Story Editing Masterclass
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Story Editing Masterclass

The ecology of novels
4.5 (3 ratings)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
90 students enrolled
Created by Jessica Perini
Last updated 9/2017
Current price: $12 Original price: $100 Discount: 88% off
3 days left at this price!
30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
  • 2 hours on-demand video
  • 21 Supplemental Resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion

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What Will I Learn?
  • Edit your novel, story or screenplay considering the whole work, rather than just the sum of its parts.
  • Consider the role of characters, including protagonists, antagonists and supporting characters.
  • Learn about central mysteries and how they can compel your readers forward.
  • Chart the flow of your story.
  • Learn how to power up tension.
  • Learn how themes unite stories.
  • Create compelling context to add drama and spice to your story.
  • Use tables, excel spreadsheets, charts, and graphs to see your story afresh.
  • Discover resources to help you with spelling, grammar and consistency issues.
View Curriculum
  • You’ll need a computer or a pen and paper.
  • Your novel, story or screenplay.
  • Knowledge of writing basics.
  • An open mind to think about writing in a holistic way.

Like every healthy ecology a story needs to work as a whole, not just the sum of its parts. Does your fiction world have a working ecology? Do its parts work together? Or do its characters overwhelm? Do all parts support each other, or do they each vie for power? How can you see the work afresh?

This course will enable you to become a more effective editor of your own fiction work. It will help you visualise a novel/screenplay/story holistically – as one grand ecology – each element reliant on another. If part of your story doesn't support the life of the whole, out it goes!

The Ecology of Novels includes:

  • Videos
  • Reading materials
  • Inspirational exercises 
  • Case studies 
  • Charts, spreadsheets, graphs
  • Links to extra resources (for swats only) 

Much as a new painter would stroll the Louvre studying the great master painters, as a writer you should be examining the best storytellers. So in this course we’ll be ambling through the literary Louvre, paying our respects to creative greats like JRR Tolkien, George Lucas, Harper Lee, William Shakespeare and many more.

Plenty of courses teach the basics of story writing. 

Few teach writers how to write brilliant – and connected – prose. Drafting leads to mastery. But only if you know where to look. Led by a Senior Editor with almost 20 years of editing experience this course points you in the right direction. 

Who is the target audience?
  • Authors who have written at least one draft of their novel, story, or screenplay.
  • Writers who understand the basics of fiction: characterisation, themes, context, etc. (This course goes beyond the basics to cohesive story design.)
  • Authors who are stuck in the drafting phase of their work.
  • Writers wanting to take their work to the next level.
  • People who like to plan before they write.
  • People who would like to edit fiction, and know the basic rules of writing a holistic story.
Compare to Other Writing Editing Courses
Curriculum For This Course
52 Lectures
The Big Picture
2 Lectures 06:57

An introduction to your instructor and this course, discussing why planned drafting is so important when you edit your story.

Preview 02:30

What does a working ecology of a story look like? In this lecture we look at the elements of this course: the flow of your story (macro issues), the central mystery, characters, including protagonists and others and how they play together, and how to combine context and themes. We end the way we began, with the flow of your story (but this time we look at micro issues).

The big picture – Ecology
A Story's Journey – A River
8 Lectures 15:18

We begin this series with a story’s journey – reimagining its flow, just like a river.

Preview 01:09

How do we begin our stories? I teach my students this handy phrase: "The end is the beginning." The end of your story starts on page 1, that's right page 1! Watch the lecture to find out more. 

The end is the beginning

Patterns abound in nature for great reasons; mainly they ensure survival. Human-made structures – including stories – also take on familiar patterns. This lecture looks at the most common structures of stories – such as the three-act structure – analysing their elements and flow.

Patterns of storytelling

When it comes to editing a story think of what type of story it is, following the path laid down by similar stories. We look at types of story like the quest, star-crossed lovers, event, idea and character stories, and many more. 

Types of story

So many stories are modelled on the question – "Is there any way out of this situation?" – easing us sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly into a sense of no escape. This lecture is about building tension.

Charting tension

Next we’re going to look at increasing your story’s flow. How do you do that? One of the ways is to "tell, don't show". WAIT!? "Did she get that wrong?" you're wondering. Emphatically no. This lecture looks at the much quoted, but oft misinterpreted advice of "show, don't tell", explaining what it means, and when you should use it, and more importantly (from this editor's perspective) WHEN TO BACK OFF!  Other ways to increase flow include inserting unmet needs or wants, inserting barriers etc.

Increasing the river’s flow

If you want to keep propelling readers forward, the way you end chapters is important. 

After you've watched the lecture download the following exercise onto your computer and save it, then read the examples and do the exercise. (Please note you can not alter the file in Google Drive.)

Chapter endings

Central Mystery – The Sun
4 Lectures 03:17

In this Section we’ll talk about what I call a central mystery, a thread that can hold stories together.

Preview 01:09

The story Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is underpinned by a central mystery which is launched in the story's opening lines, and is strung throughout the novel to its end.  

Rebecca in brief

Where to place a central mystery.


The Protagonist – Butterflies and Wolves
5 Lectures 11:14

In this Section we’ll be looking at types of protagonists, we'll find out about the powerful narrative thrust of a protagonist’s unmet need or want, and discover types of transformations, including the popular model of the Hero's Journey. 

