Contemporary Novels: Sweet, Sophisticated, & Their Storylines 2020

October 2 - 5, 2020

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. So…which 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

Scholarships are available for this workshop:
Application deadline is July 20, 2020. Scholarships will be announced August 19, 2020.
Click here to apply!
For more information about scholarships, click here.


Siobhan Vivian

Siobhan Vivian is the New York Times best-selling author of eleven young adult novels, including Stay Sweet, The Last Boy…
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Kat Brzozowski

Kat Brzozowski is a senior editor at Swoon Reads/Feiwel & Friends. She has edited a wide range of young adult…
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Debbi Michiko Florence

Debbi Michiko Florence is the author of the Jasmine Toguchi chapter book series (JLG selections, the Amelia Bloomer and CCBC Choices…
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All-Inclusive Event Cost: $1,099.00

All-inclusive registration includes workshop tuition, lodging, meals, beverages, and snacks. Free shuttle service is available from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (AVP) International Airport. Airport pick-up at Newark Airport is also available for $75 round-trip.

We offer payment plans as low as $75/month. We'll be in touch with details after you register.

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workshop information

Begins with dinner on Friday, October 2, and ends with lunch on Monday, October 5, 2020.