Advanced Fiction: Novel Writing ENG 407-1

Fall 2013

2:00-3:15 PM   TR RB 284


Professor Cathy Day

RB 266

Office Hours: Fridays 3-6 PM

Phone: 285-8530


The best way to reach me is by coming to my office hours or by the e-mail addresses above (you can expect a reply within twenty-four hours during the week). I keep banker’s hours, which means my email account is usually “closed” in the evenings and on the weekends. I am happy to meet with you by appointment outside of my office hours if necessary; however, if you miss a scheduled appt. without contacting me well in advance to cancel, your missed appointment will count as an absence.

Required Texts:

Tom Perrotta, Election, Berkeley Trade

Rex Pickett, Sideways, St. Martin’s

Julianna Baggott, Pure, Grand Central

Evan S. Connell, Mrs. Bridge, Counterpoint



Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (Writers Digest Books)

James Scott Bell, Plot and Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish (Writer’s Digest Books).

Course Description

I assume that everyone taking this class is 1.) already quite skilled at prose writing and has little to no sentence-level difficulties, and 2.) has attempted to write a novel before or would at least like to begin one. Understand though: you will not “write a novel” this semester, you will start or continue one. By the end of the semester, all students will be required to produce at least 20,000 original words of new work, which means you’ll produce 2000 words a week for 10 weeks. If you have already written an entire draft of a novel and merely want to tweak it, this class is not for you. At this stage in the writing process we will not be overly concerned with the quality of your writing, but rather with the quantity. Of the 20,000 words you produce, 10 will be revised and turned in, along with an accompanying query letter. Our concern is on quantity, not quality; process, not product.

What’s the focus of this course?

  • intense focus on the writing process and on developing a writing regimen
  • writing assignments which will help you gather material, develop your plot, and get to know your characters
  • 10 weekly word count check ins
  • practice creating an outline or storyboard of your book
  • small peer groups for feedback
  • analysis of a few novels that will serve as models

What kind of novel do you want me to write?

I want you to start writing the book you want to read, not the book you think I want to read or you think the BSU faculty want to read. The book YOU want to read. Write the book you’ve always wanted to write but you don’t have time for, the one you think you’re not “ready” for.

Do you expect that everyone is going to publish, or even finish these novels?

If you don’t publish it, you will have gotten your “drawer novel” out of the way. If you don’t finish it, you will learn a lot about yourself as a writer and a person because of the attempt. If you don’t plan to continue writing as a career or even a hobby, you will become a more appreciative novel reader.

What do you consider a novel?

The form of your project can be a novel, a novella, or linked stories/novel in stories, but it cannot be a collection of unrelated stories. Preferably, your novel should be fiction, but I will also allow nonfiction, since all long-form prose writers are concerned with similar questions about sustaining a longer narrative arc, about moving from stand-alone stories and essays to book manuscripts.

How are we going to workshop all these pages? 

There will be no all-group workshop. You will not read everyone’s work, and they will not all read yours. You will get feedback as the semester progresses, but not from everyone, only your group of “beta readers.” You will not get feedback on all 20,000 words from me, as it would be humanly impossible (and counter-productive) for me to read and respond to all the unvarnished words that will come out of your head this semester.

How will my grade be determined?


  1. Weekly Novel Words (10 @ 30 points each)                             300 points                             30%
  2. Reverse Storyboard Project + Analysis                                      200 points                             20%
  3. Blog Post on #amnoveling                                                            100 points                             10%
  4. Reading Quizzes (7 @ 20+ points each)                                    100 points                             10%
  5. Beta Reader Reports (4 @ 50 points each)                               200 points                             10%
  6. Professionalism (online and f2f)                                                   100 points                             10%
1,000 points                          100%


Can you explain what all those things mean?

1.)     Weekly Words (300 points)

You will produce a minimum of 2000 words a week for ten weeks. Due as a Word file attachment via email no later than Sunday at 5 PM. Send to me at my gmail address. Every time you make your weekly word quota, you get 30 points. If you fail to meet your quota—by 1000 words, 100 words, 10 words, doesn’t matter—or if you turn it in late, you don’t get 30 points. End of story. No exceptions. If you forget to attach or upload the document, you don’t get 30 points. End of story. No exceptions.

