The First Fifty Pages of the Novel
with Sandra Novack
January 25, 2023 | 10 Weeks |
Agents, editors, and readers alike all make many intellectual and intuitive judgments based on what I loosely call the “the beginning” of a novel. Think about it. How many pages do you give a book before you say, “m’eh” and put it aside so that you can move on (happily, blissfully) to something else? Or how many pages before you cancel your date night, take the phone off the hook, and order take-out, all so that you can immerse yourself in another world more tempting than this one? Is such a decision-making process always fair or totally objective? Sometimes, but not all the time. And it certainly shouldn’t discount the importance of the entire book, which may, despite a slow start, wow and thrill and move us in the end, or, sometimes (just as easily) not deliver on its grand, initial promises.
For each person, the notion of “the beginning” might be different, of course. It might cover fifty pages, five pages, or even five paragraphs. Still, it’s as good as any a starting place for thinking about your own work and how it invests a reader, or doesn’t. And from a technique and crafting perspective, if those first 50 pages, which lay the groundwork for the entire plot, aren’t working, more problems will often mount up, exponentially, as you write beyond them.
The course was the best of many writing workshops I have taken over the last fifteen years. And that includes those I attended for my MFA.
This class, for beginning and experienced writers alike, starts at page one and encourages weekly submissions of up to five pages (double-spaced, 12 font, Times New Roman), so that, if you are diligent, you will have submitted your first 50 pages for feedback by the time class ends. Each week we’ll also cover topics on technique and craft that will help you revise and strengthen your work.
It’s a great class for those who are taking my outlining class and want to submit actual manuscript pages. It’s also great for those who’d like specific feedback on their opening pages.
Introductions. Your Goals. Topic: Investing readers. What does a good opening do? Does it need to do everything?
Characters: Creating memorable ones. Characters defined through action. Characters defined through depth, emotion.
Conflict, Part I: Conflict interaction. Escalation and tension.
Conflict, part II: Tightening conflict interactions, character relationships.
Scene. Weaving, setting up scenes with an eye toward character development and overall climax.
Setting and atmosphere: making them credible. The role setting plays in overall tone, how setting helps build character, how it helps build plot.
POV: What it is, what it does, techniques for point of view in the novel. Too few POVs? Too many? How that choice depends on your plot and story.
Dialogue. How it deepens and defines character, how it moves the story along, how it creates modulation within the narrative. Summarized thought vs. dialogue.
The devil is in details: Polished writing and language. The role of research.
Revision, and beyond.
Student Feedback for Sandra Novack:
Sandy is the best instructor I have ever had for any course. Her insightful comments have consistently assisted me improve my fiction writing. I consider her an invaluable asset. Jill Stegman
Sandy is AMAZING. She gave solid, detailed feedback for every one of us students. I don't know how she does it. She made me feel like I was really important and she followed along with my story with incredible insight. Her rapport with us was wonderful. Lesa Willison
Sandy is an absolutely outstanding instructor. She has a gift for pushing you to be better without taking away what makes your writing your own. Her questions and comments are always incredibly insightful, and it's obvious she's given your piece her full attention. Kathy Keats
Sandy was an excellent teacher. I only wish the class had been longer, as working with a kind teacher and supportive classmates was such a positive experience. Sandy offered insight and suggestions with kindness and supplied many additional resources. Her feedback was timely and I could tell she was genuinely invested in helping her students grow and learn. I would definitely take classes from her again. Kristina Northy
It was very helpful as a way to jump start one's writing discipline, and receive some useful feedback on the work. I give it high marks. Sandy was a very good and insightful reader/critiquer of the work. Jeffrey Vamos
The instructional material, discussions, and critiques have been very, very valuable and delivered with honesty laced with respect. The recommendations for checking out literary fiction agents touched me more than you can know. I don't have a lot of self-confidence, but [Sandra] has done a lot in helping me check back in with myself and let me know that I'm a capable writer. Carla Serenko
