To set up my review of The Slow Novel Lab, I need to give you some background. I have no formal writing training. I learned a very tiny bit in high school and then a lot of un-useful writing tips for very tedious research papers in college. That’s it.
I read a lot of books about writing, took a few online classes, went to local workshops, etc etc etc. Overall, I gained the most insight from books. However, the trend in writing books tends to be geared toward the plotters of the world. There’s a lot of formulaic advice out there about how a story should be written. Some of it goes so far as to tell you on which page your inciting incident should occur and when the hero should decline their adventure. While I find there’s nothing wrong with any of that and I’ve read several amazing, inventive, and exciting books that probably could be broken into these formulas, they weren’t for me. My brain doesn’t work that way and trying to apply formula into my writing only left me feeling uninspired and confused.
I realized pretty quickly that I just didn’t write in that way. I decided to seek out the writing advice of people who are driven by character. I asked questions whenever someone who wrote those sorts of stories was open for them.
I got a lot of good answers. A lot of useful answers. But I still wanted more. I wanted a deep dive into character driven stories. A way to flesh out my ideas that didn’t leave me feel cold and uninspired. When Nina LaCour announced her class, I jumped at the chance and got into her first trial group. I knew that she wrote the kind of stories that I adore. Stories where maybe you have a hard time explaining what happens in them but you feel like the character is a close, precious friend. I also knew that she had a background in teaching an MFA program. Honestly, the whole thing felt like it was meant for me!
The Slow Novel Lab Breakdown
Here are the specifics: the course is currently $299. The meat of the course is a daily writing prompt. Some are for writing scenes, others are for diving deep into every aspect of a good novel: tension, time, tone, characters, even plot! There’s also a forum where students can chat with each other, and my favorite part: a weekly call with Nina and the rest of the group to discuss writing questions.
This was, by far, the best class I’ve taken. I had a beloved photography teacher in college who I thought couldn’t be topped but I was wrong! What I loved most about this class is that it wasn’t prescriptive. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt that a formula was being doled out for us to mindlessly follow. If anything, it was the opposite of that. It was a way of very thoughtfully and intentionally looking at our story and pulling from it the most meaningful work that we could. What I loved about this was that it didn’t matter what kind of story you were writing, this could be applied to anything. It lended itself incredibly well to character-driven stories. However, it would add depth and interest to any type of story.
The format is rather open-ended as well. Each assignment is meant to take about a half hour of your day but I found that several had me writing for much longer than that. I’d start thinking about the assigned topic of the day and end up writing a scene that inspired a whole new storyline in the book. One particular day helped me unlock my character and the story in profound ways. That particular exercise will be a go-to for me on every story going forward.
One thing I loved about it is that it helped me engage with my story every single day, sometime I’ve had a hard time with due to my current work schedule. The class work was the highlight of my month!
My takeaway is pretty simple. If you have a hard time navigating the waters of character driven narratives, are looking to be more intentional in your writing, and/or are feeling overwhelmed by the trend of fast drafting, this class is for you!