Grackle image by artist Anant Ronen.
The Working Novel is as complex, in its way, as a novel is. It is filled with some writers who have met before in workshops, and some writers new to the class, and they are at different stages in the novel writing process. Some students have already written and published novels, some are new to the endeavor. But all writers are thoughtful, interested writers committed to helping each other move the visions from their heads into hundreds of pages of written words. It is a fun class in which everybody is desperate to see each other to the last pages of whatever draft they’re working on. The novels we read encompass all the genres — including memoirs.
Of course, the hardest part of writing a novel (or long memoir) is every part: making sense of an idea, translating ideas into words, fighting to see who the characters really are and what they need and want, rearranging words and scenes and images, doing this over and over again, draft after draft, and then beginning the arduous process of scouting agents for your work, sending query letters. This is a class for people somewhere in the middle part of this process. To be in this class, you should have at least 100 pages written (maybe not in order) by the time the class begins. It is for people in the middle of early or late drafts of their work.
We will discuss different aspects of what makes a novel or problems novelists encounter each week for 45 minutes (including outlining for structure/plot/character, forward momentum/suspense, character arcs, writing blocks, image echoes, etc) and we end with a short writing exercise focused on adding to your living novel (they are not random fiction exercises). The last 1.5 to 2 hours are reserved for workshopping. Every week we will have two workshops, and the format of those workshops will depend heavily on what the writers up for workshop need and workshop format will vary depending on whether they are in the early drafts (1st or 2nd), the middle drafts (2nd or 3rd), or late (4th or 5th) drafts of their work.
Early draft workshops will aim at helping writers make it through to the ending of their draft: to get the pages down, to untangle problems they have come up with, to talk out their problems in a group with readers that desperately look forward to reading to the end — to show themselves they can write to the end of a novel. We will focus on what is working well, what aspects of the story we find most intriguing, what questions we hope will be answered, and what the mystery is. Writers generally workshop around 30-70 pages per workshop.
Middle draft workshops will help writers seriously face problems of structure, character arcs, and forward momentum. We help reconceptualize the story that may have come out in fits and starts, with an eye for the end. We will discuss plot holes, sags in the pacing, and problems with characters who may seem one thing in the writers eyes but seem something else to early readers. Again, we will talk out problems the writers face as they iron out the flaws and problems they identified in their earlier drafts. They generally workshop between 50-150 pages in a workshop.
Writers in last drafts will receive a traditional critique: a reading of their work as if it were found on the shelves. This is a time for tightening, for writers to discover where readers find themselves most engaged, and when they lose interest or belief in the story and why. To see if the story they intended is the story that is received. Readers will be most nitpicky in this workshop. They will workshop from to 70-150 pages in a workshop.
By having a tiered workshop, writers in every stage benefit. Everybody offers something important because we engage with each other’s work seriously.
This workshop has a lot of reading, but because they are all of the same piece of work, it is easier reading than if we read four different essays, for example. The longest bouts of reading are for the works in the last drafts, and the reading goes by very quickly. It won’t be more than 100 double spaced pages a week.
This class is limited 6 students.
Sept 8: 1 hour to meet and prepare (Zoom)
Sept 15: 2 (2 people turning in)
Sept 29: 4 (2 people turning in)
October 13: 6 (2 people turning in)
October 27: 8 (2 people turning in)
November 17: 3 (3 people turning in)
Dec 1: 6 (3 people turning)
Dec 15 : 8 (2 people turning in)
Miah Arnold will facilitate this group.