Novelist Rebecca Makkai presents six online lectures on aspects of the novel, addressing the writer’s work plan, novel structure and outlining, backstage decisions, pacing, character, and editing.
There are three common places a novelist gets stuck: page zero, page thirty, and page one hundred. That first sticking point is, of course, about lacking the nerve to begin — while those stuck around page thirty have likely begun with great hope, only to realize either they’re missing the knowledge they need to structure an entire novel, or that they’re not sure what this book is even really about. Those who make it to around the hundredth page have overcome those initial hurdles but are still faced with the great impossibility that is the middle of the novel.
Maybe you’re stuck somewhere else, or maybe you’re not stuck at all — but these six online lectures will give you a novelist’s toolkit for seeing your draft through to completion and beyond.
Lectures will be presented live, with time for Q&A; they will also be recorded so you can catch up on a class you missed or review the material again. No workshopping, reading, or other homework will be required. This class is relevant for those working in any genre of novel.
Our six classes will be:
The Work Plan
We’ll talk outlining (when, how, why), schedule, work ethic, the myth of writer’s block, and how to keep working for the long haul. We’ll also talk about realism regarding the size and scope of the project you’ve cut out for yourself, and how to know when you’re tackling too much or too little.
Structure, Momentum, Tension, Stakes
While there’s no formula for a novel’s structure (and books that tell you otherwise are going to lead you down the path of predictability and cliche), there are some core elements of story structure that transcend genre, time, and culture — ones that it’s best to know, even if only to rebel against. We’ll talk about the arc of a novel, and the momentum and tension and stakes that will keep a reader turning pages.
There are some big, heady decisions we have to make early in the novel process — ones about point of view, framework, the point of telling, the ear of the story, the rules of telling, and the rules of the world. These are the kinds of decisions you can ignore for a little while, until your novel runs smack into its own impossibility. We’ll talk through these choices, what they mean, and how to go about making them.
Pacing, Backstory, and Balance
A common drafting mistake is the Chapter Two Information Dump, in which we learn everything about a character all at once. But another common mistake is not slowing down to give us the information we need in order to care about the character. There are solutions to this paradox! We’ll talk about backstory, memory, and flashback, as well as the cause-and-effect foundations of forward, ongoing action.
Character, Dialogue, Interiority
We expect more out of a novel character than we do from a short story character (who might be quickly painted) or from a film character (who most likely lacks interiority). We’ll talk about creating and sustaining long-haul characters, about the many layers of interiority that can give them life and depth, about mapping character relationships, and about the dialogue that we rely on particularly to bring non-point-of-view characters to life.
Macro Edits, Micro Edits
A completed first draft is simply the moment when you meet your novel for the first time; much, if not most, of the work still lies ahead. We’ll talk about the stamina needed for those edits, as well as strategies and steps for mid-stream edits, full-draft edits, restructuring, rewriting, and retroactive outlining. We’ll also talk about the finer grades of sandpaper we need later on, polishing on the level of the line. And we’ll talk about what to do when a draft is running too long.
About Rebecca Makkai
Rebecca Makkai is the author of the novels I Have Some Questions for You, The Great Believers, The Hundred-Year House, and The Borrower, and the story collection Music for Wartime. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, The Great Believers received an American Library Association Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, among other honors, and was named one of the Ten Best Books of 2018 by The New York Times. A 202 Guggenheim fellow, Makkai is on the MFA faculties of the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe and Northwestern University, and is the artistic director of StoryStudio Chicago. She lives on the campus of the midwestern boarding school where her husband teaches, and in Vermont.
Her work has been translated into 20 languages, and her short fiction has been anthologized in The Pushcart Prize XLI (2017), The Best American Short Stories 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2016 and 2009, New Stories from the Midwest and Best American Fantasy, and featured on Public Radio International’s Selected Shorts and This American Life.
View all Classes with Rebecca Makkai