My knowledge of how to construct tension is significantly improved after taking Sandra's class. Her reading assignments were not only helpful but also included a variety of outside reading for further clarification. I learned more about my own writing through Sandra's critiques and observations. I highly recommend Sandra's class. Sharon Ransom
Sandy goes above and beyond the call of duty. A teacher that LOVES to teach and takes care of each of her student with so much dedication and enthusiasm. Karin Reimondos
I am so thankful for having been able to participate in this course! It kept me accountable, the input and feedback from the teacher was inspiring and constructive, and the atmosphere and feedback of my fellow writers was very thoughtful. Antonia Lindner
[The class] offered a focused and constructive environment that actually stimulated me to write without fear. It was the best money I have spent in a long time. Sandy was positive, critical, reliable, focused - everything one could want in a writing tutor...I have already recommended Writers.com to several friends. Heather Walmsley
Sandy was an awesome, thoughtful, compassionate, and generous instructor. Her lecture material was clear, detailed, and thorough. She provided detailed and constructive feedback that was super encouraging. Her generosity of spirit shines through and contributes to a wonderful learning environment. Lisa Robinson
It is the best course I have taken online. Sandy's lectures were detailed and informative. Her critiques were right on. She puts a lot of time, energy, and heart into her critiques and her courses as a whole. I feel after this course I can truly say I am a writer... [Sandy is] the best. I like her direct manner. She gets to the heart of your story tells you what works, what doesn't, and provides examples and recommends other author's writings that help elucidate what she feels you need. Her lectures are, without a doubt, the most detailed and helpful I have come across since taking online courses. Leonard Hardy
Sandra gave excellent feedback and created a positive environment. The lectures were informative and the feedback was positive and instructive. Sandra's gentle questions and perceptive "nits" helped me focus and trim the first 4 chapters of my novel from an unmanageable 200 pages to a more-reasonable 66 pages. Ellen Silberman
A really wonderful course for spurring creativity. Using tarot cards as inspiration led us through the process in such a unique way, it changed my vision of how a story develops and how a character interacts with herself and her world. Michelle Ashley
The lessons provided an enormous amount of material to digest but they were clear and concise, very well constructed. I copied them all and expect to refer to them again and again. Sandy was a wonderful critic. I know she took time and gave careful thought to all the assignments. She went above and beyond in giving examples and suggestions for further reading... I have recommended Writers.com to friends and will continue to do so. -- Lois Sarvetnick
The class was excellent! I was very happy with the lessons and assignments. Sandy was an excellent teacher - I will definitely take any other classes she chooses to offer. She was enthusiastic, informative, and made the class fun. This class, with Sandy and the other students, was one of the best sessions I've had with Writers.com... I've already recommended you to a number of people. I'm looking to sign up for another class next month (at last count, I've taken six classes with you so I think it's safe to say I'll take more...*grin*)... Recommendations?...Keep doing a great job! -- Shelly Hazard
Sandy was terrific. She communicated often and regularly, not only on the writing but in general. She was available and always let us know when she could and could not be online. She was very dedicated and available more than I had expected. Her responses to our writing were prompt and very detailed. She offered praise first and encouragement; her feedback was detailed, specific and relevant. Sandy also offered references to other reading to help support her suggestions and strengthen our experience... Sandy could not have done any more than she had. She was supportive and understanding...I am currently taking another class now, and I have recommended your classes to my writing group and to many others. I am very pleased with the content of the classes, the professionalism, attention and availability of the instructor as well as the calibre of students taking the course. -- Cheri Valentine
Very happy with the class content and the assignments. The teacher was great! Her comments were always very well thought out and supportive. She showed a lot of faith in my writing efforts and was a wonderful cheerleader, yet gave constructive criticism so that my work could improve... Sandy understood that sometimes we needed to focus on our current story rather than take our eye off the ball and write an unrelated assignment. I also liked the fact that she offered a variety of assignments so that if something wasn't quite our cup of tea, there was something else there that we could get our minds around... I have recommended you to a couple of friends ... I mention your classes a lot -- I am currently in my third class with Writers.com and feel confident that I will take more. It really fits into my life (due to real world situation, I am unable to commit to a class in the physical world - this is wonderful because I can participate at midnight if that's the only time I can find the time). ... I am very interested in taking another class with Sandy -- if she does a Part 2 to this class, I would LOVE to take it. -- Shelly McIntosh
