How to Write a Novel: Structure & Outline


Build the foundation of your novel with a 5 star rated, six-week online course with international bestselling novelists, Annabel Lyon and Nancy Lee.

About this course

Have you always wanted to write a novel? Have you started a novel only to run out of steam halfway through? Led by international best-selling authors and professors from The University of British Columbia’s world-renowned Creative Writing MFA program, this is part of a series of courses designed to take your novel from concept to completion.

Outlining is a crucial step in the novel writing process, one that fuels creativity and prepares the writer to stay on track and avoid common pitfalls. Through hands-on weekly exercises with a focus on craft and process, as well as insights from the real-world practices of accomplished authors, this course explores the core elements of fiction writing necessary to build an outline. You will learn the fundamentals of character development, world-building and the basics of storytelling architecture. You’ll work intensively on your own creative project and hone your outline through feedback and discussion with fellow writers.

In the tradition of the UBC MFA program, this course draws on the work habits of established authors to help writers move quickly toward creating a blueprint for a successful draft. Whether you’re seeking literary fame or working on a project to share with family and friends, this course offers the tools and skills necessary to plan a novel others will be excited to read.

The course is recommended for professional and aspiring writers, writing groups, participants in NaNoWriMo, teachers and anyone who has ever dreamed of writing a novel.

What you’ll learn

  • The elements of a successful novel outline and writing plan
  • The dynamics of how character and conflict intersect
  • How to build a story using the architecture of story structure
  • An overview of common story problems and weaknesses
  • How to advance from outlining to writing a draft

View Course Syllabus (PDF)

What is it like to take the course?

You’ll learn at your own pace, in a user-friendly online environment. Each week, course material is made available in the form of video lessons created by UBC Creative Writing Professors Annabel Lyon & Nancy Lee, along with readings, video interviews with other authors, assignments and the opportunity to discuss your work with the other learners in the class.

Our instructors will hold office hours every week during a Google Hangout video broadcast where they’ll answer student questions submitted in advance or live during the broadcast. Broadcasts are archived, and do not have to be watched live.

Sample video lesson from: Week 1, “Why Should I Outline?”

The instructors review some common questions, worries and misconceptions about outlining.


Do I need to have started a novel to take this course?

No. However, you should have one or more novel ideas that you wish to work on during this course. We will ask you to start developing your idea right away.

What if I’m in the middle of a novel?

If you have already started a novel, or are having issues with a partially finished manuscript without an outline, this course can help you clarify your intentions and work out structural issues. We believe the process of outlining helps writers understand a work in progress in a way that simply ‘writing through’ cannot.

Is this course related to an existing UBC writing class?

This is an entirely new course, created by instructors with years of experience teaching the art of fiction writing to undergraduate and graduate university students as well as members of the community.

What are the other courses in the series?

How to Write a Novel: Writing the Draft provides an essential fiction craft toolbox for writers struggling with the common hurdles of first drafts. How to Write a Novel: Edit and Revise, will be launched in July 2017: it will be suitable for students who have completed a full draft of their novel.

Why is it in US dollars?

The course is hosted on the edX learning platform, hosted in the US. UBC is a partner in EdX, a non-profit learning consortium founded by Harvard & MIT runs the software and billing, so all charges are in US funds.

I have more questions about the course content!

Contact us with your questions, and we’ll be happy to answer!

Also review the edX course page for more details.

Starts September 6, 2017
$295 USD / approx $400 CDN

More Information

Starts September 6, 2017
$295 USD / approx $400 CDN

More Information


About the Faculty


Nancy Lee is an Assistant Professor in Creative Writing at UBC. She is the author of the novel The Age and the collection of short fiction, Dead Girls, which won multiple book of the year awards. Her work has been published in seven countries.

annabel-headshot-sqAnnabel Lyon is an Associate Professor in Creative Writing at UBC. She is the author of the novel The Golden Mean, an international bestseller which was translated into fourteen languages, as well as seven other books.

About edX

edx_logo_finalEdX is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is governed by MIT and Harvard.

EdX was created for students and institutions that seek to transform themselves through cutting-edge technologies, innovative pedagogy, and rigorous courses.

Through  institutional partners, the xConsortium, along with other leading global members, edX presents the best of higher education online, offering opportunity to anyone who wants to achieve, thrive, and grow. Find out more on their website:

Please note: because the course is offered through EdX, which is based in the US, all prices are in US funds and all payments go through the EdX system.

Have a look at the edX course page for more details.


5starsContent and Instructors (including technical help) were outstanding. I received both practical tools in writing my outline, and confidence with their encouraging, open approach — truly a fantastic experience. I got out of it exactly what I needed as a writer.


This was my first experience of online learning and I was extremely impressed. It worked on an individual basis as well as offering any degree of group participation an individual might want, from none at all to complete immersion. The content, presentation and technology were always excellent. I am a published writer of non-fiction and did worry initially that I might be wasting my money, that the course would not tell me anything I did not already know. This was absolutely NOT the case. In every module there was thought-provoking, ground-breaking (for me) material that will have a huge impact on my fiction. I had intended to spend 4 hours or so a week on the course but it was so good and there was so much to learn that I ended up devoting twice as much time as I had planned. I will certainly sign up for Course 2 in the series.

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