Review: One Year Adventure Novel

One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN) , a year-long high school level course on how to write a novel, caught my eye when my younger son, then ten, was gleefully working his way through his first NaNoWriMo. He’d started that process on a bit of a whim, and despite having only written one short story before that November, he completed a quite readable story of over 10,000 words. (For the details of our experience, read this.) He’d been bitten by the fiction writing bug, so naturally, I searched for more avenues to learn about that style of writing. I visited the OYAN homepage several times over the next two years, but the price was off-putting. (Full price, it is $200 and, per the website, not to be resold, although doing so seems to only bar purchaser of the used material access to the website forums and the ability to purchase additional workbooks.)  I wasn’t sure I wanted to make a formal study of this personal passion. But last semester, a parent of a writing student of mine wanted her daughter to give it a try. My excuse to purchase had presented itself, and I agreed, excited to try it out with an eager, exceptionally bright fiction writer.

OYAN, a DVD and text-based program,  is designed to be used over a school year of 36 weeks.  The Compass, a textbook of 78  short chapters including excerpts from novels, gives the meat of the lesson. Each chapter is just a few pages, periodically including a few pages of text from an adventure classic with a few questions for the student to answer. The DVD lecture is nearly identical to the textbook, meaning the curriculum supports auditory and visual learners. Some lectures include well-chosen movie excerpts to illustrate a particular point, but many are simply explanations of what is in the text.  Ranging from six to about fifteen minutes, the lectures are easy to fit into even a busy schedule. At the end of the last DVD are student quizzes, designed to give weekly, other adventure novels, and other extras.

Daniel Schwabauer, the author of the text and the lecturer on the DVDs, is thorough and generally interesting, first covering minutiae about every element of first the main character then the supporting characters. Plot receives similar attention, with nine chapters dedicated to outlining each chapter in great detail. It’s only in Chapter 40 that the writing begins, along with discussions of dialogue, narration, a variety of literary devices, and  a smattering of other topics about writing. Revision receives four chapters, a seemingly paltry amount given how much time it generally takes and the importance it has, an importance acknowledged by the author but given short shrift in the schedule. Getting the first draft done seems to be the main goal.

The Map is the accompanying workbook, and it consists of forty chapters (the workbook stops when the writing begins),  starting with discussions of theme, conflict, and protagonist, leading to character sketches, and ending with detailed chapter outlines. The student who completes those forty chapters will have a clear template for writing his or her book. Some of these questions are quite challenging, reaching beyond the text, especially in the first half of the workbook, when the student may have little idea of what will happen in his or her book. This intense focus on sometimes abstract novel characteristics can be frustrating to the writer who just wants to tell a story. Discussions of theme and the necessity of meaning are repeated, with an emphasis that this is to be a novel of depth rather than a fun read. Again, given this is likely often the first substantial writing project in a student’s experience, this can be overwhelming. A fun, cohesive read with a strong plot and well-developed characters would be likely a more appropriate goal.

The Prisoner of Zenda (an adventure novel by Anthony Hope) rounds out the student portion of the curriculum, and reading assignments about that novel with occasional question sets occur throughout the textbook. While this makes for slow reading of a short book, the readings are timed to match planning techniques. The Teacher’s Guide, a thin volume, contains guidelines for parents and teachers as they evaluate their students as well as answers to weekly quizzes. The course is designed to be completed solo aside from parental evaluations, leading the appropriately light amount of information in this book. (We did not use any of the 78 short answer quizzes, so I can’t speak to their usefulness. I suppose they would provide another criteria for granting a grade for the class, if that were desired.)

Disclosure point: My student and I made it only as far as Chapter 18. Mostly, we stopped because my student was bored and frustrated. Faced with thirteen weeks of not writing, she was losing enthusiasm for what she wanted to do — write her novel. She, like many gifted learners, is a whole-to-parts thinker. OYAN is the ultimate parts-to-whole curriculum. She was, therefore, rather miserable. She’d quickly created character sheets, and after the first week or two, we’d discussed her character’s goals and fears to the point of irritation. (Yes, I was bored, too.)

It’s not that I don’t see the point of planning. I’ve seen students start stories with enthusiasm only to reach a point where they didn’t know where to go next. These stories without a climax were initially wonderful, with compelling characters and well-planned settings, but they simply fail to reach satisfying endings. After a few such episodes, I insisted on a few planning basics: Know your setting, characters, plot, and climax with resolution before you start writing.  OYAN takes this several steps further, insisting on intricate planning before a word of the actual novel is written. Major points of focus in the first six weeks are theme and meaning, subjects that OYAN states are what make a novel worthwhile rather than just an entertaining read.

This is where my student got stuck. Me, too. Here was a bright, capable writer who’d discovered the essence of the story she wanted to tell. But what would be the greater message? She was stymied, and I was convinced it didn’t really matter whether she had a theme or message. We both simply wanted a story. Had she wanted to go on, I’d have walked with her, but as mentioned previously, this curriculum is best for a parts-to-whole thinker, particularly the meticulous type, and she was neither.

