Beginning Fiction Workshop


Once a student has completed the introduction to fiction course, they have the vocabulary to talk about the elements of fiction and the experience to participate in an intense workshop. This course focuses on student work via a writer's workshop while additional weekly readings and exercises will help students polish the technical aspects of their prose. 

 

By the end of the course, students will have:

  1)  written and revised 2 original short stories

  2)  practiced close reading of works-in-progress and writing editorial memos by

       writing critiques of classmate stories

  3)  practiced revision as part of their writing process

  4)  practiced the skills needed to be a good writing workshop participant

  5)  learned how to eliminate "to be" verbs from their prose

  6)  learned to identify junk words and eliminate them from their prose

  7)  mastered the idiosyncrasies of grammar and punctuation as they relate to fiction

 


Required Texts

   1)  Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with

        Words  by Bruce Ross-Larson

   2)  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into

         Print  (2nd ed.) by Renni Browne and Dave King

   3)  The Elements of Style  by Strunk & White



Assignments

Prose Editing Exercises

Editing exercises will be assigned weekly, to establish a regular practice of editing and polishing prose. These are skills needed to edit your classmates' stories during workshop and your own fiction, and will be beneficial in any future career that involves writing.

 

Exercises will focus on technical aspects of prose: the elimination of "to be" verbs and passive voice, identifying and eliminating junk words, and mastering grammar. While you should already be familiar with grammatical rules, fiction uses unique punctuation, the "em dash," and certain issues, such as use of "would," will not have been covered in composition courses.

 

Two Original Short Stories

Over the semester, you will write 2 original short stories, each between 12 to 16 pages in length. This must be a new story—old work written for another class is not allowed. Both stories will be workshopped by the class. Your story may be about anything you want in any genre (realism, humor, noir, magic realism, sci-fi, fantasy, et cetera).

 

Written Critiques 

The heart of this class is reading and responding to your classmates' work. For each story you will write a critique following these guidelines:  Each critique will consist of two parts (examples will be provided). Remember that you are criticizing a draft, not a finished product.  It is impossible to write a good story in one draft. Professional writers go through dozens of drafts. Writing is revision. More often than not, revision is where the magic happens. 

 

   1)  A general comment of at least 400 words that discusses the following issues:

         What is your interpretation of the story? In other words, who is the main character

         and what is his or her emotional journey? How do the secondary characters fit into

         the main character's journey? What overall emotional effect did the story have on

         you as a reader?  What do you think contributes to this overall effect? Is there

         anything that is not contributing to the story’s goal or purpose? What is distracting,

         confusing, or takes away from the overall effect?

 

   2)  Our instinct is to write brief notes in the margins when reading a manuscript.

         Instead, draw a star and give it number. This number will correspond to a numbered

         comment in the document you give to the writer. Your starred comments should be

         of two types:

         -  Comments about the story’s content should consist of honest, open questions for

             the writer to consider. Questions should not be advice in disguise. (Have you

             thought about killing this character? et cetera.)

        -   Grammatical errors should be identified, explained, and a suggestion provided to

             correct the error

 

Final Portfolio 

At the end of the semester, you will turn in a final portfolio which consists of three parts.  1) Final drafts of your 2 original short stories, revised based upon classmate & instructor critiques, and formatted as if you were submitting it to a journal for publication.  2) A cover letter.  3) A reflection essay of 3-4 pages (formatted according to MLA guidelines), that explores your composition process over the semester, from the initial invention stages through the final revision.

 

Discuss any weaknesses you see in the final version as well as its strengths. How and why did you make the revisions that you did? How does the current draft compare to the first draft? How did the story evolve over the semester? What techniques did you employ or try to employ? What affect did you hope to achieve with these techniques? Did you succeed? Why did you make the choices you made with respect to form, character, and plot? Reflect upon your workshop experience. And finally, how does the story speak to you, or in other words, why were you compelled to write this story at this time?


Course Calendar

Week 1 – Introduction

  • welcome & ice breakers
  • class introduction & syllabus review
  • lecture/discussion: what is a workshop? how is it conducted?
  • sign up for workshop dates

"To Be" Verbs

Week 2 – Mock Workshops

  • lecture/discussion: how to write a good critique
  • practice workshops of sample stories
  • editing exercise #1

Week 3

  • workshop of students 1, 2
  • workshop of students 3, 4
  • discussion of assigned readings
  • editing exercise #2

Week 4

  • workshop of students 5, 6
  • workshop of students 7, 8
  • discussion of assigned readings
  • editing exercise #3

Week 5

  • workshop of students 9, 10
  • workshop of students 11, 12
  • discussion of assigned readings
  • editing exercise #4

Junk Words

Week 6

  • workshop of students 13, 14
  • workshop of students 15, 16
  • discussion of assigned readings
  • editing exercise #5

Week 7

  • workshop of students 17, 18
  • workshop of students 1, 2
  • discussion of assigned readings
  • editing exercise #6

Week 8

  • workshop of students 3, 4
  • workshop of students 5, 6
  • discussion of assigned readings
  • editing exercise #7

Grammar & Punctuation

Week 9

  • workshop of students 7, 8
  • workshop of students 9, 10
  • discussion of assigned readings
  • editing exercise #8

Week 10

  • workshop of students 11, 12
  • workshop of students 13, 14
  • discussion of assigned readings
  • editing exercise #9

Week 11

  • workshop of students 15, 16
  • workshop of students 17, 18
  • discussion of assigned readings
  • editing exercise #10

Week 12

  • voluntary workshops
  • discussion of assigned readings
  • editing exercise #11

Week 13

  • voluntary workshops
  • discussion of assigned readings
  • editing exercise #12

Week 14 

  • voluntary workshops
  • discussion of assigned readings
  • editing exercise #13

Conclusion

Week 15

  • end of semester self-assessment
  • instructor evaluations

Week 16

  • exam week—no class!
  • due: final portfolios