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4-Week Online Novel Workshop: First Chapters

First chapters of novels serve a variety of functions for readers, including drawing them in, previewing what’s to come, and pushing them to keep reading. But they also serve functions for writers before the novel is complete. Thinking about a piece of writing as a first chapter can help writers hone their plans for the rest of the novel. In this four-week workshop, we won’t just be talking about the start—we’ll be talking about how the start can help you finish. Our community of novelists will discuss elements of effective first chapters, learning about your unwritten book through your first chapter, and strategies for continuing on with the novel-writing process. Each writer will submit a first chapter draft of up to 30 pages for the group to workshop and will receive one-on-one feedback from the instructor via phone or Skype. At the end of four weeks, each writer will leave with a polished first chapter to use for grant and residency applications, thoughtful feedback on their novel’s opening act, and strategies for finishing their manuscript. This class is open to writers with drafts at any stage.


· Thoughtful, personalized feedback on your draft from the instructor and the entire class, including a one-on-one session with the instructor.

· A plan for polishing your draft as a writing sample for future opportunities.

· Strategies for making progress on your novel beyond the workshop.

· Information about submissions and the world of publishing.

· Access to a nurturing community of writers and readers and an engaged mentor.

Rebecca Entel

Rebecca Entel is the author of the novel Fingerprints of Previous Owners (Unnamed Press, 2017). Her stories and essays have appeared in Guernica, Joyland, Lit Hub, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. She is an Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Cornell College, where she teaches creative writing, multicultural American literature, Caribbean literature, and the literature of social justice. She holds a B.A. from the University of Penn­sylvania and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. You can find her online at and on Twitter (@rebeccaentel).


“My experiences working with Rebecca both in and out of the classroom were the highlights of my college years … Rebecca was a friendly and supportive presence in my growth as a writer. While working on my undergraduate thesis, a novella excerpt, Rebecca consistently reviewed my work and sent me revision suggestions until we were both confident in the status of the project. She continued to check in with my progress throughout the years, dedicating time and effort to reading my work and offering constructive feedback for my creative advancement. Her engaging classes and thought-provoking workshops pushed me to challenge my previous notions of writing and to consider new possibilities for drafting and distributing my fiction.”

former student

“Rebecca Entel was one of my favorite professors at Cornell College, as well as a trusted advisor and friend. Her ability to incite intellectual discussions about a variety of fictional works, ranging from creative short stories to full-length novels, was inspiring. With my own writing, she consistently pushed me to try new things and venture out of my comfort zone; even when I felt my stories could go no further, she challenged me to experiment and try new exercises that sparked new thought or discussion. Rebecca never failed to provide beneficial, constructive feedback (on everything from my short stories to my long form narrative journalism pieces to my plans for the future) and was instrumental in helping me discover my passion for writing fiction. She never failed to keep class interesting and fun!”

former student

“Rebecca Entel was my advisor when I was an undergraduate student, and I took her classes as well. I am still awestruck by how she teaches such heavy subject matter in literature (trauma, racism, multiculturalism) while also helping her students wade through the muck and analyze. She is also an immensely kind and pleasant person and was always willing to help me better my writing. I wouldn’t have gotten into graduate school without her. I wouldn’t have become a professional writer without her.”

former student

“FINGERPRINTS OF PREVIOUS OWNERS is a memorable debut. Through the force of her sure storytelling and graceful prose, Rebecca Entel makes the unseen visible, and the unspoken past powerfully present.”

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum author of MS. HEMPEL CHRONICLES

“One of the most notable debut novels I’ve read this year is Rebecca Entel’s...breathtakingly beautiful.”


"Entel’s novel is brilliant. Through a series of strategic narrative choices, she both inhabits and interrogates the island she created, demonstrating how fiction can expand a reader’s empathy and, even, a writer’s authority."


"Entel’s delicately crafted debut explores the relationships between the resort, an economic center that distorts the island’s history for its own purposes, and the local people and the ways the past infuses the present, no matter how hard one tries to forget. Entel gives Myrna a distinctive voice and creates a rich history for the island and its residents."


"This is the first novel by Entel, and it is a magnificent one. Her prose is lyrical, luminous, and each detail has been planted as precisely as a foundation stone... Here's hoping that Entel follows her first novel with many more. A reckoning with the legacies of colonialism and slavery and their reverberations in the present day."

KIRKUS REVIEWS starred review

“FINGERPRINTS OF PREVIOUS OWNERS simmers with implicit and explicit violence, with social and economic injustices, the dichotomy of a hotel so crassly extravagant that it throws away good food daily while locals brew tea from wild leaves or eat whatever the poor soil can grow. Beautifully written, it is bleak, stark; as uncompromising as the island’s soil and as wrenching as the haulback shrubs that guard its secrets. Audacious, heartfelt and realistic, I found myself immersed in the perverted paradise of this island world, rooting for the characters I came to care so much about.”

Maxine Case author of SOFTNESS OF THE LIME

“Rebecca Entel writes with spellbinding intelligence and a deep knowledge of the human heart. Her writing is true and exquisite, serious and fun.”

Lorrie Moore

"My last class before graduation was a workshop with Rebecca, and I am so glad I got to end my college journey with it. Rebecca is very open and encouraging, while also providing honest, critical feedback--the combination was very helpful. In just one class, I really got to grow and learn so much as a writer, as she pushed me to explore literature and writing outside my comfort zone."

former student