Novel in a Week


A retelling of "Gilgamesh" set in nineteenth-century Louisiana swampland. A trio of high school students who run away from home. Jewish women in 1492 Spain fleeing the Inquisition. A woman at a public relations firm who needs to make tough decisions regarding her work and her own heart. A boy adopted from Africa who can't acclimate to life in American until he sees his birth mother one last time. A World War II story that was so vast and complicated it reminded us of War and Peace, so its funny and humble author began referring to it as "War and Pieces."

These were just some of the remarkable novel ideas the participants in "Novel in a Week" worked on with me at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in June. Our weeklong discussion included the following questions about each novel:

  • Is the initial conflict enough to sustain a novel?
  • How can we raise the stakes?
  • What does the protagonist want?
  • Who or what is standing in his or her way?
  • How does the climax organically come out the plot? (What is the climax?)
  • How can you go home and finish this wonderful book of yours?  :)

I have been teaching at the festival for about fifteen years now, and every year I derive great pleasure and satisfaction from helping other writers achieve their goals. And the goals are almost always the same: To get down on paper (or on the screen) this idea banging about in our heads in such a way that other people will want to read it.

            What could be easier?
            What could be more difficult?

I was lucky to work with an incredible group of talented, nice, and fun people. I hope they are now doing what I told them to do: which is to ignore laundry and finish their novels--because I can't wait to read them.

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  1. Sounds like a great trip! I'm sure your students got a lot out of those workshops.

  2. Congrats on your new website, Kelly. It's fantastic. And thanks again for helping all of us in the "Novel in a Week" class get our story ideas on track. You were just what my story and I needed.

    1. Thanks so much, Carol! I can't wait to read your finished novel!

  3. I second what Carol said. Thanks for all your insight and help on my novel. It was a very productive week! And watch out, because I will be bugging you for those editing services.

    1. Thanks, Karen! I would love to work more deeply with you and your novel!

  4. Hi Kelly. It sounds like your workshop was rewarding for you and for your students.

    I love the list of questions that you pose to writers They so capture the essence of good literature and good writing. As I read them, it occurred to me that with a few tweaks, I could use them in my 8th grade English classroom for students who have trouble analyzing literature: What is the initial conflict? How does the writer raise the stakes? What does the protagonist want? How did the author put things in the way of the protagonist? What is the climax?

    Thanks for the inspiration (and the mini lesson plan), Kelly!

    1. You are welcome to it, Melissa! Hope you have a great new group of 8th grade students this year!


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