Herman Melville compared writing a novel to building a cathedral. Virginia Woolf described it as digging caves—at a certain point, the caves would connect, and daylight would finally appear. But how do we know where to dig? And how do we get from that first stone, or idea, to the cathedrals of our novels?
In this workshop, we’ll try out some exercises and explore strategies for drafting and outlining. As part of our discussions, we’ll touch on narrative promises, structuring scenes and chapters for momentum, and revision tools used by well-known contemporary novelists. This will be an interactive series of four, two-hour classes. Bring your novel-in-progress—and your struggles and triumphs while writing it. If you’re just starting, that’s great, too. There’s something here for everyone, no matter where you are in your novel-writing journey.
WEEK 1: Characters & Conflict
Our first week together, we’ll look at creating dynamic characters by digging up their wants and fears, and we’ll uncover conflict and tension between players. We'll look at select novel excerpts and movie clips as examples and do some targeted character development exercises to explore these concepts.
WEEK 2: Setting & Character
In our second week, we’ll go beyond polishing descriptions of lawns and grungy train yards to look at how setting can be thought of as an amplifier of character. Used well, your setting will add complexity and urgency to characters’ choices and their interactions. Using mapping exercises and select novel excerpts and movie clips, we’ll look at how to create fictive dimensions that support and intensify your novel’s plot.
WEEK 3: Building Plot through Action
Who a character is, what they want, and where they are in the world are the foundation stones of your plot. Plot is built up from what your characters do (or don’t do), and what happens next—actions and consequences. In the third week, we’ll explore how to let a character’s actions lead to towering, complex situations, and lay some scaffolding for talking about pacing and narrative arcs while we’re at it.
WEEK 4: Novel Structures
Even if you know your characters well, have forced them to take action and deal with the consequences, you might still be feeling around in the dark for the right shape for your novel. Should you be blazing a deceptively simple-looking trail from point A to point B? Or walking backwards along that trail, from B to A? How many timelines are involved? Is there one POV character? Are there TEN? As anyone who has ever cracked open at least two books has found, structure is not one size fits all. There are nearly infinite possible structures for your novel. In our final week together, we’ll face the shape-shifter that is novel structure. We’ll discuss how the engine of a story, what’s driving it forward, might help you understand its true shape. We’ll also look at tricks for diagnosing and fixing issues of balance and order in revision.
Amber Wheeler Bacon is a writer, editor and teacher whose work has appeared in Crazyhorse, Epiphany, Five Points and Witness, and you can find her writing online at CRAFT, Fiction Writer’s Review and Ploughshares. She is the recipient of the 2018 Breakout Writers Prize sponsored by The Author’s Guild and a scholarship from Bread Loaf Environmental. In 2020, her story collection was one of five finalists for Hub City Press's C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize and a finalist for Moon City Press’s Short Fiction Award. She has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and is on the board of directors of the South Carolina Writers Association. She's been a staff reader at Ploughshares, a fiction editor at Four Way Review, and is currently a daily editor at the Southern Review of Books. She teaches English at Coastal Carolina University and is represented by Amy Bishop at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.
Amelia Brown holds an MFA in fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars, where she received the Barry Hanna Scholarship. Her writing has been published in Four Way Review, Masters Review, CRAFT Literary, Full Stop, and the Ploughshares blog. A short story of hers received honorable mention in the Glimmer Train Award for New Writers contest, and another was a finalist for the Fairy Tale Review’s 2017 contest. She attended the 2021 Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ conference and works in the rights department at Charlesbridge Publishing in Boston.
Zoom link provided upon registration.