Book Review: The Weekend Novelist

This week's book is The Weekend Novelist: a dynamic 52-week program to help you produce a finished novel  . . .  one weekend at a time. Author Robert J. Ray has published eight acclaimed novels with this method, including the Matt Murdock Mystery Series. He also teaches it in his fiction writing classes.

My first novel was written in 15 weeks. The second? On and off for ten months--and it's not done yet. So I'm always open to new ways of tackling this huge job.

Ray divides his book into (naturally) 52 sections, with steps to complete every weekend of the year. First, the assignments cover character work, scene building and plotting, and then they dive into the actual writing of the novel.

The author suggests figuring out the key scenes in your book, then writing those first. These would include the opening scene, the two pivotal points at the end of Act 1 and Act 2, the midpoint, and the catharsis. He helps you identify these scenes through writing a scenario, basically a one-paragraph summary of the plot.

After you write the key scenes, you'll write the first draft, which Ray calls the "discovery draft". I kind of like that terminology. Next comes the "meditation draft" that you mull over, and rework, deepening conflict and characterization. This naturally leads into the final draft.

I like that Ray includes very specific (and creative) exercises for each weekend's work. He explains each point well, with examples from actual books. There are also reading assignments and things to think about during the week, to keep your brain in the game.

Ray uses "Aristotle's Incline" as the model for plotting your story in the 1994 edition that I reviewed. In 2005 he came out with a new edition that also explains the hero's journey and mythic structure. On the Amazon page, several reviewers who loved the earlier edition were disappointed with the second.

Here's a quote I like from Ray, on the seduction of writing:

"Once you try your hand at writing deep, once you feel the glow of the words, once you feel their power, you won't want to do anything else. Words will wake you from your sleep. Words you never noticed before will amaze you as they shimmer in a new way, as they change shape, as they take you deeper. Because of the words and the joy of writing, you'll steal time from family and friends so you can practice your writer's craft. The Weekend Novelist will help you make the best use of the time that you steal for writing."

If you plan on participating in Nanowrimo this year, I think this could be a great book to help you assign tasks to each day of the month. If you'd like to see if the book is a good fit for you, check out this outline of The Weekend Novelist that a writer posted online.


  1. "Words will wake you from your sleep". Yes, yes!

    Sounds like an amazing book.

    By the way, 15 weeks?!? I'm impressed.

  2. Amy-

    I can relate, too. Much lost sleep over words, here.

    And don't be too impressed by the 15 weeks. That does not include editing, only the first draft. Someday I'll return to it and give it the attention it needs!



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