs. subtext
  • What Flannery O'Conner meant when she said that fiction was made of "mystery and manners"
  • The balance of external scene to interiority with POV
  • How to set up the emotion in the scene BEFORE it begins, so your reader can fully experience it for herself
  • Best practices for conveying emotion in the characters while the scene is running
  • Best practices for introducing characters in a vivid, compelling way
Section Four: Character and Conflict

Conflict is the fuel that drives narrative--but as far as your reader is concerned, if the conflicts in your novel don't unfold in scenes, they don't actually exist. Conflict in scenes also serves to clarify plot and establish character in a way that's unforgettable, strengthening the overall sense of storytelling.

Topics covered in section four of this course include:

  • Overt conflict vs. implied conflict
  • How to escalate the conflict in your scenes toward a "breaking point" (development or reveal)
  • Using conflict to clarify plot
  • Using conflict to clarify character
  • How to ensure there's some element of conflict in every scene you write--even if your characters are the best of friends
  • The importance of conflicting agendas
  • Best practices for "turning point" scenes
Section Five: Tension, Reversals and Reveals

Narrative tension is what keeps the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next. In order to create this essential sort of tension in your scenes, those scenes can never be too predictable--and in fact must deliver a some reversal of either expectation or power.

In the final section of this program, we'll cover:

  • How set up your scenes to generate surprise and delight in your reader
  • Reversals of expectation, and how they deliver dopamine to the reader's brain
  • Reversals of power, and how they keep your reader glued to the page
  • Power dynamics in scenes
  • Best practices for effective climax scenes

    Praise for Being Scene

    "Sincerely, this has been the single best investment I’ve made in a craft class."

    —C. Wilcox

    "Being Scene has been very helpful to me in further exploring how to bring scenes to life—and I very much appreciated the recordings of the live calls, as those discussions brought so much clarity to the material."

    —J. Wilson

    "As someone who normally struggles with the online format, having the written material (and in a format that can be printed) as well as video and live lecture, is super helpful. I’m finding the way you’ve organized all of the material very accessible!"

    —M. Clifton

    Praise for other courses

    — Anatomy of the Novel —

    "This class is just tremendous!  When I started this story I had a character voice, some thematic ideas, and some snippets of scenes.  Now I have a clear path for a novel! I’m over the moon!"

    - E. Carruthers

    "THANK YOU! This course has given me the tools to see how close I am to pulling this all together. You are brilliant and I am forever grateful."

    - J. Langdon

    "Your comments have opened up ideas and exciting creative threads for me. Your course has helped me understand the rules of long-form fiction in a much deeper way."

    - A. Kenyon

    “Getting all the feels from this Story Medicine course. I’m so glad to have found it!”

    -E. Rice

    "If you are a writer with a sincere desire to weave social justice issues and diverse characters into your fiction,  this course is highly recommended!"

    - D.L. Diener

    “I registered for Story Medicine back in October and I'm LOVING IT!!! In fact, I submitted a short story for an anthology call. The story is very strong because of your course. I'm proud of it and hope it gets accepted. I'll keep you posted!"

    -K.A. Phillips

    About Your Instructor

    An American of Guyanese descent, Susan DeFreitas is the author of the novel Hot Season, which won a Gold IPPY Award, and the editor of Dispatches from Anarres: Tales in Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin, a finalist for the Foreword INDIES. Her work has been featured in the Writer’s Chronicle, LitHub, Story, Daily Science Fiction, Portland Monthly, and High Desert Journal, among other journals and anthologies. An independent editor and book coach, she specializes in helping writers from historically marginalized backgrounds, and those writing socially engaged fiction, break through into publishing. She divides her time between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Portland, Oregon.
    Ready to make sure your novel is as riveting on the page as it is in your head?

    Register now for $197