Rules and Tips:  

1.)     Each week’s submission should be prefaced by the logline and the context in the body of the email. Every single week.

  • Logline: It’s summary + hook.  The purpose is to stimulate the readers’ interest and trigger my memory as I try to keep 15 novels straight. Think: the short descriptions of TV shows or movies when you’re flipping through the channels or browsing Netflix. Every week, you should tweak it and make it better. By the end of the semester, your logline will become your “pitch” in your query letter and will be as perfect as you can make it.
  • Context: a short explanation, such as “Continuing on from last week,” or “These are random scenes not necessarily sequential,” or “I used the Focus prompt and wrote about character by sending her to a therapist.” etc. Note: the Logline and Context don’t count towards your word quota.

2.)     Recycling is okay. Sort of. If your novel began as a short story written for another class or a story or novel you started on your own, 1.) send that document to me immediately and 2.) you CAN use it in this class, as long as you physically retype any words you have already composed.

3.)     Your Weekly Words must be related to your novel project/s. No turning in your American Lit paper or your Creative Nonfiction essay.

4.)     You can work on two projects simultaneously, as long as you indicate that. Some people find this helps them from getting stuck and/or bored. However, you have to pick one project to show your Beta Group.

5.)     You can’t turn in “recycled” or revised words from the weeks before. You must move forward. Every week. Your goal is to get as far into this book as you can before the end of the semester. To that end: There will be a prize awarded to the student who makes the most progress and generates the most words this semester.

6.)     You must compartmentalize your writing process and know the difference between DRAFTING and REVISION. Some weeks, esp. when you’re getting your ms. ready to show your small group, you will need to both produce “new words” (to turn in as Weekly Words) and be revising old words for your small group.

7.)     You can write your novel in order OR as scenes/events come to you. Whatever works for YOU. But you will need to give your Beta Group sequential pages, what you imagine the beginning of your novel will be.

8.)     You can follow my suggested “Focus” each week OR not. These are just suggestions, although I would certainly like to see you apply the concepts we discuss as you build your novel. They may or may not be helpful to you depending on whether you’re a plotter or pantser, and where you are at that moment with your book.

9.)     Your Weekly Words can also be done in a “treatment” or “sketch” style,” meaning that you can write about the book’s plot as a narrative outline/description. Philip Roth says that the first drafts of all his novels are written as 80 page treatments, and then he goes back in and fleshes things out. Although be warned that you will eventually need to have actual “novel pages” ready to show your group.

10.)  Your Weekly Words can be done (all or in part) as journal entries, you talking to yourself about your novel. Although, be warned, that you will eventually need to have actual “novel pages” ready to show your group.

11.)  Your Weekly Words can be handwritten. You and I will have to agree about a formula for calculating how many words = one handwritten page. However, since they can’t be emailed, you will be required to physically hand them in to me by Friday afternoon at 4:30 PM or scan them in and send You’ll get them back in class the next week. And then, you’ll need to start typing them in, because you’ll eventually need to have typed “novel pages” ready to show your group. The person who won the Most Words Drafted in Spring 2013 turned in his handwritten journaling AND his typed novel words.


You will “reverse storyboard” a published book, one of the assigned books or another book I have read. (Go to Goodreads and check out my list of books “read,” or just ask me.) This process helps you move from “just reading” books passively (in order to be entertained or to interpret meaning) to reading books actively (in order to figure out how they work, how they read, how to set up the effect they want their own books to have.) By breaking a published novel down into its component parts—scenes, chapters, sections—you contrive a way to see the narrative in one fell swoop.  The process, while time consuming, has the residual effect of allaying doubt, creating confidence, and demystifying the “magic” of novels—which is a good thing. The herculean task of building your own narrative engine seems slightly less daunting once you have taken an engine apart and reassembled it. You will choose a novel, thumbnail the scenes onto index cards or post-its, and write a short, 2-4 page analysis of what you learned from the process. Here, you’ll apply the concepts and terminology we’ve been learning to a published book. This is why it’s imperative that you take notes in this class.

