Samples of Algonkian Pre-Event Assignments

From The Algonkian Study Guide

For our purposes here, we define the novel as a long and interesting story that must make sense, no room for artifice or clunkiness, only phenomenal yet natural flow. During the course of pathing plot and story, the crafty author employs a variety of devices to smooth the flow, deliver necessary information, create a pause in the action, and more. Having knowledge of these methods in advance allows the author to storyboard with more creative flexibility, to push forward past problems that would otherwise confound and frustrate the inexperienced writer.

No Verisimilitude Without "Masking" : Foreshadow, Aftermath, Discussion, and Repercussion Application

Certain events must take place to move the novel forward, and often the author must use skillful storytelling technique to produce verisimilitude, i.e., to make the occurrence of the event seem natural rather than too convenient or contrived. "Masking" refers to the sum of this technique, the cumulative effect rendering a necessary yet potentially awkward event believable. Proper utilization of this indispensable technique allows the author more freedom to explore the introduction of unusual and/or surprising events and/or endings.

In Nabokov's Lolita, the wife of Humbert conveniently dies so that Humbert can proceed with his plans to seclude himself with Lolita:

First, the event is foreshadowed - Humbert receives a phone call from a neighbor stating that something has happened to his wife. Next, (beginning a new chapter) Humbert goes outside and witnesses the aftermath carnage of the accident - the scene is complex with objects and nearly surreal in portrayal. The police show him the body, he observes the details of it, etc. All of this lends credibility to the event. A few pages later, as a repercussion of the event occurs: a discussion ensues with a man who arrives to hash over accident details with Humbert—the question of the event's verisimilitude is settled.

Sample of Assignments Emailed to Workshop Attendees

For this event you must purchase and read, or re-read "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey and "The Great Gatsby" by Fitzgerald. Both make important and fundamental points concerning plot structure, theme, dramatic complication, scene construction, narrative composition, and more. Both are utilized in the Algonkian Study Guide, along with other important works. We cannot overstress the importance of this.

For your first assignment, go to your nearest library or book superstore. Read the first ten pages of at least five new literary novels (no genre, i.e, SF, mystery, etc.). Once you've spent a few hours, take out a laptop, or sheet of paper, and note bullet by bullet precisely what the author did within those first ten pages to make the protagonist appear sympathetic, original and interesting. Also, note how the information was delivered in "the hook" of the novel. Was the author telling us, or showing us the character's qualities in a vivid scene?

For your second assignment, examine the book jacket of each novel. Write the book jacket you would like to see for your novel (see your pitch model assignment upcoming). Ask yourself after you write it: WILL THIS MAKE SOMEONE WANT TO BUY MY BOOK? And if so, why? Note: limit the number of words to the average number you count on the jackets. Try to limit to 150-200 words.


Please use the following examples as models for your agent pitch session. Keep your pitch to 150-200 words, no more than a minute. Have the pitch written before the conference begins. Note that the pitch is a diagnostic tool to determine the strong and weak points of your novel. If you do not have enough novel for a pitch, then no problem. Now is the time to start thinking about it!

Take special note of dramatic tension and plot points, rising action, character qualities.

"The English Teacher" by Lily King:

(HOOK - the entire first paragraph) Fifteen years ago Vida Avery arrived alone and pregnant at elite Fayer Academy. She has since become a fixture and one of the best English teachers Fayer has ever had. By living on campus, on an island off the New England coast, Vida has cocooned herself and her son, Peter, from the outside world and from an inside secret. (SCENE SET) For years she has lived largely through the books she teaches, but when she accepts the impulsive marriage proposal of ardent widower Tom Belou, the prescribed life Vida has constructed is swiftly dismantled. (PLOT POINT creates COMPLICATIONS or DRAMATIC TENSION)

Peter, however, welcomes the changes. Excited to move off campus, eager to have siblings at last, Peter anticipates a regular life with a "normal" family. But the Belou children are still grieving, and the memory of their recently dead mother exerts a powerful hold on the house. As Vida begins teaching her signature book, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, a nineteenth-century tale of an ostracized woman and social injustice, its themes begin to echo eerily in her own life and Peter sees that the mother he perceived as indomitable is collapsing and it is up to him to help. (SECOND PLOT POINT creates MAJOR COMPLICATION and RISING ACTION leading to CLIFFHANGER: will Peter save his mother?)

Another example from "Close Case" by Alafair Burke:

Investigating the brutal murder of a hotshot journalist, Samantha Kincaid finds herself caught in the middle of an increasingly personal and potentially dangerous struggle between Portland's police and the DA's office.(HOOK, SCENE SET, SUBPLOT COMPLICATION).

For Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid's thirty-second birthday, she gets an unusual gift: a homicide call out. (PLOT POINT begins MAJOR COMPLICATION: solve the crime) The crime scene: the elite Hillside neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. The victim: hotshot investigative reporter Percy Crenshaw, who has been bludgeoned to death in his carport.

Tensions in the city have been running high. The previous week, a police officer shot and killed an unarmed mother of two in what he claims was self-defense; in the aftermath, protestors have waged increasingly agitated anti-police protests. Crenshaw's death, it seems, is not unrelated: within a matter of hours, police arrest two young men who appear to have embarked on a crime spree in the aftermath of the protests. The case looks straightforward, especially when one of the suspects confesses. But then the man recants, claiming coercive police tactics, and Samantha finds herself digging for more evidence. (PLOT POINT, RISING ACTION, MORE SUB-COMPLICATIONS)

Following Crenshaw's steps, her search leads her through an elaborate maze of connections between the city's drug trade and officers in the bureau's north precinct. Samantha's pursuit of the truth puts her in the middle of city political battles and on the outs with the cops, including her new live-in boyfriend, Detective Chuck Forbes. Worse yet, the path left by Crenshaw could lead Samantha to the same fatal end.(CLIFFHANGER: will Samantha save her own life, solve the murder in the process, and later, recover her love interest? THREE QUESTIONS BEGGED!)

