Iowa Summer Writing Festival (Fall 2023 to Winter 2024)
Course: The Novella Workshop (a six-week online workshop)
Presenter: Sharon Oard Warner
Sessions, Mondays, January 15 to February 19, 2024, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm CT
Visit the UI Learn website for details: fee and registration.
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.
This workshop focuses on the novella as an extended work of fiction: long enough for the reader to get lost in, but short enough to be consumed in a single, longish sitting. 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, to quote Debra Sparks, a “Goldilocks form, not too much this and not too much that but just right.” For the convenience of publishers, novellas are often marketed as novels. Novellas don’t take up much space. Stow one in your purse or slip it in your back pocket. Read as you wait in line for coffee.
Rather than working with structural units like chapters (novellas don’t usually have them), we will focus on the narrative arc and the key scenes. In the last four weeks of class, we will spend half of each session workshopping your scenes. Expect to workshop one scene per week or four scenes in total. Why work with scenes? Scenes are the building blocks of all narratives, regardless of form. They have beginnings, middles, and ends, which means they lend themselves to discussion and evaluation. But they’re not as lengthy as a chapter or a story.
Expect to spend several hours a week reading and writing in preparation for our Monday morning sessions. If you are already percolating a plot, you can get a head start on the class. 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.
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. And you’re probably 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.
Browse any of the dozens of novella listicles online to see what I mean:
- 60 Short Books You Can Finish in Basically One Sitting
- 20 Extraordinary Books You Can Read in One Sitting—Esquire
- 11 Short Novels from around the World That You Can Read in One Sitting—Electric Literature
The class is appropriate for fiction writers who have completed at least a handful of short stories and are now contemplating a larger project, something that requires a sturdy narrative arc. Ours will be a safe space for trying on ideas, introducing characters, and asking lots of questions.
In our six weeks together, participants will:
- Explore the novella form and its history.
- Identify a touchstone novella.
- Create a story map.
- Draft four key scenes or plot points.
Each participant will meet with me for a 30-minute conference—either early in the course or shortly before it ends.
Iowa Summer Writing Festival
Magid Center for Writing
University of Iowa
24 Phillips Hall
Iowa City, Iowa 52242