3.)  BLOG POST (100 points)

I strongly encourage you to create a blog or website if you don’t already have one. Blogger and Tumblr are easier, but I recommend WordPress (trust me on this) and I’d be happy to help you get started. I encourage you to blog about this class and share what you learn with others—this is a great way to practice literary citizenship. Being online doesn’t have to be about narcissism or self promotion. You don’t have to “try to be interesting,” but rather try to be interested in what other people are doing and share good information. What you say on YOUR blog is totally up to you. But what you say on MY blog (#amnoveling.wordpress.com) will be graded. This blog will get a good bit of traffic during the school year. You can cross post it on your own blog and #amnoveling, and you should be sure to include a hyperlink to your blog/website so that people can track you back to your own online home. The rubric I use to assess is available at the end of this packet, and directions are in Google Docs.

4.)  READING QUIZZES (100 points)

The first day we are scheduled to discuss a novel, you will take an in-class quiz—dramatic questions, short answers, some about plot (what happened), some more craft oriented. Each quiz will be worth approximately 20 points. Note: If you miss class the day of a quiz, you cannot make it up. Also note that I’m giving 7 quizzes at 20 points each for 140 points out of 100 possible. Which means you can accumulate lots of extra credit, or take a break and skip a novel.

5.)   BETA READER REPORTS (200 points)

You will type a 1-page single spaced report on each of the packets you read in your Beta Reader Group. This report must address the following:

1.) an overall description of the plot, characters, genre, theme, etc

2.) your experience reading the pages (easy or hard to read, engaging, slow, suspenseful, etc.)

3.) what your major dramatic questions were every 5 pages or so

4.) strengths

5.) one thing the author should work on now (small picture)

6.) one thing the author should eventually work on/think about (big picture)

7.) potential reading list of books that are similar (or too similar).

6. ) PROFESSIONALISM (100 points)

Professionalism describes attendance and participation, but it also encompasses other kinds of classroom behavior and expectations, such as your performance in your small group, your full attention to in-class writing time, your responsiveness in class and online. Please always be on time to class—2 tardies count as 1 absence. An early leave and a tardy both count as half an absence. You are allowed two absences with no explanation needed. Each subsequent absence will lower your grade by 50 points. I will be using a sign-in sheet this term, and it’s your job to sign yourself in. Documented illness (documented by a note from Health Services or your physician) will count as an excused absence, but will not excuse you from handing in the work assigned. During f2f discussions, I expect you to make at least one comment a day. On the other hand, don’t monopolize the conversation or go wildly off topic and stay there. And do not take advantage of the unstructured time I give you to write. This is not a study hall. It’s a novel writing studio, and that’s what I expect you to be doing at all times.


Amount of Work: According to the American Association of Colleges and Universities, I’m expected to assign you at least two hours of out-of-class work for every hour spent in class. Since we meet for 3 hours a week, that means I’m supposed to give you enough to keep you busy for about 6 hours a week. This includes time for writing your weekly words, reading assigned novel for class (both published by others and written by your classmates), completing writing assignments. At the beginning of the semester, it will probably take you more than six hours per week, but by the end of the semester, it will take you much less. This, I think, balances out. If it takes you a long time to read the material or write your weekly words because you’re often distracted, I’m sorry, but this calculation does NOT include Distraction Time. I also struggle in our Age of Distraction, but the work still has to get done somehow. This is why I no longer watch television.

Please note that the first two times I taught this course, students were required to produce 50,000 words (over 3,000 words a week for 12 weeks). Last semester, students were required to produce 27,000 words (2,250 a week for 12 weeks). I have significantly reduced the writing output over time. If you find my expectation unreasonable or too difficult to handle, I recommend you take a look at how you prioritize your time generally, and remember that it takes most people about two hours or less to write 2,000 words—if they write without editing themselves.