Sandy was great. She was supportive and generous with her feedback. I felt the class offered a great deal towards helping me as a writer. I would definitely take another class with Sandy. -- Barbara F Ladner
Sandy was a great instructor. Her comments to me and everybody else always felt on target, and I got the push I needed to continue on and (I hope) finish this thing with a different character narrating than I started with. She's insightful and gives thoughtful feedback. Dianne King
The lectures were useful in that they made practical sense. Often teachers of writing provide general, vague and over-arching material that does not give you specific, useable direction. Sandy's lectures were comprehensible and applicable to my work. The assignments were great. Not only were they useful tools in practicing certain styles and approaches to writing, but they allowed me new insights and approaches to things I've been working on. Also, as a result, I now have outlines to new stories I hadn't even considered..... Sandy was the most thorough writing teacher I've ever had. Her feedback and advice were useful because her approach was practical. She has a talent for getting at the heart of the work, and for providing specific, comprehensible critiques. -- William Young
Yes, the lessons were very insightful and the assignments were appropriate to the lessons and challenging. [Sandy] was fantastic! As a teacher myself, I was amazed at the amount of time she was willing to give to each and every assignment. Not only did she write lengthy commentary, she provided in-text comments which were always helpful. Her manner throughout was both support and constructively critical -- just what a fledgling writer needs!! In short, I could not have been more pleased. I am already signed up for a second course that will begin in a week or so. -- Jeff Namiotka
I think [Sandy] goes above and beyond the call of duty. She is very encouraging and affirming and gives very useful feedback and suggestions in ways that are easy to hear. I'm sure I'll take another class with Sandy and I would heartily recommend her classes to others. -- Sara Perry
I was very happy with the class content. I learned a great deal. The lessons were exceptional. Over the years I've collected a good number of writing books, but Sandy's class made me want to just toss them. She explained everything in a clear, concise manner. Sandy put a great deal of herself into the class. The classes weren't just thrown together, but had been considered thoughtfully and were very informative. Sandy's insights into writing are exceptional as well. I came away with a solid knowledge base as well as the belief that maybe I CAN write! ..... I just wanted to add that I've taken several Writers.com classes and that Sandy's class is by far the best I've taken, even beyond Writers.com. She's an excellent teacher. -- Cathy Paul
I was both impressed and amazed with the class content. Sandy gave us tons of info and lots of choices for writing assignments. She was also very flexible about what we sent in for the assignments. Her lectures were informative. Sandy must spend days going over all the homework assignments.... I found her critiques to be thorough and informative. She took the time to give us lots of help, both grammatically by suggesting changes in the text and with a summary piece of her overall impression and more suggestions. She took the time to answer our questions, even giving us some extra material to go with her answers. -- Sherry Tuxbury
This was one of the best online classes I've taken. Sandy does a terrific job. Her feedback is insightful and encouraging. I learned from her comments on all of the submissions, not mine alone. She runs the class well, too. All in all, it was a great success. -- Julie Sternberg
I enjoyed the class and it was very helpful, beyond my expectations. -- Diane Laughrun
Sandy did a good job of keeping up with each of us in the class. She was responsive and helpful. The content was all very well organized and presented. The information was relevant. I have already recommended your classes. I will probably take another. Gerry Forth
Sandy Novack is a knowledgeable and effective teacher. Here feedback frequently spurred new ideas and pointed out gaps in the story.. I loved the lessons and assignments. The lecture material was relevant and useful. Using a five page, weekly submission format allowed a deeper focus on story and structure. Yes, I would recommend this class, and yes, I would take another class with Writers.com. Debra Johnson