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NVL 46 W — Build Your Novel's Narrative Engine: A Blueprint for Success

Quarter: Spring
Course Format: Flex Online (About Formats)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Apr 1—Jun 7
Refund Deadline: Apr 4
Units: 3
Tuition: $1000
Instructor(s): Rachel Howard
Limit: 19
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Flex Online(About Formats)
Apr 1—Jun 7
10 weeks
Refund Date
Apr 4
3 Units
Rachel Howard
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Many novelists start with a great idea, engine revving, only to sputter to a stop partway through a draft, unsure of what went wrong. In this dynamic and practical course for novelists at all stages, we will make sure the gears are in place for your story's narrative engine to drive your book to the finish line. First, we'll identify your story's lines of tension: your novel's compelling "What?" and "So what?" questions. Next, we'll work on what novelist David Haynes calls the "three C's" of narrative engine: character, conflict, and clock. We'll spend extra time on character and conflict because of their complex, interlocking nature, to get a good grip on your protagonist's internal issue before moving on to "clock," a powerful element that helps with pacing, allowing you to build this into your story design. Finally, we'll workshop your first 20-25 pages to help you identify which elements of your narrative engine could be stronger. Throughout the course, we will read carefully selected craft articles and examine published novel openings, along with one complete classic novel, so that you have clear models. Whether you're just starting to build your novel idea or struggling to restructure a shaggy first draft, this course will equip you with the concepts you need to be confident about the road ahead.


Rachel Howard is the author of a memoir about her father’s unsolved murder, The Lost Night, and a novel, The Risk of Us. Her personal essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times "Draft" series, The Los Angeles Review of Books, StoryQuarterly, and O, The Oprah Magazine. She is the recipient of a 2024 National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowship and is working on a new memoir. Howard received an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson College.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Nancy Kress, Element of Fiction: Beginnings, Middles and Ends (ISBN 978-1599632193)
(Required) Andrew Sean Greer, Less (ISBN 978-0316316132)
(Required) Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You (ISBN 978-0143127550)