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Children's Book Writers
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Brilliant Beginnings and Elegant Ends:

A Workshop for Novelists


Instructors: Cheryl Klein and Sarah Aronson


Audience: Writers of middle grade or young adult novels who have the first several chapters of a novel completed (and ideally a completed first draft)


Level: Intermediate



  • Read A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
  • Create a brief, chapter-by-chapter outline/synopsis of your book. (We recommend that you describe each chapter’s events in no more than three sentences, so you can use this outline as a quick reference to the action of your book.)
  • Bring your outline, two printouts of your first chapter (double-spaced, a maximum of ten printed pages), two printouts of your last chapter (ditto), a pen, and highlighters to the workshop


Description: A good beginning to a novel introduces its world, gets the reader invested in the protagonist and other characters, and sets up clear questions, relationships, conflicts, and action to follow. A solid ending brings that action to a satisfying close, leaving the characters, the world, and, ultimately, the reader changed. In this workshop, we’ll look at your beginning and end to examine how each section’s content is positioned relative to the action and themes of your novel and to ensure they’re as effective and elegant as possible. We’ll also discuss the power of beginnings and endings in individual scenes, chapters, and even your writing practice.


Attendees in this Creative Lab will learn:

  • About different kinds of novel openings, and how to determine which is right for your book
  • Where to start the action of your overall plot, and how to use an inciting incident to define the opening stakes and pique readers’ interest
  • What makes a character compelling, and how to establish an emotional connection between your protagonist and readers
  • How to set up questions in your novel and pace their deployment throughout the book
  • How secondary characters can help you say what you want to say (without getting didactic)
  • Prose techniques for keeping tension and interest high through the middle of the novel, using the beginnings and ends of every scene or chapter
  • How to evaluate and reimagine action and emotion to lead to catharsis
  • What the mirror moment is, and how it helps pinpoint your ending
  • A new way of thinking about revision, through the lens of reader anticipation


Attendees in this Creative Lab will leave with:

  • A stronger opening chapter for your novel
  • A better handle on the questions and conflicts driving your book
  • Tips and prompts for discovering the emotional tipping points in your novel
  • Effective strategies for using backstories and themes to increase tension and satisfy reader anticipation
  • Best practices for bringing joy and productivity to your writing


Session One – Saturday, February 11

9:30m – 12pm


  • Introduction to the workshop
  • What hooks us into a book?
  • Character: How to create a compelling protagonist
  • Action: Conflicts, questions, and stakes
  • Ambience: Voice and energy
  • Where and how to begin your book
  • Inciting incidents
  • Backstory vs. frontstory
  • Partner work



Session Two – Saturday, February 11

2:30pm– 5pm


  • Introduction: How to leave your reader thinking or “the ambitious ending”
  • Tips for discussing change
  • Integrating three kinds of backstory to help you find your ending
  • Exercises to determine and use your character’s fatal flaw to set up their internal conflict and catharsis
  • Understanding the many functions of secondary characters to help you increase tension, intention, and change


Session Three – Sunday, February 12



  • How to use these theories throughout the middle of the novel to address issues of pacing and structure
  • The role of logic and understanding reader anticipation
  • How to use outlining tools and scene cards to fuel discovery
  • Reflections and echoes
  • A note on best practices: how to think about beginnings and endings in your writing life


About Your instructors:

Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published a variety of books for kids including Beyond Lucky, The Wish List series, Just Like Rube Goldberg, illustrated by Robert Neubecker, and Brand New Bubbe, illustrated by Ariel Landy. Sarah loves working with other writers in one of her classes at the amazing Highlights Foundation, SCBWI, and Writers on the Net.
Cheryl Klein is the editorial director of Algonquin Young Readers, an imprint of Workman/Hachette. She previously held senior editorial positions at Lee & Low Books and Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, overseeing a wide array of critically acclaimed and successful titles. Cheryl is also the author of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults and four picture books, most recently Hamsters Make Terrible Roommates, illustrated by Abhi Alwar. You can find her online at and @chavelaque.