Get Training, Support, and Deadlines: Join the "Character-First" Workshop

"Daniel has a great style of teaching. He’s very encouraging and can give you critical feedback that can move your piece forward. I’ve attended many workshops and come away wanting to give up. Daniel’s workshops always give you encouragement and sound advice!"

- Elizabeth Mitchell

These days, I feel like we're all suffering a little (or a lot) from isolation. My guess is that many of us are missing some of the structure and order from our pre-pandemic lives. I know I am!

So I'm offering a three-part live class in May, with lessons, assignments, and community guidance. The goal is simple: to help you write (or revise) a great opening to your novel -- how to write chapters one & two.

I'll teach the essence of my "character-first" plotting approach, with a focus on how to begin a novel-length story.

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"I cannot tell you how much I value and still think about your writing advice and strategies. The book I wrote after we worked together landed me my agents at InkWell, and back in May, we sold two YA fantasy novels to Wednesday Books/Macmillan. The first one comes out in early 2021!"

To other writers: Daniel truly has a gift. He’s one of the most patient and encouraging teachers I’ve had. He gives the type of feedback that energizes rather than discourages, the kind that makes you feel like you can rebuild your novel—and rebuild it stronger."

- Allison Saft, author of Down Comes the Night (forthcoming)

A picture of me, Daniel Wallace

I'm Daniel David Wallace, novelist, teacher, & PhD researcher

This program will be taught over three sessions, via Zoom (the recordings will be shared), with short weekly assignments, prompts, exercises, and handouts for you to complete.

We will meet three Sundays in May, at 3pm NYC time: the 17th, the 24th, and the 31st.

Each class will address a crucial fiction writing skill:

Week 1: your protagonist's desire

Week 2: pacing and sequencing

Week 3: flow and depth

The goal, if you wish to keep up with the assigned projects, is simple: you will draft or revise the opening of a novel.

The class is capped at 25 participants to keep the live sessions fun and low-stress (17 people have signed up so far).

This Workshop is a Live-Taught, Low-Cost Introduction to Character-First Writing 

Julia Brown testimonial

"Not all good writers are good teachers, but Daniel David Wallace (a talented, thoughtful writer himself) is a terrific instructor.

Daniel is attentive to plot, structure, character, and other high-level narrative elements, but you’ll appreciate his ability to zoom in closely on language and sentence-level concerns.

If you can take a class with him, do it!"

- Julia Brown, editor and literary author

Three Live Lessons in May 2020

Here's your training course on character-first writing:

Week One: Desire

We'll begin with the simplest & best way to take your fiction-writing to the next level: creating characters who are already in motion when we meet them. That's the best way to start a novel. I'll teach a straightforward way to begin the story with events already out-of-balance, and then we'll create a continuous line of action for your protagonist to take. This approach makes it easy for your reader to connect to the story and get drawn in.

Week Two: Pacing

Once we know where to start, on the second Sunday we'll study well-paced storytelling. You'll use the character-first approach to sketch out detailed, engaging chapters that keep your story moving and maintain your reader's interest. No more "info dumps": you'll be revealing character and setting at the same time as you develop your scenes.

Week Three: Flow

How to write well? In our third Sunday together, we'll learn how to make our narrative flow smoothly, switching between POV characters, locations, and plot elements, without ever losing the reader. And you'll review your own work for sneaky cliches, vague moments, and too-hasty images. However, you won't be editing or "fixing" those weak sentences: you'll be adding to them. You'll develop your own voice by building out the most important lines in your story.

Where You'll Be At the End of the Workshop

This $77 workshop includes:

  • plot training to help you become a better storyteller
  • a self-editing framework you can use long after the workshop
  • recorded videos of our sessions
  • interactive prompts and exercises
  • drafting deadlines
  • peer review and peer advice

The goal is that you finish this month with

  • an opening chapter or two drafted (or revised)
  • answers to many tricky writing problems
  • encouragement, support, and motivation
  • feeling less alone in this self-secluded world 

Okay. What is "Character-First" Writing?

A lot of plotting advice for novelists focuses on events that are supposed to happen at certain points in the narrative. You may have heard of them as "plot points," or "beats," or "structure."

And I love those techniques. I've read the same books you have, probably! But I no longer think that plotting via "beats" or "structure" is as helpful as many writing teachers suggest.