The issue of message also bothered me on another level. I’d done my homework. This is a curriculum claiming to have a biblical worldview. On principle and because of poor fit for us, I generally avoid these titles. Most tend to be, at best, simply dismissive of other belief systems and usually far worse. I knew that OYAN’s Chapter 18 contained language that belittled nonbelievers, but I’d also heard that was the worst of it, easily discussed with a student and let go. Given my student was not my own child, I planned to forgo the discussion, which worked well, as we had plenty of other matters to discuss.  The video, however, shook me up. Reading his words in the text had not prepared me for hearing his vitriol toward (and poor understanding of) secular humanists. After he misrepresents agnostics and atheists, he backtracks, saying and writing that meaning doesn’t have to come from religion. I can see no purpose to this rant of his other than to wave the flag of his beliefs while denigrating those who find meaning in something other than supernatural.

But even without this disturbing chapter, OYAN wasn’t for us: Not for my student, and not for me, and likely not for my novel-writing son. It has a good deal to offer for the student wanting a fiction writing curriculum with structure, a bottom-up approach, with plenty of examples of technique from a range of classics. It provides parents with plenty of points of evaluation, something that matters more to some homeschooling families than others. It also offers online support via forums for students and parents. Still, it’s expensive for what it offers, and given that purchasers of previously used copies (a company no-no, but not illegal) cannot simply buy a new workbook to go along with the durable materials.

So what is my novel-writing student using now? A free (for the pdf version), high school level workbook from NaNoWriMo. Elementary and middle school versions are also available, as are sets of lesson plans designed for classroom use. I’ve yet to check out the plans, but I can say that the workbooks are far more to-the-point than the OYAN curriculum, and that’s what she needs.

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13 thoughts on “Review: One Year Adventure Novel

  1. Thank you! I have been looking around for materials for this purpose and had seen OYAN and thought about it, however the “Biblical Worldview” had been worrying me. Instead the workbooks that you have pointed to are fantastic. I have read through the HS one and could see it being a huge help for my son in getting his thoughts a bit more structured before just starting to write.

    • I’m glad it was helpful. The NaNoWriMo materials are fantastic and free, as well as blissfully without insults to our family’s way of finding meaning and purpose. If your son is interested in a bit more about fiction writing, try Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. The book is highly readable with a modest number of “try it yourself assignments” that follow excellent and specific advice for fiction writers.

      Sarah

  2. Thanks for your thorough review of OYAN. I’ve looked at it several times for my gifted student/reluctant writer, and the Biblical Worldview kept me from purchasing. Sounds like I made the right decision. We will happily stay with NaNoWriMo materials and look for your other recommendation.

  3. Pingback: negative review of One Year Adventure Novel

  4. Thank you. I have been looking at buying OYAN for months. I have held off because of the cost. Your review was very informative. I had not realized they did not actually start writing thier story until lesson 40. This would drive my daughter crazy. She is an eger happy somewhat talented writer. She wants to write. I fear this curriculum would turn her off from writing. It may be an option when she has grown and matured a bit, but I do not think she is ready yet. Also the discussion of the others anti-christian stance is concerning. I am a christian, but I do not feel it is christian to bash others non-christian or otherwise. I would not be ok with let my daughter do this curriculum independently. Her being able to work completely independently was the only reason I was considering spending that kind of money. This is not the curriculum for us at this time. Your honest thorough review is the best one I have read and prevented me from spending money on a curriculum I believe we would have ended not using. I also want to thank you for your suggestion on what to use. We will be using the resources from nanowrimo.org for now and she where my daughter wants to go with her writing.

    • I’m so glad the review was helpful. I’ve become frustrated on occasion, searching for reviews and only finding glowing reports or ones that lack detail. I try to assess fully and honestly what we’ve used (and explain why we bail out when we do!). Good luck to your daughter!

  5. My teen girls really want to do OYAN. The price tag is much too high for us. Any idea where I could find it used? So far ebay and amazon haven’t been successful.

    • It’s hard to find used because the OYAN folks are clear that reselling is against their policy. You may want to try requesting it on homeschooling boards, however.

  6. Wow, I wish I had read this month or two ago. We just purchased it to teach a small group of four homeschool kids, and classes start in just two days. A million thanks for the warning about chapter 18, I will make sure to remember when we get there. I’m thinking now about doing NaNoWriMo in parallel, so that the kids can start writing something early and not lose their interest prematurely.

  7. I used OYAN in 2013 with my 11, 13 and 15 year old. 11 year old is very advanced in writing so equal with 13 year old. We had exactly the same problem, the kids wanted to write novels not spend most of the year filling out worksheets. I persisted (costly curriculum….), we finished all the worksheets. They balked in the end, none of them every wrote the novel. I don’t blame OYAN for them not finishing, the 15 year old is a whole to parts kid and this curriculum just didn’t fit his style. He is also a bit of a dreamer, so I knew from the start that writing a novel was more dream than reality for him at that point. The 13 year old was doing it because he was along for the ride. He is the most step by step of the lot and I could have made him finish but was sick of the process. The 11 year old lost interest in her story and wanted to start a new one. I don’t think the curriculum is bad. But it goes on way too long in developing the story line for most children. If he had finished the story prep at lesson 20, we might have made it. (We had previously done NaNoWriMo but without enough time to do a good job.) I’d have to say that I think using the curriculum turned my kids off writing. So I’d only recommend it if you have a more sequential child. Even then I’d stop the story prep at an earlier time and jump to writing the actual story. There are good parts to the curriculum, but you need to tweak it. And the ‘you can’t sell anything’ is just lame. My kids never used the online forums, maybe they are of value to some people, but I doubt their value. I’d sell it. I intend to sell mine in the course of this year whether Mr S likes it or not.

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