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True Revision for Novelists:

Developing a Practice and a Plan


Instructors: Elana K. Arnold and Eliot Schrefer


Audience: Writers of middle grade or young adult narratives who have completed a first draft


Level: Intermediate to Advanced


Prerequisite: A completed (or mostly completed) draft of a novel or work of narrative non-fiction that you have recently read STRAIGHT THROUGH IN ITS ENTIRETY.


Description: Often, after completing a draft, writers feel disempowered and stuck, not knowing if the work is “good” or how to make it “better.” These terms are not helpful when it comes to revision; instead, we will ask these questions

  • What have I made? (A true assessment of what one actually made vs. what one hoped to make.)
  • Does it satisfy me?
    • If so, what might I consider in order to deepen that satisfaction further?
    • If not, that’s great, too! We can learn through focusing on craft how to re-vision our work into something that is more deeply satisfying to ourselves—making the manuscript more truly what it wants to be.


Attendees in this Creative Lab will learn how to self-identify: strengths and problem areas in manuscripts; areas of craft that are under-considered in their own work; what their personal voice and style are and how to best express them in their work.


Attendees in this Creative Lab will leave with:

  • Newly revised pages of their manuscript
  • A combined full novel diagnostic and action plan
  • A shared vocabulary with a community of potential revision partners


Session One – Saturday, February 11
9:30am – 12pm
What Have I Made? A Full Novel Diagnostic

  • Exploration of protagonist(s) and goal(s)
  • Summary of settings: the “where” of the manuscript, demystified
  • Examining the emotional palette of the book
  • Creating a story map


Session Two – Saturday, February 11
2:30pm – 5pm
What Haven’t I Considered? Expanding the Toolkit

  • Tracing the arc of the protagonist journey in connection with plot and relationships
  • The rhythm of five pages: examining a scene through three lenses
  • Deployment of tension on the paragraph, page, and chapter levels
  • Inquisition into meaning: textual information that helps deepen the thematic questions the manuscript is exploring
  • Analysis of primary, secondary, and tertiary settings
  • Search for black holes: missed opportunities for connections of various kinds


Session Three – Sunday, February 12
9:45am – 12:15pm
What Will I Do Next? Creating the Action Plan

  • A series of small-group exercises to reflect on the journey so far and identify growth areas
  • Facilitated solo writing time to solidify next steps



About Your instructors:

Elana K. Arnold is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning books including the National Book Award finalist and Golden Kite winner What Girls Are Made Of, Printz Honor winner Damsel, and Global Read Aloud selection A Boy Called Bat and its sequels. Many of her books are Junior Library Guild selections and have frequently appeared on “best of” book lists, including Rise: A Feminist Book Project, Kirkus Best Books of the Year, and others. Her work has been called both “devastatingly vital” and “comfortably familiar and quietly groundbreaking.” Elana is on the faculty of Hamline University’s MFA in creative writing and lives in Southern California with her family and menagerie of pets.
Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. In naming him an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times called his work “dazzling” and “big-hearted.” His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and won a Stonewall Honor. He lives in New York City, is on the faculty of the Fairleigh Dickinson and Hamline MFAs in creative writing, and reviews books for USAToday.