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WSP 347 — The Keys to Your Novel: Scene vs. Summary

Quarter: Spring
Day(s): Sunday
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 1 day
Date(s): Apr 22
Time: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Drop Deadline: Apr 15
Unit: 0
Tuition: $245
Instructor(s): Sara Houghteling
Limit: 25
Status: Open
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Apr 22
1 day
Drop By
Apr 15
0 Unit
Sara Houghteling
Most novels move between two narrative modes: showing versus telling, or scene versus summary. In a scene, the reader experiences the novel’s events seemingly in “real time.” Scenes conjure the five senses, relay dialogue exchanges, and transcribe interior thought. Summary, by contrast, moves swiftly through time, and requires the author to mark this passage of time. It may include backstory and exposition—more telling instead of showing. This choice of narrative mode is an essential one, determining a book’s voice and pacing, and the plausibility of its characters and plot.

This course seeks to unlock the intricacies of novelistic pacing by investigating when and where to write in scene versus when a book’s best choice is a turn to summary. Prior to class, we’ll read excerpts from the likes of Gustave Flaubert, Ralph Ellison, and Hilary Mantel to guide us in gaining a clearer sense of the landmarks of writing in-scene versus the territory of the summary.

This course is designed for both aspiring novelists and experienced writers alike. By pairing discussion with in-class fiction writing exercises, students will leave the course with an expanded writerly toolbox and a range of ideas to draw on in the future.

Grade restriction: NGR only; no credit/letter grade

Sara Houghteling, Former Nancy Packer Lecturer in Continuing Studies, Stanford

Sara Houghteling is the author of Pictures at an Exhibition, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a San Francisco Chronicle Best of 2009 Book, and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. She has received a Fulbright Scholarship, an NEA Fellowship, a Camargo Fellowship, the Harold U. Ribalow Prize, and the Edward Lewis Wallant Award. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times, Narrative, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Houghteling received an MFA from the University of Michigan.

Textbooks for this course:

There are no required textbooks; however, some fee-based online readings may be assigned.