A Weekend with Your Novel – A Review

Not that anyone had been clamoring for new blog posts from me, but I feel as if I should note why I haven’t posted anything in months. I wish I could say I’d been writing furiously instead of blogging. Or had been traveling somewhere exotic or simply hiking the Appalachian Trail. But no. The computer crashed in early June and my relationship required a reboot in late June and it was that easy to fall out of the habit of writing and spend time doing fun summery things. As a means by which I could put myself in the path of a writing habit again, I signed up for A Weekend with your Novel one of the offerings from the UW-Madison’s continuing Studies program. It gave me a deadline by which to have the first fifty pages polished (just in case someone asked to see them right then!) and got me thinking about writing again.
Saturday came and I headed downtown early, with the first, informal, session beginning just after 8:00AM. Billed as a “weekend” with the novel, I only spent the one day on campus. Friday and Sunday had opportunities for participating in critique groups, but I opted out of that. My novel – in whole or in part – had been critiqued by my writing group (twice), in a WisCon workshop, various other friends, and my sweetie who, most recently, acted as copy editor. Right now, I didn’t need more people telling me what to change. I had to learn, for myself, what needs changing.
My primary purpose in attending was to focus on the business side. Alas, that didn’t happen. The first workshop was the only one that fit that description: “The Concept and the Query Letter.” The aims of the class were good, and I’ve been impressed with Laurel Yourke before, but on Saturday she didn’t have her best stuff. A large part of it was the large class of neophytes who ate up nearly a third of the 90 minute workshop just asking questions about genre (seriously, people. If you go into a Barnes & Nobles Bookseller, where on the floor would you expect to find your book? Got it? Until the marketing department tells you otherwise, that is your genre). Too many students wanted the “right” answers and Laurel worked hard to give them those answers, seriously hampered by the fact that such answers don’t exist. Laurel warned people off from the Internet as a source of query letter examples without mentioning such invaluable sites like Query Shark.
Laurel did give good advice – and a great handout – on the features of a query letter and what must be in there (name, title of the manuscript, word count) vs what may go in if there’s something to say (what kind of platform do you have?). But the serious work of taking a 100k story and condensing it into a “hook” and two sentence “logline” was given short shrift. I’m not entirely sure what I will need to feel comfortable getting that work done for my own novel, but what I got in that class didn’t give it to me.
The next workshop I didn’t get much out of either. That I lay to me choosing the wrong workshop to go to more than its content. “Trouble & Twists: Making Nice Characters Just Naughty Enough” was not the right workshop for me. I have long had the problem where I don’t want bad things to happen to my characters. I have also had characters that were too perfect, Mary Sues and Marty Stues that could do everything they set their minds to. After listening to the workshop I realized I did not have that problem with this novel. Nor are they too “nice” or in need of some sort of naughtiness. Not that the information that characters need to be more rounded, more alloyed with both good and bad ports is bad information. It just wasn’t the most immediately helpful to me because I feel as if I’m doing much of that. Perhaps that’s what I got out of the workshop, the confirmation that I’m on the right track with these characters after all.
In the afternoon I attended two workshops given by Christopher Mohar. Now those workshops were useful! My novel is somewhere between too long and way too long (I keep hearing different measures for “too long.” If it was anything other than fantasy, it would definitely be way too long. With it being a Fantasy novel, it is probably just too long). Chris’s “Middles: Tone the Spare Tire” has helped me immensely. Or at least, it will when I have a chance to put it all into practice. He gave a tone of very practical information on how to judge if a scene contributed to the story, how to make sure the tension stayed at the pace it needs to be at given where it falls in the story, and more. Because of that workshop and his “Endings” workshop, I spent much of the day Sunday combing through the manuscript for where I can start toning and shaping. I’m confident that I’ll lose some “word pounds” before I’m all done and have a much better novel to show for it.

Until it is on the shelf at the book store, it isn’t finished. At some point, I may be done with it, but until then, I’m going to continue striving to make this the best novel I can.

2 thoughts on “A Weekend with Your Novel – A Review

  1. Hello David,
    Thanks for your comments regarding the WEEKEND WITH YOUR NOVEL event. As a representative of UW Madison's Continuing Studies department, we are always open to hearing comments about our programs. You make some great points here and I'm glad that overall it seemed that you found attending the event to be of some value. As far as the business side of the publishing industry, I would like to let you know that our annual Writers' Institute is held in the Spring-next year's dates are April 13-15 and we will have numerous discussions about the state of the publishing industry along with agents that are hearing your pitches. Please feel free to contact me about any of the specifics about this program. Again, thanks for your frank discussion about this past weekend and keep writing forward…
    Laurie Scheer, Director, 23rd Annual Writers' Institute, lscheer@dcs.wisc.edu or 608 265 3972


  2. Hi Laurie:
    I was very pleased to find the information on the Writers' Institute in my handout. It gives me another firm deadline to aim for and I'm hopeful that I'll have what I need ready for the pitch sessions as well. Thanks for the info.


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