Spring 2018

Novel Writing Workshop -- WRIT1-CE9357

Text: Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel by Meredith Sue Willis
Available from the NYU Bookstore, from the publisher, and from the usual online suspects.

   Meredith Sue Willis Home    Syllabus
  Various NYU policies    Individual Presentation Dates for Critiquing     
  Some Optional Readings
updated 3-20-18

Class starts at 6:30 P.M.

Click Here for Current Week

Nonevaluative Grade Information



Do you know these contemporary novelists?

Left to right, top to bottom: Colum McCann, Sarah Waters, Kazuo Ishiguro, Walter Mosely, N.K. Jemisin


How about some of my favorite nineteenth century masters?

               Harriet Beecher Stowe                           George Eliot                                 Anthony Trollope                   Fyodor Dostoyevsky                  



And these among the late and great?

Nadine Gordimer                                               Chinua Achebe                  Saramago                  Octavia Butler


Rest in Peace, Ursula LeGuin




Novel Writing (Spring 2018)

New York University Spring 2018 
    February 14 - May 2, 2018
No class 2-21-18, 3-7-18, or 4-4-18
Wednesday, 6:30 PM - 8:50 PM
Manhattan Village Academy, 43 W. 22nd Street, Room 362B 
    Instructor: Meredith Sue Willis
E-mail: MeredithSueWillis@gmail.com 
Homepage: Meredith Sue Willis



Scribendi's glossary of Fiction Writing Terms

The Editor's Blog on Point-of-View and Time in Fiction

  A list of books about writing by well-known writers



Novel Writing Workshop
Syllabus--Schedule of Classes


  • This class welcomes beginning novelists, but moves fast as it is also aimed at writers who are well-underway on a novel and need further discussion and stimulation to continue or restart. We begin with a quick survey of common terms for discussing novels and a look at novel structure in general.
  • During the course of the class, you may bring a total of up-to 50 manuscript pages for critique (some of these pages will be for the whole group, some only for the teacher). For those with longer or revised manuscripts, this course may be repeated.
  • This syllabus will be updated regularly online, so please check this website at least once a week. Access to the website is also available from MSW's home page, look at the top left.
  • Please be prepared to discuss the work of classmates when they present. Assignments are optional and go only to MSW. Discuss with her if you prefer to turn in ten pages five times or two long sections of your novel-- think about how you would like your feedback. Anything you turn in to MSW, however, including the presentation pieces, counts towards the total of 50 pages to be reviewed in the course of the semester.
  • All writing and presentations should be from the novel you're working on.
  • You may request a grade for this course or a Non Evaluative mark. For the Non-Evaluative, please see the attached form.   A copy of this request must be filed with the department. Send it by email to lc9@nyu.edu or kf38@nyu.edu.
  • No letter grade will be given below a B. To earn a B, you must complete 50 pages to the professor's satisfaction plus present work for critiquing by the class at least once. To earn an A, you must complete the 50 pages, present work for critiquing by the class at least twice, show evidence of having done any outside reading, plus participate fully in class discussions.
  • It should be noted that all NYU policies on academic integrity, i.e., plagiarism, are fully in effect in this course. For various NYU policies, click here.
  • Disclaimer: Syllabus is subject to change due to current events, guest speaker schedule changes, and/or level and interests of students.



Session 1.  2-14-18
Welcome to Novel Writing-- and Happy Valentine's Day!    We'll move our novel projects forward through drafting new material, critiques, brief exercises, and conversation.
Assignments: For the first session, please bring 15 copies of a one page summary or outline of the novel (and if you are just beginning, do this as a hypothesis) plus the first page to give everyone in the class a taste of your prose style.

Reading Assignment: In Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel, read "Strategy 1: Separate Process and Product."
In Class Discussions:
  • Structure of the course and structure of the novel.
  • Common vocabulary--Process versus product, pacing, when to dramatize, when to elide.
  • Essential importance of Point of View in all fiction.
  • Scene and summary. What is Scene? Why is it important? The building block of novels.
  • How do we evaluate fiction? What do you read? What kind of feedback do you find most useful?
  • What do you need from this course?



No Class 2-21-18



Session 2.  2-28-18


 Writing Assignment: A passage with all the elements of a good scene: dialogue, action, narration, maybe internal monologue-- and lots of sense details!
Remember: it's your choice to do the assignments or substitute, but everything should be from your novel, and the total number  of pages you may turn in for response from the instructor is 50 (that includes pieces presented to the whole group.)
Reading Assignments:
Material online on Scene if you haven't read it yet.
Read two chapters in Ten Strategies, "Strategy 2: Taste It, Touch It Smell It..." and "Strategy 4 Find Where You Stand--Point of View."
Also, take a look at http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/materials.html#povsamples and http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/materials.html#presenttense.
Look over conventional editorial marks.
In Class discussion: More on point of view and the essential importance of concrete language in fiction.


