Novel Writing: Bridging the Gap Between Short Stories & Novels


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


Readings

   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



Assignments

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.

 

Query Letter

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?

 

Swamplandia!  Analysis
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?

 

LOCK Exercise

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:

 

  • Introduce the author and the book
  • Provide one sample (a paragraph or scene) that demonstrates the author’s style and approach to storytelling.
  • Articulate how this book relates to your own artistic vision. What drew you to this work in the first place? What overlap exists between your work and that of this first-time author?
  • Describe the author’s path to publication. Try to find interviews, blogs, videos, et cetera where the author speaks about his or her journey to publication. If you cannot find online sources, do not be afraid to email the author directly to pose one or two specific questions
  • Analyze the book itself—its title, cover art, size, whether the cover art changed from hardcover to paperback, typography, back cover blurbs, et cetera. Can you find rejected cover art?
  • Analyze the marketing of the book—How big was the initial print run? Did the publisher send the author on a reading tour? Was the book advertised anywhere (if so, can you find those ads and include them in the report)? Did the author promote the book via his or her personal website, facebook page, twitter, et cetera? Were foreign/translation rights sold? In which countries did the book appear?
  • Analyze the reader reception—Examine the pre-publication reviews of the book in Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal. Were these positive or negative? Examine subsequent reviews in newspapers or magazines. If the work was not reviewed, it is important for you to give an opinion why and speculate on how this also might have contributed to the book’s success or lack of success. Examine online book reviews by ordinary readers that appear on Amazon or Goodreads. How did they react to the book?

Course Calendar

Introduction

Week 1

     welcome & ice breakers
     class introduction & syllabus review

     lecture: the history of the novel as an art form

 

Novel Structure

Week 2

     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

 

Week 3

     in-class discussion: the plots of our favorite movies and novels

     due:  LOCK analysis of Harry Potter + your favorite novel and movie

 

Week 4

     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

 

Week 5

     small group workshops of novel outlines + LOCK exercises

 

The Descendants

Week 6

     in-class discussion: The Minor Wars

     readings: The Descendants  part 1

     due:  The Doorways of No Return essay for your novel

 

Week 7

     in-class discussion: The Descendants  part 1

     readings: The Descendants  part 2

     due: your first chapter

 

Week 8

     in-class discussion: The Descendants  part 2

     readings: The Descendants  part 3

     Small group workshops of your first chapter

 

Week 9

     in-class discussion: The Minor Wars vs. The Descendants

     due:  analysis of The Descendants

 

Swamplandia!

Week 10

     in-class discussion: Ava Wrestles the Alligator

     readings:  Swamplandia!  part 1

 

Week 11

     in-class discussion: Swamplandia!  part 1

     readings:  Swamplandia!  part 2

     due: your second chapter

 

Week 12

     in-class discussion: Swamplandia!  part 2

     readings:  Swamplandia!  part 3

     Small group workshops of your second chapter

 

Week 13

     in-class discussion: Ava Wrestles the Alligator vs. Swamplandia!

     due:  analysis of Swamplandia!

 

Week 14
      First Book presentations

 

Conclusion

Week 15

     end of semester self-assessment
     instructor evaluations

 

Week 16

     exam week—no class!
     due: final portfolios