Preview 00:40

Many authors – especially newbies – assume they’ll need to include backstory. But is it really necessary? In this lecture I play the devil's advocate challenging you to think about whether you need to include backstory.

Backstory – To write or not to write

Sometimes characters don’t transform. They simply are who they are, and are swept away on a wild adventure. But at other times characters do transform; via nature and nurture, internal and external transformations we see the shift, the lessons of the journey creating a character arc. 


In this lecture we look at the Hero's Journey identified in myth and story by Joseph Campbell, American writer, lecturer and mythologist. This structure underpins so many of our most loved stories like George Lucas's Star Wars and JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, to name just a few.  

The hero’s journey

Supporting Characters – Bees and Flowers
6 Lectures 14:18

In this Section we look at supporting characters. Like a bee to a flower every supporting character needs to be of use to the protagonist, themes, context or events of the story.  

Bees and flowers

Types of supporting characters like flat and round, dynamic and static. 


In Lecture 22 we look at the most common roles of characters, like mentors, confidantes, foils and jokers/fools.


In this lecture we look at the role of antagonists, and the push-pull relationship that should ideally create real tension between antagonists and protagonists in your story.  


Now you know who your protagonist is, and her or his transformation (if any), let’s see how other characters can support that transformation. Like bees to a flower all characters should have – what I call – "gifts to the protagonist".

Preview 02:09

What elements of supporting characters should appear in a story? Think about: the central mystery (if you have one), themes, the journey and context and how supporting characters interact with these elements.

Bringing characters together
Context – Malignant Forces
3 Lectures 05:55

Discover the powerful role context can play in its own right and in support of characters, plot, or themes, when to use it and how to use it to heighten drama.

Preview 01:02

Context matters – whether its rests quietly in the background, or stands boldly front and centre – it should dance with other elements in your story.


Exercises for ensuring your context is working hard for your story.

Putting context to work
Themes – Life, Death and in Between
4 Lectures 04:37

In this Section we learn about types of themes and their integral role. We discover that the more you align them with your characters, context or storyline the more robust the story.

Life and death and in between

We look at the role and types of themes.


In this lecture we look at the theme of "good versus evil" in Star Wars

Preview 01:19

In this lecture we talk about ways to bolster your themes.

Bolstering your themes
A Story’s Journey 2 – The Fine Detail
8 Lectures 22:11

We end this series the same way we began. With a story’s journey – remember it’s all about flow, just like a river. But this time we’ll take a micro view, which means we’ll look at your story as we would in a line-by-line edit, examining the small details.

The fine detail

In this lecture we look at dialogue to ensure it bubbles along. We examine ways to increase the flow of dialogue including limiting "he said" "she said", inserting action markers, and stopping at points of drama, lies, or intrigue. We also look at the important role of SILENCE.  

Dialogue and flow

Number 18 of Mark Twain’s essay outlining the 18 rules of writing is "eschew surplusage" which basically means "keep it simple, stupid". In this lecture we examine using simple words when editing a story.

Speak simply

When Mark Twain said “If you catch an adjective kill it” he didn't mean kill ALL adjectives. So how do you know which ones to keep and which ones to ritually slaughter? This lecture helps you discover the answer.

Adjectives and adverbs

Tautologies, dead words and passive sentences are for lazy writers. How can you avoid them, or better still grab those sentences and insert ZING!?

Tautologies, dead words and passive sentences

Assonance, alliteration, similes, metaphors, conceits, hyperbole – all fancy words for oiling the flow of your text, or slicking up your sentences to slide!

Speeding the flow

Spelling, grammar and consistency are all important when it comes to getting your story right. A great editor can help in all these areas, but if you must edit your story yourself here are some tools that will help.

Spelling, grammar, consistency

Bringing it all Together – Systems for Revision
1 Lecture 01:48

There's no right or wrong system for editing/reviewing/drafting your story, so here are just a few examples of the tools you can use.

Systems for revision
Conclusion – The Most Important Lesson a Writer can Learn
2 Lectures 05:24

Again we turn to the words of the fabulous Mark Twain: “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.” Master storytellers understand this rule: their stories are like tips of icebergs. The substance is below the surface, always threatening, and sensed, but rarely fully revealed. 

The most important lesson a writer can learn

Before you go I have some hard questions for you. Have you attempted, by scientific methods, to amass the pages before you? Are they spiritless, inanimate? Or do they contain a quickening heartbeat, the essence of life, a flicker of a pulse?

Is it ALIVE?
1 More Section
About the Instructor
Jessica Perini
4.5 Average rating
3 Reviews
90 Students
1 Course
Senior editor, writer, child rights advocate, social media

Edited over 100 fiction and non-fiction titles, including Joint-winner of the Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History; Winner of The Douglas Stewart Prize at the NSW Premier's Literary Awards; Winner of the Non-fiction Prize Queensland Premier's Literary Awards; Shortlisted for The Age Book of the Year Award, winners of The Australian Awards for Excellence in Educational Publishing and various self-publishing awards.

Writer of the popular column 'Writing Bootcamp', in Arts Hub magazine.

Specialties: Copyediting, proofreading, writing, structural editing.