Weather Cancellelation! No Class 3-7-18 (Watch for Make-up date!)


Session 3. 3-14-18 
Assignment:: A scene with a lot of people in it-- a group scene.  This might be a party; a battle; a bar; a  church dinner; a class; a museum or stadium or other public space; or other. Use some of the people as part of the setting: colorful clothes? a mass of unfamiliar faces? Think about the point of view of this scene: is it being told by someone in the midst of it or from a great distance? Is it first seen in full, as a long shot? Or is it first seen up close, from one character's sense of being lost in the crowd? Or is the point of view from the speaker's platform, from the point of view of someone who is carrying out a subversive act?

Also, do bring in the novel structure worksheet that was handed out in class.

Reading Assignment: (NOTE: the chapters in Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel aren't assigned in order) If you haven't already, be sure to read the two chapters in Ten Strategies from last week: "Strategy 2: Taste It, Touch It Smell It..." and "Strategy 4 Find Where You Stand--Point of View."
Also, read these notes on Grounding and the logistics of crowd control.  Also, take a look at http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/materials.html#povsamples and http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/materials.html#presenttense.
In Class discussion: Structural worksheets; your summaries.
PRESENTATIONS (Schedule below)


Session 4. 3-21-18
Assignment: Write a scene focused on dialogue.
Reading Assignment:   Ten Strategies, "Strategy 5: Master Dialogue and Scene."Also read the material on dialogue at: Dialogue Tags ; Types of Discourse; and " Dialogue: The Spine of Fiction." (article by MSW about dialogue online). To learn techniques for writing inner dialogue, see The Editor's Blog on choices for writing "Inner dialogue."    For a more concise version of this information, see Grammar Girl.
In Class discussion: Books that we find instructive for writing novels. Structuring dialogue and scene. Showing and Telling, Narrating and Dramatizing.
PRESENTATIONS (Schedule below).
Session 5. 3-28-18 
Assignment:  Write a scene focused on a minor character.
Read: Ten Strategies, "Strategy 9: Master Logistics."
 Excerpt from Trespassers.  and brief notes on minor characters if you haven't read them yet. Also see these sample descriptions of minor characters.
In class, physical action loglistics.
In Class discussion: Have the name of a novel in mind that you find instructive, that is, useful for learning techniques of novel writing. It isn't necessarily your favorite novel.
PRESENTATIONS (Schedule below).


No Class 4-4-18 (School vacation)

Session 6. 4-11-18
Assignment: Write a scene that uses a technique from film (establishing shot, jump cut, etc.). Take a look at useful film terms and Closeup-longshot.  
Reading Assignment: Ten Strategies, "Strategy 7: Use Film Techniques."  Also review the second half of "Strategy 9: Master Logistics" about large scene logistics.
In Class discussion: More logistics: the big picture.
Read:   Check out these notes on using the present tense in narrative.
Also, for more on writing physical action , take a look at this passage from one of my novels in which a character is at a political demonstration.
PRESENTATIONS (Schedule below).


Session 7. 4-18-18

Discussion on places to submit work: Get on this list for regular email offerings by sending an email to CRWROPPS-B@yahoogroups.com
Assignment: Write a scene that uses a technique that is especially successful in fiction (time, memory, word play, flashback, summary, interior monologue, etc.) . Read flashback note here.
Reading Assignment: Ten Strategies, "Strategy 3: Explore Characters from the Inside Out." and "Strategy 8: Doing What Novels Do Best"
In Class discussion:  Structure of the novel.
PRESENTATIONS (Schedule below).


Session 8. 4-25-18
Assignment: Write the most important scene of your novel.
Reading Assignment: Ten Strategies, "Strategy 6: Structure Your Novel"
Any further marketing, publishing questions?
Susannah suggested going to Facebook and searching for "Calls for submissions (poetry, fiction, art)" Sign up to get notices.
Here's some online information about submitting and marketing your work in the age of e-books and self-publishing: Take a look at notes on various kinds of publishing at  Publishing Types and Print on Demand. Also see blog post by Veronica Sicoe on why she self-publishes and a Wall Street Journal article about Marlen Bodden, a former student in one of my novel classes who first self-published-- and then had her book picked up by a commercial press. Note: self-publishing should never be you first choice, but it should be on your list of possibilities.

