If You Go to the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop…

You’re going to want to rewrite your entire novel.

But that’s a good thing. Because after a week of thinking, talking and breathing your novel with the amazing faculty and your new writer friends, you’re going to know exactly what you need to do. And more importantly, you’re going to know how to do it.

Honestly, I wish I had some ruby slippers for all you children’s writers (or really, any novel writer) so you could click your heels and land in Honesdale, Pennsylvania for the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop. But ruby slippers are not exactly easy to come by. So I’ll just share a few of the things I learned on my journey and maybe something will be exactly what you need, too.

I’m going to start with Janet Fox and Karyn Henley, two wonderful authors who were there as our teaching assistants. Our first class was all about the importance of finding that one sentence, the line you’ll use for your query, the sentence that encapsulates what your novel is all about.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why would you start with that one line? Isn’t that the pitch you’ll use to get an agent after your novel’s done? Well, yes, it is. But if you’ve written a novel and you’re working on revisions, shouldn’t you know before you start revising, exactly what your novel’s about?

And now you’re thinking, well of course I know what my novel’s about. I just wrote it, didn’t I?

Hold on a minute–I just splattered my tea across Precious the Laptop, I was laughing so hard. Because I’m remembering how hard we all worked to figure out what our novels were about. Holy cow, that took some thinking. But here’s a few exercises you might want to use that helped me get to my sentence…

If you haven’t written out your synopsis, that’s a good place to start to find the heart of your story. Janet (she ‘s the lovely writer on the right, looking brilliant) suggested an exercise where you can find your story question. Plug in the following statement:

_____________(protagonist) must ________________(protagonist’s goal) by _______________(conflict with antagonist) only to realize ___________________(what the character learns that helps him/her grow).

And she gave us this example: Dorothy must defeat the Wicked Witch who stands between her and home by marshalling her friends and resources only to realize the power to go home was within her all along.

I told you she was brilliant! (And it’s not just for novels. You can use the story question for any story–check out your favorite short story, or even a picture book and practice coming up with the story question.)

And Karyn suggested this lovely little acronym for keying in on your query sentence: PACTS.

P= Protagonist, A= Antagonist, C=Conflict, T=Twist, and S=Setting

(And P.S. It must work because Karyn’s latest novel came out while we were workshopping!)

And what I love about the PACTS acronym is that you can (and should) use it in every scene of your novel to keep your story on track. And that’s really the value of knowing that one sentence. Keeping in mind what your story is about–through the entire story–is extremely helpful.

It just might save you from rewriting your entire novel for the upteenth time. (Which I need to get to right now. But first, I’m going to need a few cookies.)

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16 thoughts on “If You Go to the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop…

  1. YAY! So glad you got to go and are now safely home and are telling us what you learned.

    I wish I could afford to go to two Founders’ Workshops a year. I’d settle for one every couple of year, even.

  2. Great tips! Don’t you just love hearing things that give you an AHA moment in your writing?! Can hardly wait to hear more!

  3. Cathy-On-A-Stick! That’s brilliant! You captured the essence of us “loft-people” perfectly with your humor. Too bad those “down-under” folks were chased away by our foot stomping hysterics. What they missed, being so serious—

    Actually, in serious seriousness, what you have here is so good I cannot wait to read more ~ tomorrow? And I agree, don’t you wish you could send all your writer friends to Band Camp? I told my family that workshop changed not just the course of my novel, but my entire career.

    What a difference a week makes.

    • Nanci! We should have had a name…like the Loft Loonies (which sounded better in my head–)

      So glad you dropped in–I almost begged you for some photos, but then I found Janet and Karyn. I’m not sure what I’ll do about tomorrow’s post–maybe use book jackets?

      But honestly, if I were a rich (wo)man, I’d stuff all my writer friends in a plane and send them to that camp. Life-changing. And novel-changing, now that I think about it. 😉

  4. Oh, I feel like I am back in The Barn working on those sentences with Cathy on a stick. What a great week we had in the wooded mountains of PA. I’m with you–ready to sign up for every workshop the Highlights people offer. Okay, now back to reality.

  5. You’ve just given me a chore that will keep my mind occupied all afternoon. In a good way. Great advice, and poor Sequins has gone through so many overhauls a mission statement is a great idea. Off to ponder.

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