Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Writing a novella in a semester

I'm teaching a graduate class at St. Edward's University this semester where we will write a 40,000-word novella in one semester--10 weeks to be precise. I say we because I am joining in. It seemed unfair to ask them to write like this while I stood on the sidelines. My experience is that you learn to write a novel by writing a novel. We're also reading five novellas as models.

Last night the author Jeff Abbott spoke to the class about his writing process, which is in many ways like what my students and I will be doing. The notion is to create a basic plan--structure, the main set pieces, some good character exploration--and then write without revision. This is exactly the opposite of the usual writing workshops I teach which are heavy on critique and require revision. That's why workshops are better attuned to short stories. For longer works, the march is the thing. Once the draft is done, revision can and must commence.

Why this post? What I'm already noticing is shadow writers who are going to follow us along outside of the classroom. Go for it! If you want to be one of our shadow students, see the syllabus and check back here. The main thing is to do the work.

For our second meeting last night, along with hearing words of wisdom from Abbott, students created a vision board--photos and text made into a collage to be looked at as the writing process continues. Sounds goofy, but it's a great way to daydream about your story as you look for those set pieces (the big moments of explosion in the story). They also did some deep character work on the the main three characters in their work--protagonist, antagonist and a third character who is perhaps a love interest.

For next week, they must write a 4- to 8-page synopsis of the novella in first person. They also must pitch their stories to the class. If this sounds like screenwriting, it is indeed very influenced by that form. The notion is if we can get a good foundation, we'll have the freedom to continue forward and write. At the end of that discussion, we will begin to write.

If you want to follow along with us, check back here for our progress reports.

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