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.)