Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Teaching: The Seven-Day Novel

     The Writing Workshop, a club I advise at Nashua High South, will be writing a novel(ish) in seven days next week. Here's the outline we came up with. The novel will come together (in a publicly accessible Google Doc) on Friday, April 27 (noon to four) if you care to tune into the creative process. I'll send the document link out closer to the day. On Friday, I’ll randomly assign each of my young protagonists a chapter. 
     When all is said and done – cover designed, text “edited,” and blurbs written (likely by Saturday, April 28) – we’ll release the thing under a Creative Commons license and throw it up on Amazon Kindle and various other places. 
     Thanks to John Herman for sparking the idea. Here's the plan ...

The Basics:
n 15 chapters (one per writer); we’re aiming for a novel(ish).
n Each chapter needs to be seven to 12 pages long: Count on writing 2,500 to 3,500 words
n Genre is slipstream
n Write only in third-person limited P.O.V. (The only head you can see into is the main character’s. Pretend the “camera” is just a little above her shoulder.)
n Write in past tense
n Use Word/Open Office formatting tools to double-space and indent each paragraph. (No TABs!)
n Don’t name the chapters. Chapter 1 is “Chapter 1.” Put your byline under the chapter heading.
n Write in Word or OpenOffice, then copy/paste to the Google Doc. We’ll edit in G-Docs, too.
n Keep it school appropriate.
n No fan fiction.
n Write the hell out of it.

Characters: These descriptions are set in stone; don’t be mucking about with them.
Cynthie: Pink-haired CYNTHIE is a princess of GIBRALTERE, an Earth-like planet far, far away. She’s 15 and spoiled rotten. At the story’s start she has a nasty attitude and none of the GIBRALTEREANS are looking forward to her taking the throne. Over the course of the story she should mature and become stronger and kinder, thus ready to take the throne at the end of the book. This story needs to change her, people. When injured, CYNTHIE bleeds glittery purple blood.

Interests: CYNTHIE collects cat knick-knacks but, at the beginning of the story, has never actually seen one. (Cats are long extinct on her planet.) She likes “girly” things but has an interest in professional wrestling. She also likes candy. (Optional: GIBRALTEREANS are pansexual and very romantic, so include a mostly platonic love interest for CYNTHIE in each chapter; just make sure he, she, or it is left behind or dead by chapter’s end.)

Skills: CYNTHIE can crochet just about anything, quickly. Like all GIBRALTEREAN royals, her hair has a built-in danger sense, turning black a few seconds before something bad happens.

Oscar: OSCAR is a talking cat with slightly beyond-human intelligence. He can walk through walls and become invisible (although his green glowing eyes remain visible at such times). OSCAR is quite fat with a sleek gray coat and white socks. His tail was lopped off sometime in his past, and he constantly complains about it. OSCAR refuses to answer questions about his past, responding only with obviously false stories about how he got his powers and lost his tail.

THE ALIENS: The alien KELAD are cyborgs: two pounds of putty-like brain matter encased in 10 pounds of bronze-colored “smart metal.” The smart metal is made up of nanobots that can flow like mercury or become as hard as steel. The smart metal can be used to form bodies that can walk around, pick things up, etc., but can’t form complicated machinery like guns and lasers (think “Terminator 2”). Multiple KELADS can work together to form larger shapes and bodies for various purposes. The KELADS are the sole survivors of KELADEX, a once beautiful planet and, being nearly immortal, can remember how beautiful it was. Thus, they are always depressed and looking to create their new Utopia, KELADEX EL.

Our story: (Chapters will be assigned to individual writers on Friday)

Chapter 1: GIBRALTERE is a beautiful world that looks as though it were made of candy, although it really isn’t (because that would be silly). This chapter needs to describe the planet and introduce the spoiled and rotten princess CYNTHIE. As the book opens, she is preparing for her 15th-birthday party with her friends BEN and JULIE. Before the party can happen, though, the KELAD invade, destroying and capturing all in their wake. CYNTHIE sees her parents die and believes she sees BEN and JULIE blown up before being captured herself.

Chapter 2: CYNTHIE is stripped of her finery and sent to work in the asteroid belt, mining gems used in various KELAD technologies. Many species are in the mine, all victims of KELAD invasion. CYNTHIE meets OSCAR, the first cat she’s ever seen, and they start dreaming up a way to escape the drudgery and danger of the mine (30 miners die each day, from various causes).

Chapter 3: CYNTHIE and OSCAR decide to try to escape via a KELADIAN transportation portal, which has settings for many destinations. The escape attempt should be dangerous, daring and cool. Chapter ends with OSCAR picking a portal setting at random and dashing through the portal with CYNTHIE.