I had a great conversation with a writer the other night, someone who was outlining his novel with the help of a good book on plotting. And the writer told me, during our call, that according to this book, a certain thing had to happen in chapter three.

He had followed this advice, and had created his outline for chapters one, two, and three, but then he felt stuck and unsure how to keep the story going.

He was doing something wrong, he could tell. But he wasn't sure what. In other words, he was following the beats perfectly, it seemed, but the story still wasn't taking shape.

My worry is this: for experienced, successful authors, advice about plot points seems useful because those authors have, by this point, figured out how to infuse enough "story-ness" into each chapter. It's something they do automatically. So all they need help guidance on is how to keep the story moving.

But for the rest of us, talking about "beats" too early in the plotting or writing process can be really misleading. It can encourage us to hurry through the outlining / scoping process because it makes story creation seem simple: "as long as my two protagonists meet in chapter three, I'm on track."

This can end up, however, with a dreary, watery plot. Yes, things are happening, but they aren't very engaging.

Instead, it's better to think of your opening chapters as a cauldron. It's not your job to explain a bunch of stuff to the reader, and it's also not your job to push the story onwards towards its next plot point.

Especially if you are early in the drafting process, your job is to fill your cauldron with story material, and keep throwing more wood on the fire. Give your character three more problems. Have a family member call with some stern and upsetting advice. Have a mysterious voice from the shadows warn about the balance of power in the "other world."

(What does this mean? You have no idea yet. But you throw it in there and hope it becomes clearer later. If not -- it's easy to go back and remove it.)

Your protagonist likes collecting stamps? Well, there's a stamp conference in town tomorrow, and the dress she wants to wear is still at her ex's house, who is now dating our heroine's cruel and dangerous flute teacher, Ms. Cranshaw.

It's not that the advice about beats is wrong. Beats are great! Our stamp-collecting protagonist does probably need to meet the other romantic lead in chapter three. It's important to have that chapter deadline in your head. But how the hero gets there, and how she acts when she runs into that co-protagonist, may have to change a lot in the outlining / writing process, depending on what stuff you can add to the cauldron.

This is why I think that character-first writing is so powerful for so many writers. You don't have to abandon your genre's beats and plot points. Use them! But character-first writing helps you figure out how to make the story live -- within that structure. It gets the cauldron bubbling.

(And if you hate structure, the character-first approach lets you focus on a person, your protagonist, and design him in a way that the story flows out of his concerns, his conflicts.)

Important Stuff to be Aware Of:

  • Because there are 25 of us in the workshop, I can't offer individual, detailed feedback on your chapter during the class. This is more about trying out new techniques and getting pages written. I can answer questions, and connect you with peer reviewers within the workshop, but this isn't the sort of "workshop" where we spend an hour assessing each submission.
  • However, I know people like received personal feedback. I certainly do! I've included an option, when you register for the workshop, to add on individual feedback from me at the end of the three sessions. In other words, once you've written your chapter, you can send it to me and I'll record detailed video advice and suggestions for improvement. If that add-on sounds interesting, go for it!
  • Because this is a live course, and because seating is limited, I'm not formally offering a 30-day refund policy. If you're unhappy, please just let me know and we'll figure something out.
  • The recordings to our sessions will be available for six months online. After that, I will take them down. Why? This is a class all about taking action. The goal is to get something sketched out or drafted or revised this month. That said, if five months have gone by and you have a specific reason to need longer to watch the videos, just email me.
A picture of me, Daniel Wallace

Daniel David Wallace

Creator of Plotting and Planning Your Novel

Your Teacher

Hi, I'm Daniel. I'm a writer, teacher, PhD researcher, and book editor. I create easy-to-implement techniques that help you master the craft of fiction.

I've given lectures on plot at the AWP conference and other writing festivals around the US, and my work has been read at the Iowa Writers Workshop. My fiction has won the Hodges prize, the Toni Brown scholarship, and I've published short stories and essays in many journals. In my regular life, I teach advanced writing skills at a great university. 

Since I started teaching online, I've worked with hundreds of writers as a coach and teacher. Over two-thousand writers subscriber to my newsletter, "Writing Related." 

I'm currently working with a publisher on a novel set in Taiwan: it involves unhappy English teachers and a ghost.


How long do I have access to the course?

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Do I need to have an idea for a novel?

Is the class suitable for every genre of fiction?

What if I'm writing a memoir?

What if I want feedback on my pages, specifically?

Copyright - Daniel David Wallace 2020