Here are resources handed out in class last week: Draft Notes on Getting Published

PRESENTATIONS (Schedule below).




Session 9. 5-2-18


 Assignment: A revision based on comments in this class. Include notes from MSW and class members.
Reading Assignment: Ten Strategies, "Strategy 10: Revise Your World." Also take a look at my article Seven Layers to Revising Your Novel ( from The Writer (November/December 2012, Vol. 125, Issue 11).
In Class discussion:Revising novels.
PRESENTATIONS (Schedule below).




No material may be turned in for feedback after this date.

Session 10. 5-9-18



(Schedule below).

Reading Assignment: How some contemporay writers revise (from Lit Hub)
Also, if you haven't read them yet, look at Ten Strategies, "Strategy 10: Revise Your World" and at my my article Seven Layers to Revising Your Novel ( from The Writer (November/December 2012, Vol. 125, Issue 11).


Optional: Hero's Journey: Short Version




All assignments should be PART OF YOUR NOVEL. You may substitute any short section for the assignments, keeping in mind that the total submitted to MSW may not be more than 50 pages..












Unorganized Optional Readings

Work by Meredith Sue Willis Available Online:

Feral Grandmothers: Little Red's at Persimmon Tree.

"My Most Embarrassing" short short at Two Hawks Quarterly

"Tara White" as published in Bloodroot Literary Magazine 2009

"Tales of the Abstract Expressionists" as published at Tatlin's Tower;

"Recessional" as published at Coelecanth Magazine

"Scheherezade and Dunzyad" in The Pedestal Magazine


More online fiction by MSW

Some of MSW's Nonfiction available online:

"The Business of Books, by André Schiffrin," reviewed by Meredith Sue Willis (the status of publishing)

"On Cutting," (article by MSW about editing and revising)

" Dialogue: The Spine of Fiction," (article by MSW about dialogue)







The best novelists avoid their deficiencies :

Michael Gorra in his Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece (New York: Liverigtht, 2012), p. 160, quotes Graham Greene's essay "The Dark Backward': "A novelist's individual technique is more than anything else a means of evading the personally impossible, of disguising a deficiency....Lesser writers never realize their limitations. Many great ones stumble over something a hack might do with ease."




From a wonderful old piece on whether writing can be taught by Kurt Vonnegut:


"When the subject of creative writing courses is raised in company as sophisticated as readers of this paper, say, two virtually automatic responses can be expected. First a withering 'Can you really teach anyone how to write?' An editor of this very paper asked me that only two days ago.

"And then someone is almost certain to repeat a legend from the old days, when male American writers acted like tough guys, like Humphrey Bogart, to prove that they, although they were sensitive and liked beauty, were far from being homosexual. The Legend: A tough guy, I forget which one, is asked to speak to a creative writing class. He says: 'What in hell are you doing here? Go home and glue your butts to a chair, and write and write until your heads fall off!' Or words to that effect.

"My reply: 'Listen, there were creative writing teachers long before there were creative writing courses, and they were called and continue to be called editors.'"




Killing the Angel in the House

It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her– you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it–in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds or wishes of others. Above all– I need not say it– she was preened when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: "my dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure." And she made as if to guide my pen. I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself, though the credit right belongs to some excellent ancestors of mine who left me a certain sum of money–shall we say five hundred pounds a year?– so that it was not necessary for me to depend solely on charm for my living. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing.

       -- Virginia Woolf,  From "Professions for Women," in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays, (New York: Haircord Brace Juvenilia, 1970) 236-239.







List of Presenters

Don't forget: if you are reading one week,
bring copies for the class the week before.




