Online | Fiction | Workshop

The Novel: Chapter 1

In this class we will focus on the first chapter of your novel. Whether you have only written one chapter (or even less), or whether you have completed a draft and are looking to polish and submit queries to agents, this class will help you figure out the next steps. The first chapter of a book carries within it the promise of the entire work, and so by looking keenly at where we begin, we can often discover where we need to end up.

We will explore prose style, character building, suspense and plotting, as well as theme building, and of course publishing and querying agents, all through the lens of your first chapter. Readings will be diverse and range from the most hack-y, carpenter’s guide to craft to intellectual explorations of the history of the novel and the novelist’s work. You will leave this six-week course with a polished first chapter, a submission-ready synopsis and query letter, as well as with a working knowledge of the publishing industry and how to go about finding an agent.


This class will have four separate components for each week. One will be a short reading by me, a sort of mini essay on the topic at hand, which will be called, for lack of a better word, Lecture. One will be an example text or an essay by another writer on the topic at hand, which will be called Reading. One will be a very short assignment, usually only a few paragraphs which you will submit online, (fill in details here, perhaps include screenshot once I am in the system) , and which will help guide your thinking and force you to engage directly in the questions we are raising, and we will call these Exercises. And the last, but far from least, will be Workshop, wherein you actually submit the first chapter of your novel. You will get to workshop twice.

Ideally, we will see the same first chapter for both submissions, but the second time around it will look quite different. If your chapters are very short, please feel free to include more than one, but we are hoping here to look at about thirty pages. If your first chapter is only twenty pages, that is fine. But if you first chapter is five pages, then include as many chapters as will fit within thirty pages or so. If you are concerned because your second workshop is coming around and you either do not have time to revise it or feel it needs no revising, then simply email me and we will come up with a plan so as to make the most of your workshop opportunities. 

Rufi Thorpe

Rufi Thorpe is the author of The Girls from Corona del Mar, which was long listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, and Dear Fang, With Love, which Publishers Weekly called, “ absolute winner.” Her essays have appeared in The New York TimesPoets & Writers, and The Huffington Post, among others. She writes a bi-monthly humor column, “Listicles For People Exactly Like You," for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. She received her MFA from the University of Virginia, and currently lives in Southern California with her husband and two sons. 


"As reader and editor, Rufi is fiercely loyal. I don't mean so much to the writer—though I've known few teachers who are so generous as Rufi. She understands the struggle that goes into getting something into the right words, the persistence (or, as she says, the 'perversity of spirit') that it takes to be a writer, and the feedback that she gives—and I say this from personal experience—somehow manages to be both acutely honest and dangerously encouraging at the same time. Rufi has a keen eye for what's on the page, a honed sense for the unfolding machinery of story, the mechanics of plot and character. But even more, she has a sense of what's not on the page, an understanding not just of the work as written, but the work as it wants to be. And this is truly a special sort of reader and editor, one who sees a piece of writing purely on its own terms, with its own particular vision and integrity. I guess that's what I mean by 'fiercely loyal': not just to the writer, but to the story, becoming just the champion it needs to flourish.”

Reed Johnson MFA colleague

“Rufi Thorpe has an uncanny ability to sniff out what’s working and not working in any piece of text. In music, some people are said to possess perfect pitch. In the world of perfumery they talk of special “noses” that can discern even the faintest of base notes and overtones in a scent. Neuroscientists at Newcastle University think they might have just found the first documented case of a “tetrachromat” — a person with an extra cone in the eye, enabling her to see a hundred million colors. You get the idea: Rufi Thorpe’s editorial eye and ear is arguably one of the top two or three I’ve ever encountered (and I know a heckuva lot of editors and writers). What separates Rufi as the best, however, is her unequalled ability to then convey what needs to be conveyed back to the author, so that they, too, can discern what she’s noticed, and approach their own work with fresh eyes. That takes a very special kind of creative writing. That’s because Rufi’s a great writer in her own right. And a first-rate college instructor and mentor. And a lover of ideas and of people. She’s full of grace and positive spirit in all she does and, mercy, I’m sure glad I know her and can call her a colleague and friend.”

Grant Hier author of the Americana Prize-winning UNTENDED GARDEN

"Rufi Thorpe is a badass editor, one of these legends a writer of any rank prays to come across. She has an uncanny talent for sharpening sentences, shaping paragraphs, and bringing together the larger structures of a book-length narrative. Her comments are clear, funny and always helpful. If you get the chance to work with her, do it. You’ll become a better writer.”

Lee Clay Johnson author of NITRO MOUNTAIN

“One of the finest releases of 2016… Thorpe is a major talent, and reading her work will bring to mind other writers who deftly control their universes with such clarity and acuity, like Donna Tartt or Ann Patchett.”


"Tremendous... Showcase[s] Thorpe’s fabulous versatility, insight, and humor... While the themes of the book--mania, the Holocaust, and the devastating number of ways that any parent-child dynamic can go awry--are undeniably dark, Thorpe’s prose is light, often hilarious, and unshakably grounded in the concrete details of daily life... Thorpe has written an absolute winner."

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY starred review

"A knockout of a debut novel. . . Pugnacious, risk-taking Mia, a child of divorce, grows up envious of Lorrie Ann, with her intact family and her elegant, upturned nose. Then in their junior year of high school, everything changes when a family tragedy strikes, marking “the first tap-tap on Lorrie Ann’s window­pane by those bad luck vultures” . . . Thorpe is too firmly in control to let an abundance of plot points crowd out her narrative’s deeper meanings. Her worldly, rambunctious, feminist, morally interrogative prose style galvanizes ­every episode with smart, almost cosmic insights, tough talk, elegiac moments of love, dumb wonder, and, of course, further tragic events. . . We can’t help but root for these memorable heroines, and Thorpe’s beautiful twist of an ending is admirably earned."

Lisa Shea ELLE

“Just when you believe the ubiquitous ‘literature is dead’ declarations are true, there comes a novel like THE GIRLS FROM CORONA DEL MAR…It’s hard to believe that THE GIRLS FROM CORONA DEL MAR is Rufi Thorpe’s first novel — she writes like someone who has been through the wringer, like writers of the past who wrote because they needed to, because they had a problem with the way life was and had to tell someone. THE GIRLS FROM CORONA DEL MAR belongs in a different era, like something that could have been written during the days of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. It’s about two people, who despite the promises that life once held for them, continue on, for better and for worse, to try and capture a dream.”