Finish-Line Fiction

Students churn out their novels in a November challenge.

January/February 2013

Reading time min

Finish-Line Fiction

Photo: Krystal Griffiths

So they write on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into their mission: to finish a 50,000-word novel in a month. In November, 15 Stanford students took on the challenge of National Novel Writing Month within the structure of a creative writing course taught by Scott Hutchins and Tom Kealey. Students read short novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Stewart O'Nan before moving on to writing strategies and brainstorming—and then to clocking a target 1,667 words per day. (More than 200,000 people have attempted the deadline-writing challenge in the 13 years NaNoWriMo has existed.)

Hutchins and Kealey say novel writing on a compressed schedule is valuable for getting in touch with our story-telling roots and for subdividing a large project into more manageable parts. "Learning to get over the anxiety of writing a novel is important," Kealey says. "Just like learning a new sport, or to dance, sometimes we feel foolish. . . . And allowing ourselves the grace to learn is an important lesson."

Rebeca Felix, '14, an anthropology major from San Marino, Calif., wrote about a young woman's transition to a new city. The class taught her to let go of impossible expectations. "It is more about getting ideas out on paper (or Word document) without feeling as if every word must be a pearl of wisdom that eloquently reveals the secret of the human condition."

All 15 met their 50,000-word goal. Here are some précis with their final sentences.

A prodigy locksmith is approached with a plan he cannot refuse.

"And if Stanley doesn't care, then neither should you. You got me?"

Raymond Jeong, '14

Baton Rouge, LA

A motherless girl discovers a gateway to the Faerie realm.

"Head held high, Saoirse stepped through the archway, out of the mists of the labyrinth path to the otherworld beyond."

Maia Peirce, '13

Fairbanks, Alaska

A man tells stories of his youth to the twin brother and sister that he has raised in isolation.

"Somewhere, an orchestra was playing Strauss and the violinists were bowing the waltz with a furious inimitable passion and voicing the strains of a man long dead for the pleasure of no soul save their own."

Tyler Doyle, '13

Collinsville, Ill.

The emerging sisterhood of four women—from Mexico, Iraq, Sudan and Tennessee—in a low-income housing complex.

"There is nothing more moral, more virtuous, more good, more beautiful, than to love and be loved in return. And somewhere in it all, they became family."

Elizabeth Knudson, '13


An expedition tries to protect an isolated tribe from encroaching drug lords.

"With a final grunt, João hefted his load, turned, and followed the Indians off into the heart of the virgin jungle."

Dave Struthers, '13


Ancient forces awaken to rebuild a society.

"We sat together on the bed, two tiny Guardians in an enormous but ravaged world, envisioning glass buildings and fields of green grass as we dreamed in the darkness."

Ben Myers, '14

Rohnert Park, Calif.

Rachel Kolb, '12, is a graduate student in English.

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