Session 2. 2-28-18

Alison Hubbard

Suzanne Martinez


No Class 3-7-18


Session 3. 3-14-18

John Attanas

Dena Ghieth


Session 4. 3-21-18

Monica Sullivan

Rani Mehta


Session 5. 3-28-18 

Claudia Dantoin

David Martin

Susan Amlani


No Class 4-4-18


Session 6. 4-11-18

Susannah Nolan

Brian Naujelis

Steve Sullivan

Session 7. 4-18-18

Suzanne Martinez

Alison Hubbard

Monica Sullivan


Session 8. 4-25-18

Rani Mehta

David Martin

Brian Naujelis


Session 9. 5-2-18

Dena Ghieth

John Attanas

Claudia Dantoin


Session 10. 5-9-18

Susannah Nolan

Steve Sullivan

Susan Amlani






Authors and Works recommended

Cortazar, Julio                           Hopscotch
Ferrante, Elena (Neapolitan Novels)
Federle, Tim                              Better Nate Than Never
Gallant, Mavis
Gass, William                             In the Heart of the Heart of the Country
Goldman, Francisco                  Ordinary Seaman
Goldstein, Rebecca                   36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction
Hawkins, Paula                          Girl on the Train
Irving, John                                   A Prayer for Owen Meany
Karr, Mary                                    Liar's Club: A Memoir
King, Stephen                             11-22-63
Koontz, Dean
Larsson, Stieg                             The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Leonard, Elmore                         The Switch
Lively, Penelope                          Moon Tiger
Marias, Javier                              Heart so White
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia
Murakami, Haruki                        Wind up Bird Chronicle
Patterson, James                        Along Came a Spider
Perlman, Eliot                             The Street Sweeper
Salinger, J.D.                               Nine Stories
Stefansson, Jon Kalman            Heaven and Hell
Toibin, Colm                                Mothers and Sons
Wright, Bil                                     Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy
Dramas: Shakespeare; Wilde, Oscar The Importance of Being Earnest


Novels Recommended by Other Classes

(For books about writing, see http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/resources.html#bibliography)



Various NYU Policies

Course Description:   Beginning with a discussion of the basic elements and structure of novels, the class will include instruction and exercises for those just getting started, as well as a serious exploration of how to organize novels and other long prose narratives for those writers with projects already underway. Writing exercises will cover shaping, establishing tone, exploring character, tightening and enriching dialogue, and working with interior monologue. Topics for discussion will include sustaining interest for the writer as well as the reader, making a place in your life for your novel, and highlighting what novels do that film can't. We will look closely at up to 50 pages of manuscript from each participant. This syllabus will be updated regularly online, so please check this website at least once a week  at  http://meredithsuewillis.com/nyunovelwriting%20spring%202018.html


Course Prerequisites:     Interest in novel writing.


Course Structure/Method:  This in-person class uses short homework assignments, in-class writings, class discussion and regular critique.  Please check the class website (http://meredithsuewillis.com/nyunovelwriting%20spring%202018.html ) at least weekly for changes.


Course Learning Outcomes:   By the end of this course, students will have lengthened their novels and gained insight into how to continue and deepen their fiction.


Communication Policy:   Communicate with the teacher via her email: meredithsuewillis@gmail.com.  She tries to get back promptly, but is a working writer with family and civic responsibilities.


Course Expectations:  Homeworks are due as described on syllabus, but subject to change and substitutions are allowed. See website for updates.  Attendance and class participation are expected.


Required and Recommended Material: There are three kinds of required readings: passages from the text Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel as detailed on the syllabus; any student samples for critique that are distributed; certain short readings online.



NYU Policies: NYUSPS Policies regarding the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Academic Integrity and Plagiarism, Students with Disabilities Statement, and Standards of Classroom Behavior among others can be found on the NYU Classes Academic Policies tab for all course sites as well as on the University and NYUSPS websites. Every student is responsible for reading, understanding, and complying with all of these policies. The full list of policies can be found at the web links below:

• University: http://www.nyu.edu/about/policies-guidelinescompliance.html

• NYUSPS: http://www.nyu.edu/about/policies-guidelinescompliance.html


School Grading Policies: Graduate, Undergraduate and Non-Degree grading scales are very different. Please provide the link to the grading policy appropriate for your course. The links are listed here.

NYUSPS Graduate http://sps.nyu.edu/academics/academic-policies-and-procedures/graduate-academicpolicies-and-procedures.html#Grades 

NYUSPS Undergraduate http://sps.nyu.edu/academics/academic-policies-and-procedures/undergraduateacademic-policies-and-procedures.html#Grades_and_Grade_Point_Averages

NYUSPS Career Advancement (non-degree)http://sps.nyu.edu/content/scps/academics/noncredit-offerings/academic-noncreditpolicies-and-procedures.html NYUSPS Diploma (non-degree) http://sps.nyu.edu/academics/academic-policies-and-procedures/diploma-academicpolicies-and-procedures.html#Good_Academic_Standing


Assessment Strategy:  This is an ungraded class for which grades are available if you want them, but the real assessment is through interactive critique of your work.  You are expected to attend and participate.  To earn a B, you must turn in fifty pages, attend 8 of 10 sessions, and present your work at least once as well as showing evidence of having read other students' work.  To earn a B, you must turn in fifty pages, attend at least 9 of ten sessions, and present your work at least twice to the group as well as respond and show evidence of having read the other students' work.








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