Anderson, Indiana

English class helps students learn to write novels

Wed, 2011-03-09 08:00 -- univcomm
March 9, 2011

Writing a book is something many people aspire to do but rarely achieve. Plenty of budding novelists have set aside their dreams of being a published author for a number of reasons, such as lack of time or inspiration. Some of the greatest writers of the last century wrote books with nothing but an idea to guide them. After all, just what does it take to write a book? An English professor at Anderson University has a creative answer to that question.

novel-writingFor the past five years, students have approached the desk of English Professor Deborah Miller Fox and asked if her department offered a class that gave formal instruction on how to write a novel. Much to their dismay, Miller Fox’s answer was always no.

“When students started inquiring about having a class that taught them how to write a novel in a structured format, I knew it was time to try something fresh and new,” said Miller Fox.

Students can take a course called seminar in writing, which is where the professor decided to include novel writing instruction. “Last fall I checked the enrollment of students for seminar in writing after midterms and noticed it had fallen below 10 students,” she explained. “So I thought, this would be a great opportunity to teach a novel writing class to a small group of students.”

Students who enroll in seminar in writing use a book by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor titled The Craft of Writing the Novel, which outlines a detailed set of instructions chapter by chapter on how to write a book. Topics include developing ideas, choosing a point of view, character development, and how to overcome writer’s block. Students are assigned a number of pages to write and submit each week, resulting in a manuscript for a complete novel by the end of the semester.

Senior Sarah Schmidt is currently taking Miller Fox’s class and explained her idea for a novel in detail. “I was always interested in history, and I wanted to write a novel about the Civil War,” said Schmidt. “My book is about a family who helps slaves escape bondage by way of the Underground Railroad.”

Heather Jo Douglas, another senior enrolled in Miller Fox’s class, has a different direction for a story. “I’m writing a science fiction piece set in the year 2028,” said Douglas. “I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of what’s good is only good based on comparison to something else, and I’m using the idea to write a book about what it would be like if we could make perfect people.”

Miller Fox explained how intense she expects the class will get. “I’ve told my students there will be a time when you’ll hit a brick wall and your inspiration will dry up, and that’s normal,” she said. “But the goal is to keep pushing forward and to not stop writing even if you don’t like what you wrote. It’s all a part of the experience of becoming a good writer.”

Though the class may get intense, students are grateful for the opportunity. “She doesn’t let us quit,” said Douglas of Miller Fox, adding “she knows we can do great things and offers support along the way. I know I will have created something awesome when the semester is over.”

— Cameron Ward is a senior from Kalamazoo, Mich., majoring in communication arts. Ward is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™ writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2010, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the seventh consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.