The Novella Workshop
Why write a novella?
And why write one before embarking on a novel?
Because the novella is the intermediate step:
more expansive than a short story
but trimmer than a novel.
Later, we’ll sort out the specifics. For now, let’s say the novella is an extended work of fiction: long enough for the reader to get lost in but short enough to be consumed in a single sitting. It doesn’t take up much space. Stow it in your purse or slip it in your back pocket. Read it as you wait in line for coffee.
Novellas used to be considered awkward—too long to fit comfortably in the pages of most literary magazines and too short to be published alone. But, in our current culture, the novella is, as Debra Sparks has said, “Goldilocks form, not too much this and not too much that but just right.”
If you’re anything like me, some of your favorite books are novellas, classics like Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck or To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. You may be partial to contemporary novellas as well: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, Red at the Bone by Jacquelyn Woodson, A House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. And I’m just getting started.
This week-long class is designed for intermediate fiction writers who’ve completed at least a handful of short stories and are now contemplating a larger project, something that requires a sturdy narrative arc. Our class will be a safe space for getting your novella underway. Rather than working with structural units like chapters, we will focus on writing key scenes. (Like stories, scenes have beginnings, middles, and ends and therefore lend themselves to discussion and evaluation.) We will be using my craft book, Writing the Novella (2021), which provides writing prompts, a story map, and lots of advice for moving forward.
Before we meet, you’ll write a scenario or short precis of the projected work to share with me and your classmates. During our week together, we’ll explore the novella form and its history. You’ll draft two or three key scenes or plot points, one of which we’ll discuss in our workshop. Individual conferences will focus on the scenario—where you started and how it’s changing.
While you won’t leave Iowa City with a finished novella in your suitcase, you may return home with the makings of one.
WHAT TO DO IN ADVANCE
Get a copy of Writing the Novella; then, begin browsing your bookshelves for thin spines. Look for your favorite novellas—those you’ve read recently and those you loved as a teenager, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton or maybe The Giver by Lois Lowry. If time allows, read one or more of the novellas I use as touchstones in Writing the Novella: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.
In this workshop, we will generate new writing through exercises and assignments, provide feedback on work you produce during the week, and critique writing you bring from home.