Chapter 4: CYNTHIE and OSCAR emerge on an island of transparent scrap metal in the midst of a vast ocean. It’s a water planet! The mermaid-like inhabitants are being forced to dismantle their cities, made of a miraculous weightless and transparent metal, for transport to and reuse in the KELAD’s new utopia. OSCAR hates water and CYNTHIE can’t swim so, when they meet members of the mermaid resistance, they agree to help them in a sabotage attempt, hoping they can find another portal. During the attempt, which should be daring and fraught with danger, ends with all the mermaid resisters dead and CYNTHIE and OSCAR in possession of a KELAD shuttle craft. They blast awkwardly into space.

Chapter 5: CYHTHIE and OSCAR break orbit but are immediately pursued by a fleet of KELAD ships. The girl and cat work together to fly the shuttle and work the weapons and lead the KELAD on a merry chase. However, at the end of the chapter the reader finds the shuttle has crashed.

Chapter 6: It’s a near desert world of scarcity. Once thriving, the world is now near death. Packs of cute, cuddly, vicious carnivores roam the land, eating anything and anyone they can find. CYNTHIE and OSCAR are chased by at least one such band, and take shelter in a cave.

Chapter 7: In the cave is HERBERT, the last representative of native intelligent life still on the planet. He’s building an escape portal and offers to take CYNTHIE and OSCAR with him, but not before he tells them a very sad story. When HERBERT gets the portal working, CYNTHIE and OSCAR go through, but HERBERT is too slow. The portal either slams shut before he can enter, or cuts the poor, sad guy in half.

Chapter 8: CYNTHIE and OSCAR come out in ye olde London. They meet William Shakespeare, who casts CYNTHIE as Ariel in a production of “The Tempest.” CYNTHIE works and rehearses in peace for several days but on opening night, during her first scene, CYNTHIE’s hair turns black!

Chapter 9: Dozens of disguised KELADS emerge from the audience! CYNTHIE flees and tries to escape in ye olde London. She’s separated from OSCAR. At the end of the chapter, she’s taken by the KELADS and dragged through a portal set up in a bright blue outhouse!

Chapter 10: CYNTHIE wakes to find she’s back on her home world. At first, she’s really happy but begins to wonder why everyone is glad to see her and so eager to talk to her. (Remember, CYNTHIE has a reputation as a spoiled jerk.) They’re asking her questions about the rebellion against the KELAD. It’s a KELAD simulation and CYNTHIE does something brave and clever to shut it down!

Chapter 11: CYNTHIE wakes up again, this time in a KELAD interrogation chamber, on a KELAD space station. She’s been so good at escaping, the KELAD thinks she’s a master spy and super rebel! They want information but she has none! They want to exterminate her! OSCAR to the rescue! He gets her out in some brave, clever way and tells CYNTHIE that he knows the KELAD plot: They are stealing all the good stuff from the conquered planet to create a new utopia. KELADEX EL! CYNTHIE, perhaps emboldened by being reminded of her conquered home, resolves to stop them!

Chapter 12: CYNTHIE and OSCAR use portal tech to search and capture scary bad things from each of the conquered planets, and sets them free on KELADEX EL! The utopia is ruined! The aliens are pissed! They move to destroy the space station!

Chapter 13: CYNTHIE and OSCAR portal away, just missing being destroyed. They end up on KELADEX EL, which has become very dangerous because of all the scary critters CYNTHIE and OSCAR put there. Havok! Chaos! ARGHHHHHHH! The aliens don’t want it anymore. They abandon the planet and set the self destruct!

Chapter 14: CYNTHIE and OSCAR race around trying to escape, but the KELADS up the ante. Using their portals, they take all the “people” off all the conquered planets and dump them on the soon to be exploding/melting KELADEX EL. All of CYNTHIE’S various love interests (at least the ones who survived) are there, too, and they’ve missed her! CYNTHIE and OSCAR save the day in some cool, courageous way!

Chapter 15: A kinder, wiser CYNTHIE is crowned queen of GIBRALTERE and sets about repairing the damage to the planet and the society. At her side is OSCAR and perhaps one or several of her love interests. She is reunited with JULIE and BEN who each tell her different versions of how they survived. Each version seems suspicious. Suddenly, completely different aliens show up and start destroying everything!

The last sentence of the book is: Cynthie looked at Oscar and shrugged. “Here we go again.”


  1. What an awesome concept Rob, I will buy this book ... can I borrow your club to help me finish my book too?

    Oh, and thanks for teaching me a new word (I had to look up "pansexual").

  2. I just learned it myself, thanks to an anti-bullying workshop put on the GLBT organization at school.