Contemporary Novels: Sweet, Sophisticated, & Their Storylines 2020

About This Event

Join Us To:

Explore using memorable characters, loads of heart, and a healthy dollop of humor to create contemporary novels. Discover the plot points needed to lead your readers to the heart of your sweet & sophisticated story. Learn how to create a compelling first chapter. Craft a realistic voice for your protagonist. Hone in on the essential elements that will make your story shine. Have a one-to-one faculty critique of up to your first ten pages.

What You'll Learn:

Crafting a novel for teens means delivering sweet (sometimes sassy) dialogue, multi-faceted characters, and finding ways to bring authenticity and specificity to a fictional, yet relatable, world. Join editor Kat Brzozowski, author Siobhan Vivian, and their special guests as they share the ins and outs of writing contemporary books.

This workshop will help you:

Understand plot and beats.

Find the heart of your story (and what is needed to bring that heart to the surface).

Develop the voice of your narrator.

Discover what is working in your opening, and what needs work.

Differences between writing for young teens (12-14) and older audiences (15 and up!)

Attend If:

You are writing a novel with a protagonist ages 12 to 19. This course is open to beginner, intermediate, and advanced writers. Come with your story ideas, or with a more developed work-in-progress.

Your novel would benefit from receiving multiple feedback perspectives. In addition to a one-to-one critique, writers will receive informal feedback related to generative writing exercises in sessions.

You have taken one of our introductory novel courses. Alums of Getting to Know Your Novel, Summer Camp, and Novel Beginnings might find this course especially valuable.

You need a better understanding of plot and how it relates to contemporary novels. If you are receiving feedback that your contemporary novel needs more tension, beats, or drive, the sessions on plot will help.

Still not sure if this is the right course for you? Watch a video where Program Director Alison Green Myers shares details about the differences between our genre and format-focused workshops for 2020.


Day 1


Arrival and check in


Appetizers & dinner

After dinner: welcome and introductions

Analyze your novel activity

Day 2



Morning Session 1: It's All About the Plot, Like it or not, it's all about plot. Learn the basics of plot and story structure for contemporary novels.

Morning Session 2: I’ll Never Forget You: Crafting A Flawless First Chapter

First impressions are everything. And a great first chapter can mean the difference between falling in love or getting ghosted. We will discuss what makes a first chapter crush-worthy, using examples both from published books and from attendees.



One-to-ones/Writing Time

Special guest session: Writing for all teens: What makes it Middle Grade or YA?


Appetizers & dinner

After dinner: fireside chat

Day 3



Morning Session 1:Writing Activity: Gimme the Deets--The Quadrant

The details are what bring every aspect of your manuscript—setting, character, plot—to life. And for a contemporary story to truly feel grounded, a writer must replace rote observations with ones that are unique and specific. But don’t be daunted! This writing exercise will give you the tools you need to dig deep and bring each chapter to its most authentic, believable place.

Morning Session 2: Can You Hear Me Now?: Writing Voice

You've come up with a plot. You've created characters. You have a setting. Now how do you make your readers feel like these contemporary characters are really speaking to them? Voice is one of the most important elements of fiction and one of the hardest to master, particularly in realistic fiction, where teen-speak is always evolving. We'll talk about how other authors craft voice successfully and how you can do it too.



Writing Time/Revisions/Informal Consultations

Panel: Submissions, Queries, and the Market


Appetizers & dinner

After dinner: open mic

Day 4



Morning Session: Writing Activity: Using Flap Copy to Focus Your Manuscript

It might seem like a cruel exercise--not to mention an impossible feat--to explain your book in under 250 words. But the process of writing your own flap copy can be an illuminating exercise, especially when drafting. (contact info blocked) characters should you mention? What storylines should you leave out? And does your book actually deliver what you promise? Using examples, we will guide you through the process.

Sharing and celebrations!!


Lunch and farewells

A Note About Highlights Workshop Agendas


Faculty Spotlight: Kat Brzozowski

Siobhan Vivian's website

Tranform Introspection into Dialogue

Is Your Novel Opening as Strong as It Can Be?

Walking through the Woulds with your Character

Lights, Camera, ACTION: The Importance of Starting in a Scene, Kat Brzozowski

The First Three Things Editors Notice, Kat Brzozowski

How to Ace the Comp Title Game, Kat Brzozowski

Three Steps to Finding the Perfect Title for Your Book, Kat Brzozowski

The Dos and Don'ts of Writing Setting, Kat Brzozowski


"Siobhan and Kat both spent so much time answering questions and giving feedback on manuscript pages. They are approachable and friendly and welcomed any questions we had. I loved every session they taught."

"Siobhan went above and beyond with her feedback! She was so kind yet helpful in everything she taught. Kat and Siobhan were funny and engaging and backed up everything with samples that made sense! Kat is the first person I’ve heard actually describe what voice is that made sense."

Scholarships Available

Three scholarships are available for this workshop:

Full tuition

Half tuition

Partial tuition

Application deadline is July 20, 2020. Scholarships will be announced August 19, 2020.

Click here to apply!

For more information about scholarships, click here.

Cancellation Policy

100% deposit refund for cancellation 30+ days before event.
50% deposit refund for cancellation 15-29 days before event.
0% deposit refund for cancellation 0-14 days before event.
The remaining balance (total price minus deposit) is due upon arrival.
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