The message baked into that question: I want to write a novel but I’ve never taken a fiction writing class before and there’s nothing called ‘Novel I’, so what do I do?
And the answer: take Fiction I.
Because Fiction I is going to teach you the how-to’s of writing a piece of fiction, whether you’re wanting to write a short story or a novel.
The basics of fiction are the same for short stories as they are for novels: character, plot, point of view, description, dialogue, setting/pacing, voice, theme. So, by taking Fiction I, you’d be grounding yourself in what you need to build either type of piece.
I’ll let you in on a secret though: if you call our office, we’re going to nudge you ever so gently towards writing short stories first. Why? A few reasons.
One, it’s easier to learn the beginning/middle/end of the storytelling process working on something short than on something long. Novels have so many moving parts—multiple characters, long spans of time, often more than one location, sub-plots and story threads—and at the beginning, it’s enough to just understand the basic building blocks of making a story.
Two, it’s more…doable to craft something relatively short than it is to generate several hundred interesting, transporting, meaningful pages.
And three, there’s something very motivating about finishing something. Spoiler alert: novels take years to finish. But short stories take…well, less time than that. And, where it can be daunting, or even discouraging to go years without feeling the satisfaction of typing the words ‘The End’, think how energizing the opposite would be.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Writing a short story is not easy. Imagine the kind of skill, restraint, deftness it takes to bake the perfect cupcake. Writing ‘the perfect’ short story flexes those same muscles. But still, you’d probably have an easier time baking 12 perfect cupcakes for the school bake sale than a multi-layered wedding cake with frosting and filling and fondant ON YOUR OWN WEDDING DAY. Which is kind of what writing a novel is like.
I know, I know, you still want to write the Great Novel. But if you could craft a stand-alone short story around your novel-to-be’s main character, couldn’t that help you write that novel down the road? And build you as a writer in the process?
So, start with Fiction I. Learn your craft. Embrace the short story. Finish something. THEN take Novel II and tackle that big ole cake, with a confidence you’d never have had if you’d just jumped into the novel first.
That’s the long and the short of it. But, of course, give us a call if you want to talk more.
How many times have you tuned in to watch the first episode of a much-touted new TV show, only to say to yourself or anyone who’ll listen:
“Are they kidding?????”
Yup, many a misstep has made it to the small screen (Quarterlife, anyone?) And leave the writing-inclined among us saying “I could soooooo do that better!”
And with so many more outlets available than ever before – network and cable, streaming and web series, live-action and not – there seems to be more hunger than ever to get into the TV game.
But the great pilots, the truly great ones – The Sopranos, The West Wing, Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, Community – are incredibly hard to write. Not impossible. I mean, it’s been done, right? But so, so hard. You have to establish the world of the show, establish the characters, chart a long-term course, AND tell a mini-story that’s worthy in and of itself.
And you have to do all that while navigating the particular nuances of storytelling for the small screen, from story beats to weaving storylines together to ‘sitcom vs. drama’.
Which is why we ask that folks do take TV Writing I before TV Writing II/Pilot.
In TV Writing I, you learn the TV ropes by studying the greats and then by trying your hand at a script for one of those great shows that inspire you. You get a handle on this unique storytelling form, and maybe even put some already well-drawn characters into a situation you might put your own characters in down the road.
It’s plenty challenging to write a TV ‘spec’, but a whole lot more doable than jumping into the deep end of a pilot if you’ve never written for television before.
What scenario could you cook up for the characters in This Is Us to wade through? How about the folks in Black-ish? Or Bojack Horseman? Spend some time in one of those wonderful sandboxes. And then go off and create a sandbox of your own.
We’re happy to help at both stages of the game,
This one comes in all the time. And we get it. When people think of ‘creative writing’, most think ‘fiction’.
Maybe it’s because that’s what ‘creative writing’ meant in grade school.
I remember being in 4th or 5th grade and having a creative writing ‘module’ in English class. And the focus was on making things up. It’s possible there was a flip-book involved or some version of a group story-writing experience, where the teacher (Mrs. Slain? Mr. Terban?) gave us a premise and everyone added their bit. But whatever it was, it was about spinning stories from our imagination.
At Gotham, when we say ‘creative writing’, we mean something…broader.
Creative Writing 101 introduces what storytelling is whether you’re telling a true story or letting your imagination fly. The class uses lecture, discussion, and weekly exercises to teach stuff that’s common to all stories, like story structure and character. But it also sharpens powers of imagination, observation, description, so newer writers (or vets wanting to shake things up) learn to look at the world through a writer’s eyes and mine what they see for story ideas. And it lets you wade into the writing waters slowly, so you build confidence: no big projects, just a chance to try it all out and see where the heat is.
