The University of Iowa

Empowering the Novelist: Tools and Techniques to Guide You in a First Draft

Weeklong July 19 to July 24 2020

You have a story you are burning to tell. You're carrying it around in you but you haven't even started. OR: You're writing but you aren't sure you can make it to the end. It's prime time to learn key concepts, such as the difference between plot, chronology, and structure. What it means for a character to have agency. How to write a scene sequence. It's okay to have "holes" you haven't filled. You can roam the narrative to test the strength of events and the logic of the steps you take in telling them. You will build chronologies of foreground ("now") and background (history). Learn the value of asking "what if?" and "what next?" Test the power of scenes. Develop your protagonist's struggle. You don't have to be tied to your draft; in fact, here's an opportunity to explore new ideas. If you have little written, don't worry; we'll all "practice" on the first day, using an autobiographical exercise to learn basic concepts. In fact, the more flexible you are, the more you will learn. The goal is to test aspects of the story by using skills important to a novelist; to make you confident as you write a draft. In short, the class is about practice, not product.


You will write every morning and read (share) and talk all afternoon. Your peers will be your tribe. You will accrue a portfolio of ideas, passages, questions, templates, and guidelines for continuing to write. Like the cook going to chef school and learning about meringues and sautéing, you will march through a basic curriculum for the novelist, with hands-on practice, generous feedback, the solidarity of a group, and the sheer delight of diving in where the water's great. You should leave with a solid sense of just what your story is and how you want to tell it; good drafts of key passages; and the skill-set that you need to plunge ahead.


In this workshop, we will generate new writing through exercises and assignments; provide feedback on writing you produce in our week.