Nancy Sondel's Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop
16th Annual    September 28-30, 2018    Master Class to Masterpiece
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Below, enjoy samples of our most popular weekend themes.

Architecture, Archetypes, Arcs

Are you stuck crafting plot or character, or forging the connections between them? Most successful stories (from novels and movies to stageplays and myths) are built on a powerful tool: the Three-Act structure. Our seminar will explore how this “road map” may create or revise a framework for your unique plot, from grabber beginning to satisfying resolution.

The Three-Act architecture can help you identify your novel’s weak links—pinpointing events that keep your story on track and your fascinating protagonist at dead center. Against this backdrop, you’ll learn how to lay (and exploit) your characters’ motivations, conflicts, and goals.

How well do you know the purpose and function of your cast? In lively hands-on sessions, we’ll contrast fixed stereotypes with the rich diversity, credibility, and depth of archetypes—universal beings capable of growth. As your characters become springboards to a compelling plot, you’ll form (or transform) your complete story arc.


Make Yours Distinctive

Voice is a story element that editors, agents, and other readers seek, yet may find it challenging to define. Questions we’ll explore at the workshop include:

Does the elusive “strong voice” mean rhythm, personality, attitude, writing style, or all of these combined? Is voice the illusion of a character speaking, instead of the author writing? Can writers achieve the most compelling voice only through first-person narrative? How do we recognize a distinctive literary voice, and create an authentic one in our fiction?

Marion Dane Bauer notes in our homework page: “All the craft in the world won’t give you a story that touches your readers’ hearts. That story must begin with a vision from your own heart... What themes and story-situations do you find yourself returning to, again and again, in your writing?... Did [the story you’re writing now] come with a rush of energy? Is the energy holding throughout your writing? If it did, that’s your clue about where your own best story lies.”

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Bring Your Story Arc Full Circle

Your beginning must be compelling, but a weak endings can make your whole (otherwise fine) story fall flat. The ending should include a credible epiphany—the protagonist’s realistic, demonstrated “Aha!” change.

Questions to consider in your novel and our published sample:

  • What are the protagonist’s goal and world view (belief system) at the beginning? Have they changed by the end; if so, how?

  • Which actions or expressed thoughts show the protagonist’s changes?
  • Do events follow a cause-and-effect pattern? (Nothing “out of the blue.”) List the hierarchy of  events that (should) increase internal and external tension; raise the stakes.

  • What makes the ending satisfying for you? For example: Does it answer the dramatic question or conflict raised in the beginning? Are all threads tied up neatly... or some hint given that they will be? Does the ending seem surprising, yet inevitable (and credible)?


Subplots and secondary characters are not often brought to the forefront, yet they are critical to the workings of STORY. Our workshop will explore these elements as they interact with each other and with your novel as a whole.

Faculty author Barbara Shoup poses critical homework questions for you to consider: “Which storyline is my main plot; which is a (less-weighty) subplot? How can subplots enrich my novel without diluting the focus and tension? How do I weave my main plot andsubplot(s) together?

“How do my secondary character(s) and subplot(s) move the story forward— illuminating readers’ understanding of the main character and main plot? If I removed a secondary character and/or subplot, would the novel still work? The answer to this question must be ‘No way!’”

Our homework includes excerpts of Nancy Lamb’s The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children, such as: “Subplots add texture, interest and meaning to the plot... The subplot can be a reflection of the plot or stand in opposition to it. Some stories have one subplot. Some have several. The choice is up to you.”

bullet  Read more exercises.   bullet  Read more exercises.
“A character’s voice is the sound of her or his identity. It is the sonic fingerprint
of personality.” — Stephen Koch, The Modern Library Writers’ Workshop
bullet  INQUIRE EARLY for maximum critique options and lowest fees on full novels or partials. See schedule, interviews, masterclass critiques. Integrated teen event. Enroll now or CONTACT us.
© 2003 - by Nancy R. Sondel. All rights reserved.