For practical reasons, most creative writing courses focus on short stories. In this advanced creative writing course, students will study how two authors transformed their short stories into novels and explore how to do the same with their own short fiction.
Before beginning their own novel project, students will study classic novel forms and structures, such as the three-act structure, as well as techniques of plotting and characterization as they relate to the novel, the use of multiple voices to manage momentum, the use of mirroring techniques, and the weaving of subplots. After examining these forms and structures, students will convert one of their existing short stories into a novel.
Prerequisites: Students should have completed other fiction writing courses, and have finished a number of short stories before the semester begins. Students will be expected to submit finished short stories during the first week of class. Students will be expected to be familiar with such concepts as point-of-view, psychic distance, the differences between exposition, scene, & narrative summary.
By the end of the course, students will have:
1) learned the three-act structure
2) learned how authors sustain tension throughout the length of a novel
3) mapped the plots and structures of well-known, popular novels such as Harry Potter
4) outlined the character arcs for all primary characters in these novels
5) learned how a novel’s plot/problem is defined by the needs and desires of the lead character
6) examined how Kaui Hart Hemmings and Karen Russell transformed short stories into novels
7) created a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline of their own novel
8) written the first 40 pages of their novel
9) practiced revision as part of their writing process
10) practiced the skills needed to be a good writing workshop participant
1) Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
2) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
3) The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
4) Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
5) “The Minor Wars” by Kaui Hart Hemmings
6) “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” by Karen Russell
3-4 Novel Ideas
You will write out 3-4 proposals for a novel to develop over the semester. These should be old ideas--short stories you have already written and want to expand into a novel, or short stories that you began and abandoned because the story or characters were too big for the short format and needed to be a novel. These proposals will be workshopped during the second week of class.
Detailed Novel Outline
A detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline of your novel that identifies the plot elements discussed in Bell's book such as, the inciting incident, the two doorways of no return, the darkest hour, and the climax.
First Two Chapters
At the end of the semester you will submit the first two chapters of your novel, which should total at least 40 pages, but more pages are fine. There is no limit.
A formal, one-page letter addressed as if you were sending it to a literary agent that describes the plot of your novel, provides a brief bio, and describes the novel's target audience.
Plot Outline & Analysis of Harry Potter
Outline the plot of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and identify the major plot elements discussed in Bell's book such as the inciting incident, the two doorways of no return, the darkest hour, and the climax. Afterward write an analysis of the novel, discussing how Rowling makes Harry sympathetic, how she sets up later plot points early in the novel, how the subplots are layered and intersect, and so forth.
The Descendants Analysis
After reading "The Minor Wars" and the novel that grew out of it, The Descendants, write an analysis of how Hemmings converted the short story into a novel. What elements from the original were kept, discarded, altered, preserved? What needed to be added to support a novel-length work? How was the journey of the characters changed or kept the same? Was the theme of the short story lost, expanded, altered? What are the novel's inciting incident, two doorways of no return, darkest hour, and climax? What are their origins in the short story?
After reading "Ava Wrestles the Alligator" and the novel that grew out of it, Swamplandia!, write an analysis of how Russell converted the short story into a novel. What elements from the original were kept, discarded, altered, preserved? What needed to be added to support a novel-length work? How was the journey of the characters changed or kept the same? Was the theme of the short story lost, expanded, altered? What are the novel's inciting incident, two doorways of no return, darkest hour, and climax? What are their origins in the short story?
Complete Bell's LOCK exercise for each of your primary characters, and then write a detailed analysis and exploration of your main character. What is his or her goal, and why will he or she be
seriously injured (physically, psychologically, or emotionally) if they don't get it? Why does he or she want it so bad? Why is the antagonist an equal match for your protagonist? Why will the
reader like the antagonist?
The Doorways of No Return
Write an analysis and exploration of the two doorways of no return in your novel. After stepping through each doorway, why can't your protagonist go back to their old life? What has been
irrevocably changed? How and why? How will your protagonist change internally as a result of passing through these doorways? How is he or she different at the end of the novel?
An Author’s First Book
Every published author has to begin somewhere. For this assignment, investigate the “somewhere” for a contemporary author and relate it back to your publishing goals.
1. Select the first book of any fiction author published within the past three years. This book may be any type of fiction: a collection of stories, a linked story collection, a novel, a novella, a hybrid novel, a graphic novel, et cetera. To get the most from this assignment, choose an author who writes in a similar style or genre as you aspire to write.
2. Write a report that follows this outline/format/structure:
welcome & ice breakers
class introduction & syllabus review
lecture: the history of the novel as an art form
lecture/discussion: The 3-Act Structure
- the inciting incident
- the doorways of no return
- the darkest hour
- the climax
- how character desire creates plot
- Bell's LOCK exercise as an analysis of character desire and plot
small group workshops of your novel premises
in-class discussion: the plots of our favorite movies and novels
due: LOCK analysis of Harry Potter + your favorite novel and movie
lecture/discussion: More Complex Plots Structures
- mass-market vs literary fiction
- multi-generational family sagas
- avant-garde novels like Cloud Atlas
- multi-novel series like The Lord of the Rings
due: plot analysis of Harry Potter
small group workshops of novel outlines + LOCK exercises
in-class discussion: The Minor Wars
readings: The Descendants part 1
due: The Doorways of No Return essay for your novel
in-class discussion: The Descendants part 1
readings: The Descendants part 2
due: your first chapter
in-class discussion: The Descendants part 2
readings: The Descendants part 3
Small group workshops of your first chapter
in-class discussion: The Minor Wars vs. The Descendants
due: analysis of The Descendants
in-class discussion: Ava Wrestles the Alligator
readings: Swamplandia! part 1
in-class discussion: Swamplandia! part 1
readings: Swamplandia! part 2
due: your second chapter
in-class discussion: Swamplandia! part 2
readings: Swamplandia! part 3
Small group workshops of your second chapter
in-class discussion: Ava Wrestles the Alligator vs. Swamplandia!
due: analysis of Swamplandia!
First Book presentations
end of semester self-assessment
exam week—no class!
due: final portfolios