The Centre for Talented Youth, Ireland
Novel Writing Course Outline
Overall goals of the course:
- To improve students’ confidence in their own writing and in sharing that writing with others.
- To hone their writing skills and to learn how to revise and edit after writing rather than trying to get everything perfect the first time.
- To teach students how to design an outline and how to work from it.
- To allow for creative collaboration as well as individual writing.
- To get students to identify the topics they are most interested in and give them the freedom to write about these topics.
- To increase awareness of different genres and the particular challenges of writing in the novel form.
- To encourage discussion and critical assessment of contemporary literature.
Topics to be covered:
- Characters are the starting-point for most fiction. We’ll look at various methods for coming up with characters and finding ways to make them credible and flawed while still being compelling.
- Plot and structure
- Investigation of the three-act structure and whether it is necessary for the modern novel, as well as discussion on consistent pacing, use of flashbacks, and chronological order in storytelling.
- Looking at first/second/third person narration, rotating viewpoints, examining novels told via letters, diary entries or (more recently) e-mails, instant messages and blog entries.
- Covering several methods of outlining, from spreadsheets and storyboarding to more informal methods.
- First chapters
- What a first chapter should ideally include.
- History of the novel
- Brief look at the beginnings of the ‘novel’ as we know it today, and its unique features as a literary form.
- Gender in writing
- Discussion concerning writing in the voice of the opposite gender and the portrayals, convincing or otherwise, of the same and opposite gender in particular writers’ work.
- Verse novels
- Looking at contemporary novels told in verse form.
- Contemporary fiction
- Why using modern-day settings in fiction still requires some research.
- Historical fiction
- Researching historical settings and events; how to use this information in fiction.
- Using fairytale motifs and retelling fairytales.
- Creating suspense and tension in mystery writing.
- Investigating different kinds of humour, from satire to surrealism.
- Writing for children
- Looking at the differences between writing for adults and children.
- How to revise and edit work; looking at several ways to edit your own work.
- Quick look at the publishing industry and standard submission guidelines.
A short essay on students’ favourite themes in novels – this creates a list of ‘things to include’ in their own writing, e.g. first-person narrative, characters their own age, characters with particular interests, unfamiliar settings, familiar settings, happy endings, school setting, stories set around feast days, retold fairytales, etc. Sometimes when people start writing their immediate instinct is to follow the default settings for novels (third person past tense, about particular issues) so it’s important for students to identify their own likes (and dislikes) in writing.
A novel outline (as detailed or as sparse as suits the individual student – some will prefer outlining every scene, others will rather have a general idea of where a story is going while still giving themselves freedom to surprise themselves). Students will be encouraged to discuss their plans with others and both give and receive constructive criticism.
Collaborative novel. Students will be divided into smaller groups with each group dealing with a particular character and their role in the story. The plot of the entire novel will be outlined in detail before students write their section (approximately 2000-2500 words each – because it will have been outlined already, this can be done in a single day).
This allows students to see how to outline a novel (probably in more detail than they themselves will for their individual outlines) and also puts them in the situation where getting things down on paper is much more important than having something be perfect. For most writers it is difficult to get over perfectionism, but it’s obviously much easier to edit and revise a full page than a blank one. Working on a project like this also gives students the chance to learn how to stick with something and see it through to the end, while still having time to try out new things in other areas of the course.
Extracts from Stephen King’s On Writing, John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction and Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! will be used when covering topics like plotting, structure, outlining. Baty’s book is very useful when it comes to writing to a deadline, as students will have to in Week 2. These books emphasise the practicalities involved in writing while still being respectful of the need for creative freedom and expression.
*N.B. Please note that the above outlines the content for the 2009 summer novel writing course. The content of the 2010 Novel Writing course may be differ slightly from the above.