Fiction I teaches the how to’s of tapping into your imagination and writing short stories or maybe, down the road, a novel. It breaks this one particular kind of writing into its fundamental parts—plot, character, dialogue, point of view, etc.—using lecture, discussion, examples, and writing exercises. Plus you get the chance to work on a story or two of your own design and get feedback on it from the instructor and the group. And give your peers feedback, too.
So, once more with feeling:
CR101 = general storytelling, lasts 6 weeks, weekly writing but no major project.
Fiction I = specific, lasts 10 weeks, weekly writing AND yes major project.
Which is right for you? Give us a call and we can talk it through!
Dana Miller is Gotham's Dean of Students and Director of One-on-One Services.
Let’s see, our teen classes are definitely creative writing classes. Except for our Grammar for Teens, which we run from time to time in NYC they’re all about storytelling and are designed to help younger writers find and unleash their ability to create on the page.
So whether it’s Unbound, our general creative writing class that sharpens powers of imagination, observation, and description so that teens start looking at the world through a writer’s eyes, or True Story which has teens trying their hands at writing articles and short personal essays with an eye towards that all-important college essay, or Action which introduces them to the world of writing scripts—the goal is the same. Our classes are for teens who love to write. They give them permission to let go of the need for right answers and the grab for good grades and just tell stories. True ones and made up ones. Stories for people to read and stories for them and their friends to act out in living rooms and garages with their iPhones documenting the event.
But will that help with book reports and research papers? In subtle, indirect ways, sure.
The more you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, the better all of your writing is likely to become. With practice and consistency and attention, the idea of writing anything becomes less daunting, less mysterious. And when you’re more comfortable doing something, that something tends to be better.
Plus, learning how to organize your thoughts when you’re mapping out a short story about twin sisters who save their school from a band of bullies, or an essay about your first political rally, or a one-act play about a dog that becomes mayor of a small New England town works the same mental muscles as organizing your thoughts about Jane Eyre for English class.
So yes, come take a Teen class with us and we wouldn’t be surprised if you reported back to us that your teachers were super pleased to see how much better a writer you’ve become since last year. But you can take the class just for fun, too. Because sometimes it’s okay to do something just for fun. We won’t tell.
Gotham's Children's Book courses cover the full spectrum of children's books, ranging from picture books for the very young to "young adult" novels for teens. Many children's book authors write for various age levels, so it makes sense to group all these age levels together.
If you are working on a "young adult" novel and you don't wish to be in a class where books for younger children are discussed, then you may take one of our other fiction courses (Fiction/Novel, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery).
Creative Writing 101 deals with fundamental creativity in prose writing, any kind of prose writing, both fiction and nonfiction. Creative Nonfiction 101 focuses on the more creative forms of nonfiction, including memoir, personal essay, feature articles, profiles, reviews, and travel writing.
Both courses are great entry points for writers. The chief difference: Creative Writing 101 deals with both fiction and nonfiction and Creative Nonfiction 101 deals only with nonfiction.
Fiction refers to work that is entirely or partially fabricated. Many works of fiction draw heavily on true-life experiences, but they should not be entirely true-to-life. Memoir refers to work that is entirely true-to-life, with perhaps a tiny bit of storytelling license or name-changing. If you want to make some things up, or avoid offending anyone, then go for fiction. If you want to tell "real" stories derived from your own life, then go for memoir.
If you're working on a memoir, then take a Memoir course. If you're working on a nonfiction book that is not a memoir, then it's a little trickier.
Nonfiction books that are not memoir enter the market as a nonfiction book proposal—a detailed analysis of the book, along with sample material. (Memoirs are sometimes sold on the basis of a proposal, but more often than not, they are sold as a finished manuscript.) If you want to see if you have a viable book idea, or refine your book idea, then take the Nonfiction Book Proposal course. However, this is more of a "selling" course than a "writing" course.
If you want to focus on the writing, then you could take Article writing if the book is largely objective and journalistic, or you could take Essay & Opinion if the book is largely subjective and grounded in your personal views. In these courses, students work on short-form pieces rather than books, but it's good to start with shorter pieces, just as we encourage fiction writers to work on short stories before they tackle novels. The short pieces you work on might well end up in your book and you will improve your writing by working on these shorter pieces.
Absolutely. You can work on any kind of fiction in our Fiction and Novel courses. But if you're working on "genre" fiction, you may prefer to take one of our "genre" courses—Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy.