So You Want to Start that Novel
Use your characters and conflict to finally start your novel. This half-day workshop will provide techniques, exercises and inspiration you need to move forward.
So You Want to Start that Novel
William Faulkner says the novel, “begins with a character… once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
All stories are about people, even when they're about a cricket in Time Square or men from Mars. If you want to start a novel, start with the people who inhabit it. Once you get to know your characters, they help you write your novel—every step of the way. Come get inspired to take the first step: bringing your characters into conflict.
Conflict starts with people we care about. The best stories stay with us because their characters are memorable. It’s through the main character’s struggles that the deepest revelations of your novel come to light. Idealized characters whose lives go on without a hitch might be fun to fabricate, but they bore your readers. On the page, they must face conflicts and struggle to overcome them.
Character conflict informs the whole structure of your novel—also known as plot. As the tension escalates, your readers are won or lost. How do you create an intriguing, unique plot that wins over your readers and keeps them guessing? Begin by becoming intimately familiar with your main character, inside and out.
Throughout the session, you’ll challenge yourself to tease out tension by developing a three-dimensional protagonist who is:
- Credible: Details flesh out character. A benched ballroom dancer is sure to know all the moves she longs to be dancing, a car mechanic the parts of an engine he’s challenged to fix. Use particulars that evoke your character’s world, and you’ll create dynamic characters who respond to conflict in a believable way.
- Surprising: Combine familiar characteristics with unexpected traits. The clash provides room for internal conflict, and great potential for external tensions. Imperfections and quirks make your characters believable, and give them something to progress toward in the story.
- Devilish and Angelic: Characters are never all good or all bad. The clash of contrary traits heats things up. Flaws and vices mean vulnerability, which equals potential for tension.
- Tried and True—with a Twist: In trying times, a character’s true nature is revealed. The situations your characters are up against must force them to make choices—and leave them to deal with the consequences. The more difficult the choices, the greater the conflict, the better the payoff for the character—and your story.
- Interconnected: Characters, like ourselves, don't find it easy to take difficult paths. Antagonists, the external environment, family, friends—they all compel characters make choices. And the conflicts between character and environment (other people, places, things) move your novel forward, heighten tension, and sustain a reader’s interest to the bittersweet end.
As Steven King says, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” In our half-day together, lively discussion and thought-provoking exercises will help dissolve your fears. You'll apply what you learn to your own novel, on the spot, and leave with tips—like dialoging with characters—that spark surprises and promise tension on every page. Even if you come with only an empty notebook, you’ll leave with some details, characters and possibilities on its pages.
Angela Rydell, MFA, has taught creative writing through UW-Madison Continuing Studies since 2006. Programs include Write-by-the-Lake Writer's Workshop & Retreat, School of the Arts, Writers' Institute, and Weekend with Your Novel. She has taught at Edgewood College, in the national program Senior Summer School, been a poet-in-residence in elementary schools, and is the lead judge for the 2010 Wisconsin People & Ideas poetry contest. She is a recipient of Poets & Writers' Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. Her work has appeared in Poets & Writers, The Sun, Alaska Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Orchard Review, and other journals.
What former students have said about Angela
By phone: Call 608-262-7942 or 800-725-9692.
By mail: Print, complete and mail the Continuing Studies registration form.Online: Secure online registration is available for this program.