MY SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY: 1.) I want you to use SM, but 2.) I want you to use it professionally. This course will introduce you to the ways in which social media will become a part of your professional writing life. When you “friend” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you become a part of my professional network, not my private one, and I expect the same consideration from you. Consider your friend or follow request to me to be the moment you begin your transition from using social media for play and personal use to a more professional approach. If you start complaining about your professors or classes, I will unfriend/unfollow you, and I will berate you. That said: Please join the group #amnoveling on Facebook, create a WordPress profile or blog, and a Twitter account, if you don’t have one. Create a column on Twitter for the hashtag #amnoveling. I encourage you to “tweet” your experience in the class by using #amnoveling or other hashtags associated with its genre or topic, such as #YA or #mystery or one you create yourself. Consider documenting all your writing sessions via 750words.com and sharing them via Twitter or Facebook. (Think of how people use MapMyRun to document their exercise sessions, for example.) I may prompt you to begin or end class with tweet about your goal for that day’s writing session or what eureka moment or moment of panic you might have experienced during class. I want to show you guys how writers use social media as professionals trying to connect to other writers and potential readers, and I want to observe how skilled you are at this b/c I’m always recruiting “Social Media Tutors” and Agent Assistants for the Midwest Writers Workshop.

Using Laptops in class: Related to the above policy, let me say this. If you made an appointment to talk with me, I would not sit there staring at my computer. I’d pay attention to you. I expect the same from you. I expect you to take notes during my lectures, by hand or on your laptop, but I reserve the right to investigate what applications and websites you have open on your computer. Don’t knit. Don’t doodle. Don’t write your Weekly Words. Pay attention. This is a small, intimate seminar setting, and it’s rude and disrespectful if your attention is always elsewhere. There is no reason for a phone to be out during this class. Please turn off or silence your phone during class and put it away. If there is a reason why your phone might ring (your sister is in surgery, for example), please inform me before class.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: Also related. Because I’ve encouraged you to blog about the class, and because I’m not using Blackboard but rather a combination of Google Docs and WordPress to communicate with share information with you, I should probably make something clear: if I’ve put something in Google Docs, that’s because I don’t want to share it with the world, just with you, but if I’ve put something on our WordPress blog, that means you can share it verbatim on your blog, too.

Plagiarism:  If you don’t know what it is, the “Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities: Student Academic Ethics Policy” describes academic dishonesty and its penalties. Academic dishonesty and cheating are serious offenses. If you have any questions, come see me as soon as possible and we’ll talk about it.

Respect: We need to be respectful of one another. Among other things, this means that you are expected to listen respectfully to other students and me when we are speaking and to speak about the work of others with respect.  This does not mean being dishonestly positive with commentary, but try to understand that we are all learning.  Comments that might be taken by reasonable people to be insulting, especially in regards to gender, race, religion, age, and sexual preference, aren’t welcome here.  There may be disagreements in class, but when these disagreements touch on issues of race, gender, religion, sexual preference, etc., we need to be respectful of our differences, even as we are emphatic in our positions.

The Writing Center at Ball State offers free one-to-one writing feedback to all students in all classes. For a face-to-face or online appointment, students should sign up on the Writing Center website. On the website, students can also chat with a tutor, find writing resources, and discover information about other services offered by the Writing Center. Web: http://www.bsu.edu/writingcenter. Email: writing@bsu.edu. AIM: bsuwritingcenter. Phone: 765-285-8387 Room: Robert Bell 291. Mondays-Thursday 10-8 pm, Fridays 10-2 pm

Late Work: While I am a compassionate person by nature, I must be firm on this: late work is unacceptable. Things are due when specified. If you turn in something late, it doesn’t count. If you miss the first 20 minutes of class because the roads were bad or you overslept, I’m sorry, but you cannot make up the quiz you missed.

CONFERENCE: I’m always happy to meet with you. I will read each of your partials, as well as your final revisions. But if you want my feedback, you must make an appointment and come talk to me in person. I don’t email comments.

DISABILITY POLICY: If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a disability, please contact me as soon as possible. Ball State’s Disability Services office coordinates services for students with disabilities; documentation of a disability needs to be on file in that office before any accommodations can be provided. Disability Services can be contacted at 765-285-5293 or dsd@bsu.edu.

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