Sophomore Seminars

First Chapters: Please Allow Me to Introduce My Novel

ENGLISH 23Q

Novels only get one chance to make a good first impression. Chapter One is that opportunity, and in this course we’ll read, discuss, and analyze a variety of historical and contemporary novels with a particular focus on their opening chapter (and sometimes prologue). We’ll study strategies around world-building, characterization, creating the engine of a novel (its voice), and in establishing a lively, complex, and surprising world that a reader can’t wait to explore in greater detail.

Authors will include Daniel Alarcon, Jennifer Egan, Mohsin Hamid, Lysley Tenorio, and Julianna Baggott. During this first half of the quarter we’ll write short reaction papers, complete writing assignments that help us practice the basics of effective storytelling, and hold craft-based discussions in small and large groups

In the second half of the quarter, students will outline, write, and edit a first chapter of their own creation. We’ll practice how to introduce a series of themes and problems, indicate character desire and fears, and enchant and inspire ourselves and our readers. We’ll workshop our 8-12 pages openings in a supportive online environment. The final goal is to have a revised first chapter, a short outline for the rest of a book, and an increased knowledge of writing original and irresistible opening chapters.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Tom Kealey

"I teach a variety of creative writing classes at Stanford including Novel Writing Intensive, The Secret Lives of the Short Story, and Fiction Into Film. I’m the author of the story collection Thieves I’ve Known and the guidebook The Creative Writing MFA Handbook. I’ve been working on a trilogy of young adult/science fiction novels for the last few years.

"If you’re interested in reading one of my stories, there is one in Stanford Magazine -- https://stanfordmag.org/contents/fiction-the-birds-in-your-house

"I enjoy teaching at Stanford, and I tend to write along with students, including the weekly exercises, and in this case an original opening chapter as well. We’re all in this learning experience together. I’ll hold a few short lectures, but mostly I enjoy and encourage discussions and writing activities during classes. I’m interested in what makes stories and novels tick, and I also like the intersection of literature and film."