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6-Week Online Novel Workshop: Supercharge Your First 30 Pages

This workshop is for anyone who wants to dive into writing their novel and nail those all important first 30 pages. Why 30, you might ask? If we are talking about an average-length novel (around 80,000 words), it’s around page 30 that a narrative tends to shift in some way. This is the point in the narrative of no return. This moment is crucial for most novels because it’s generally where a reader will choose to keep reading—or not. The reader should arrive at this moment and think, “I have to find out what’s going to happen.”

Something is now at stake, be it physical circumstances or emotional welfare. Something happens to rock the protagonist’s world as they knew it, and they are left to make a decision. What will they decide? What will happen now?

The 30-page mark is also crucial when it comes to pitching your novel for publication, because it’s often the point where agents or publishers will stop reading a manuscript if there isn’t much at stake.

Now, of course there are exceptions to every rule. But the fact is that a potential agent or editor wants to be compelled to read on regardless of your content or structure. Over six weeks, we will discuss how to do those first 30 pages justice.

This workshop is for anyone who has at least 30 pages of a novel in progress. Each week we will workshop two writers’ opening pages in our salon. We will also spend time reading excerpts from published novels and doing short writing exercises. Expect to devote several hours per week for this class outside of class time.

This class will meet over our text-only chat platform. There will not be any video or audio component to class.


- 30 pages of workshopped material by your instructor and classmates

- The confidence and knowledge needed to submit your work to agents, contests, or publishers

- Real-life strategies for novel writing and structuring

- Useful prompts to push forward in your project

- A personal phone call conference with me to discuss your project and what to do moving forward

- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


- Submit 30 pages of your novel for feedback

- Read and provide feedback on two student submissions for workshops per week


Week 1: The first few pages—establishing compelling character and voice and why it is so important.

Week 2: The world of the novel—what is the novel’s barometer for normal? (The reader should understand early on what all could be at stake—this is when the marriage is still hanging on, the earthquake hasn’t happened yet, the old friend hasn’t been spotted in a café after not seeing them for 20 years). We will take a look at the ways place can become a character of its own.

Week 3: Playing with prologue: does your novel need a prologue? Sometimes yes and sometimes no—this week will be about experimenting with a potential prologue and navigating the merit of one, and what will happen if it is taken out.

Week 4: Plot structure: the moment we’ve all been waiting for. This week we will dive deep into that all important moment that will set the novel’s plot ablaze—and we will discuss strategies for moving past those 30 pages into the rest of the novel.

Week 5: What questions is your novel asking? If you could distill your novel idea into a few main questions, what would they be and how do you imagine the characters in all their complexity, answering those questions, or not answering as the case may be? Does the action in your novel point to these important questions?

Week 6: Outline. While outlining or storyboarding your novel idea is not necessary to write a novel, plenty of writers find it useful to experiment with ways of sketching out their story and where they imagine it will go. This week we will play with different ways of forecasting plot to provide physical evidence of future movement of the novel. This can be an inspiring exercise and helpful to organize threads. We will also go over strategies for submitting your work to agents/editors during this week.  

Chelsea Bieker

Chelsea Bieker is the recipient of a 2018 Rona Jaffe Writer's Award, and the author of the forthcoming novel, Godshot (Catapult 2020), and the story collection, Cowboys and Angels. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Granta, McSweeney's Quarterly, Catapult, Joyland, The Cincinnati Review, The Normal School, No Tokens,  and others.  Her work has been supported by the MacDowell Colony and the Tin House Writer’s Workshop. She holds a BS in journalism from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and an MFA in creative writing from Portland State. She has taught since 2011. 


"Chelsea has a sixth sense for plot structure and story and seems to intuit the answer to writing problems in a way that feels like some sort of gift. I trust her feedback on my work and have greatly benefitted from the deep conversation around fiction she is able to have with me and her students."

Genevieve Hudson author of BOYS OF ALABAMA (2020) and PRETEND WE LIVE HERE

"Chelsea helped me re-awaken my love for the process of writing. I had forgotten that writing is actually really fun, and in her class we we were challenged, encouraged, and brought back to why we ever set out to write in the first place."

former student

"Chelsea Bieker has a keen sense of story and an eye for where things are going right, and where things might be veering off course. She helped me re-see my work and offered instrumental feedback about not just craft, but the spirit of a writing practice and writing life that has stayed with me for years."

former student

"I cried as I finished reading GODSHOT. It's a novel of rebirth: baptism and heartbreak, daughterhood and motherhood. Lacey May is a yearning, whipsmart, brokenhearted believer and I miss her now that the novel has ended. Chelsea Bieker has written a wholly real and beautifully written coming-of-age tale that is sure to be an instant classic."

Lindsay Hunter author of EAT ONLY WHEN YOU'RE HUNGRY

"GODSHOT is wise, tough, electrifying, beautiful—every raw detail sings true. Chelsea Bieker writes about pain and resilience like nobody else."

Leni Zumas author of RED CLOCKS

A truly epic journey through girlhood, divinity, and the blood that binds and divides us, GODSHOT is a feminist magnum opus of this, or any, time. Bieker is a pitch-perfect ventriloquist of extraordinary talent and ferocity. Terrifying, resplendent, and profoundly moving. Imagine if Annie Proulx wrote something like White Oleander crossed with Geek Love or Cruddy, and then add cults, God, motherhood, girlhood, class, deserts, witches, the divinity of women and the singular heart and mind of Chelsea Bieker. An absolute masterpiece."