Now, go and write the PITCH for your novel. And please, take your time!

Once done, put it aside for two days, then read it and ask yourself this question:



Monterey Writers Retreat in 2015

A Retreat for Fiction Writers, Authors, and Memoirists 

November, 2015

The Mission of The Monterey Writers Retreat in California

Writers, poets, authors and aspiring authors have journeyed for over a century to this most scenic and literary location on the California west coast known as the Monterey Peninsula. They come in search of inspiration, individuality, purpose and vision, but more importantly, they all eventually come to share an understanding that art has preceded their arrival in the form of a brutally beautiful sea and windswept white shore, in the poetry of the twisted cypress, and in the kaleidoscope of abundant wild life. It is this setting that inspired the poet Robinson Jeffers to pen:

Fresh as the air, salt as the foam, play birds in the bright wind, fly falcons
Forgetting the oak and the pinewood, come gulls
From the Carmel sands and the sands at the river-mouth, from
Lobos and out of the limitless
Power of the mass of the sea ...

Steinbeck found the material for his dozen volumes of California fiction in the Salinas and neighboring valleys, along the shores of Monterey Bay, in the Corral de Tierra, and on the Big Sur. Even the Monterey sunsets illuminate the secrets of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" which served as a stage for the lives and times on which Jack London and George Sterling composed their allegories. Don Blanding, Henry Miller, Mary Austin, Ambrose Bierce, Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, Nora May French and countless others have nurtured their creative intellect here for years on end, all of them fondly recalling their Monterey days in the years to come.

In keeping with their spirit, and the spirit of the place, you can be as goal-focused at the retreat, or as hesitant in approach as you wish. You can talk novel, memoir, or short story publication with us, show us your manuscript, improve your skills, clear your head, have your work read by our onsite writer mentors, whatever you wish, whatever helps you grow and find your vision as a writer. You tell us ahead of time via the Monterey Writers Retreat Application about the goals you wish to focus on and we'll work with you to make it happen. Do you wish a review of your memoir, short stories, or flash fiction? Do you need to discuss the reality of the market, your plot and characters, your prose narrative, or perhaps get feedback on the opening hook and sample chapters from your novel? Or would you simply like a relaxed and productive dialogue about your goals as an aspiring author?

Twelve hours of one-on-one morning sessions will take place each day of the retreat for five days. In other words, the on-site writer professionals Michael Neff, Paula Munier, and Andrea Hurst will meet with each writer, based on each writer's needs.

More information can be found on the Monterey Writers Retreat home page



Director and Founder Michael Neff Interviewed by Authornomics

Sample from the Authornomics Interview. More can be found here.

What do you usually look for in a pitch? What’s one of the biggest turn-offs for you in a pitch?

A pitch that is imprecise, muddled, or way too long, or some combo thereof, creates a condition of frustration for all concerned—unless and until a way can be found to correct it. For many, this actually involves a rewrite of the novel. The pitch is simply a method of artfully communicating what your novel or nonfiction is about. If you can’t communicate a project that will sell, it usually means you have not written a project that will sell. At this juncture, we use the pitch as a means of driving further into the story. The intent is to discover what is working, what is not, and what, if anything, is missing. Plot, premise, characters, theme, everything is out on the table. Many of our writers have completely rewritten their novels as a result of the pitch process, and several have been published because of it. A good example is Kim Boykin, the author of The Wisdom of Hair.

What does your position as an associate for AEI Film Productions involve? How did you first get into this area?
I moonlight as an agent and developmental editor for AEI and StoryMerchant. I’m now the AEI Associate for the SF Bay Area. The owner, Ken Atchity, became acquainted with Algonkian and attended some of our events. Recently I have helped develop, edited and agented, or co-agented, two important books: Rise of the American Corporate Security State—Six Reasons to Be Afraid, a nonfiction by Beatrice Edwards (Berett-Koehler), and Killer on the Wall, a “social media cozy” by Wendy Eckell (Thomas Dunne). Several more novels are on the way, including another high-concept cozy mystery and an adult fantasy novel with series potential. Also, several Algonkian books have been ushered into contracts with AEI/SM, most recently The Last Scribe by Rachel Walsh, currently in development.

On the film side, we are working to produce Firehouse Shih-tzu, a comic film about a hero “firehouse dog” out to stop a dangerous arsonist in Brooklyn. I co-wrote the script. The sequel, Up Shih-tzu Creek Without a Poodle, is being written. It’s amazing what inventiveness can erupt from three bottles of Napa Cabernet.  Additionally, we are also working to produce Message to Shigatse, a controversial humanist film from NextPix productions about the Chinese kidnapping of the Panchen Lama. The hunt for a lead actress is underway. We have feelers out to Kate Winslett’s camp at the moment. Fingers X’d!

What are some of the biggest challenges you find in transforming books into films? Can a film ever be as good as a book?

High-concept genre books are generally easy to convert to the three-act film structure. They hit the same plot points and notes. But we all know that the film medium is limited to what it can display or provoke. Novels are not. The great novel will always outweigh the film because it can contain so much more, go more places, reveal more things. That’s not to say a good movie can’t be better than the novel upon which it was based. There are always exceptions. I’ve heard competing opinions re SIDEWAYS, for example.

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