Monday, March 26, 2012

Response #7: The Partial

Due before class April 2 (Monday class) or April 3 (T/R class)

Read this previous blog post about what a partial is.

By this Friday at 5 PM, you must have a fairly polished 25-50 page partial to give to your small group. This must be the opening to your book (unless we have made a different arrangement).

The partial should be formatted and presented as you would present a book manuscript to an editor. Go here to see a sample. This means it must be proofread, double spaced, have page numbers, a title, table of contents (if necessary), and any relevant front matter (such as a map or family tree).

This draft of your partial will be read by your small group and by me. You'll think about all the things we say and then go back in and revise the partial one more time for the final.

So, it's okay if the draft you distribute on April 6th isn't "done," but it should be "done enough" that someone can read it. It will be okay for you to include provisional scenes, thumbnail sketches of scenes ("Here there's going to be scene between the protagonist and her mother in an ice cream shop where they talk about birthcontrol while eating banana splits), and questions, ("I'm not sure if these statistics are accurate but will check on this later").

The typical workshop would get grumpy and complain about an incomplete story. But remember: YOUR SMALL GROUP IS NOT A WORKSHOP. IT'S A WRITING GROUP. It's intended to be supportive.

Read this to understand why a small group discussion of a novel in progress is different from a large group, all class workshop of a stand alone short story.

You will email it to the members of your group AND TO ME at, and to Sarah Grubb at

What group are you in?

Monday class

Tuesday/Thursday class

Warning: If you do not email me your partial by 5 PM on Friday April 6, I am under no obligation to read your partial, and you lose the opportunity to have a personal, one-on-one conference with me. You will also lose 50 points each day it's late to your group.

Remember, you also need to produce 2,250 NEW WORDS by April 6 for your weekly words.

Welcome to the wacky world of writing a novel.

Your topic for this week's response: generate 5-10 questions you want the people in your small group to answer about your partial. What kind of feedback are you looking for? How close are you to having your partial  ready for your group, and for me? What are your biggest worries? What do you feel confident about? How do you feel about sharing your partial when you are still in the process of writing the novel? (500-750 words)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Response #6: Endings

Due March 26 or 27.

By ending, I don't mean the last few pages, the denouement. By ending, I mean THE KNOCKOUT. The PAYOFF. The BIG MOMENT YOU'VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR.

Qualities of a Satisfactory Novel Ending

  • The ending seems both inevitable and surprising at the same time. It doesn't "come out of nowhere." It isn't predictable. 
  • The ending is the result of the character's actions. The ending is not the result of something happening to the character, but rather the result of a deliberate choice.
  • The ending must actually end. Something finalizes, concludes, gets tied off. Even if the story will go on as a series, there still needs to be some sort of provisional ending. 
  • Something changes. Otherwise, your novel is just a bunch of scenes strung together. 
  • The ending is sufficiently complex and brings together a number of layers--consider for example the end of The Sweet Hereafter. Nicole's choice effectively concludes ALL the subplots of the book. 
  • The ending "matters," meaning that there was something at stake and now, something is irrevocably changed. 
  • It's emotionally or intellectually satisfying. 

Qualities of an Unsatisfactory Novel Ending
  • You cheat and everything ends happily ever after.
  • Or you gloss over some vital steps in order to "get to the end."
  • You bail on a subplot, plot layer, and/or plot thread and leave it dangling. You leave burning questions still burning. 
  • The story is too simple, not layered, and so the outcome doesn't resonate as fully for the reader, who thinks, "Eh..."
  • There's only an exterior change in circumstances for the character, not an internal change. Or vice versa. 
What you need to do

Go ahead and write (or write about) what you think is the most pivotal scene, or series of connected scenes, what you imagine will be the end of your novel--remembering, of course, that this can certainly change later.

Don't put your entire ending in this response, just a paragraph or a description of what will happen. Put the actual ending in your Weekly Words due Friday. For this response, respond to having written/thought through the ending. Consider these questions: 
  • Does the scene have a beginning, middle, and end? 
  • What do you imagine will be the scene immediately preceding this scene? 
  • What scene will immediately follow it? 
  • Why is this scene the most fundamental scene of your novel? 
  • Does it bring together the various plot layers and subplots of the novel? What will make it satisfying, do you think? 

Also consider these questions:
  • What do you like in an ending, generally? What don't you like? What--to you--constitutes a satisfactory ending or "pay off"? 
  • What are some of your favorite (and least favorite) endings and what made them good (or bad)? What can you learn from them? 
  • How do you feel about having thought through the ending? Does this feel wrong? Does this feel good? Some say you should never know the end, because this takes all the surprise out of writing. Others say it's impossible to write a novel and NOT know the end. What's your opinion?
Remember that your response must be about 500-750 words.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Response 5: Language

Due  before class March 19, MONDAY CLASS, or before class March 20 (TR CLASS)

The topic this week is Language. 

I started this semester by saying "Think scene, not sentence." In this class, I focus on macro issues, because I think that most creative writing classes focus on the micro over the macro. But this week, we get to talk about sentences. About language.

First, read this article on the way in which The Great Gatsby was re-written for younger readers.

Here's the original passage from Gatsby: 

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

In the rewrite, the editors turned those two paragraphs into this: Wind blew through the room until Tom closed the window.

Your assignment for this week is this to answer these four questions:

1.) How do you feel about this rewriting of Gatsby? Is the original excessively flowery and the revision better? Or do you feel differently? How do you feel about sentences, about language, as a fiction writer? To what degree does language matter to you? Do you prefer books that are lyrically challenging or not? How concerned are you as a writer with sentence-level beauty and clarity? Has this class and its focus on scene over sentence, on quantity over quality been easy for you or difficult? (250-750 words)

2.) Of all the books we've read so far (Connell, Henley, Perrotta, Bakopoulos, and Horrocks) how would you rank them if the criteria was "attention to language"? Most attentive to least attentive. 

3.) In each of the four Horrocks' stories, select one sentence that you find striking, beautiful, unique, etc. The BEST sentence in the story. Then rewrite it badly or too simply or awkwardly, etc. What is good about each of those sentences? Change it. Remove it. (So four sentences and four rewritings of those sentences.)

4.) What's one question you want to ask Horrocks when she visits our class next week? You can also read this great interview with her to learn more about her! She says she's working on a novel about Erik Satie. He composed this song, which you have heard, although you may not realize it. 

Enjoy In Print!