Handouts & Assignments

Proper Manuscript Format

In 1993, science fiction writer William Shunn created a document that explains how and why to format your manuscript when submitting it to magazines/journals for publication. The document floats around the web, often appearing on writers' blogs, however twenty years later it is woefully out of date. Inspired by Shunn, I have created an up-to-date formatting guide.  read the entire post

How to Write a Kick-Ass Thesis Statement

Writing a thesis statement can be hard, but not if you follow my three-part formula. Over the past two years, I found consistent problems with student thesis statements while  working as a tutor in the USF Writing Center. In response, I created a worksheet to help students develop their ideas into a thesis statement that explains three simple steps.


For teachers everywhere, in high school or college, I'd like to share how I teach thesis statements and my worksheet for use in your classroom.  read the entire

A Visual Guide to Prepositions for ELL Students

The last things English language learners master are articles (a, an, the) and prepositions. While I was working at the USF Writing Center, I struggled to explain to ELL students why they should use one preposition instead of another until I realized that since most prepositions explain the spacial or temporal relationships between objects in a sentence, I could draw the students a picture.

I searched online for visual diagrams that could explain these spacial & temporal relationships, and while I found a few, I didn't like them. As a result, I created my own visual guide to prepositions handout.

First-Day Survey & Self-Assessment

On the first day of class, I like to have students perform a self-assessment of themselves and their creative writing knowledge. It isn't graded, but it feels like a quiz and records their attitudes and knowledge before the class starts.

After distributing the handout, students answer the questions as best they can, and then give themselves a grade by scoring each question from 0-3 points. After they grade themselves, I collect the assessments and hold onto them until the end of the semester. I don't record the grades. During the last week of class, I have students take the assessment again, give themselves a score in the same way, and then pass back the first-day assessments, which allows them to compare how they have changed and how see how they have learned.  It is a very positive experience for everyone.  read the whole post

Great Writers are Great Readers

The purpose of this assignment is to have students investigate and consciously examine:

   1)  what they have read

   2)  why they have read these books

   3)  how they find new fiction to read

   4)  where they get information about new fiction

   5)  and reflect upon whether they want to write the kinds of stories they enjoy reading.

view the assignment

Review of Literary Journals

We don't want students to blindly submit work to journals and magazines they know nothing about. It is also part of the initiation into the writer's life to become familiar with the literary journal market--the kinds of journals out there, what is typical and atypical, and what they could be reading in order to be competitive when submitting. The goal of this assignment is to send students out into the lit journal world and familiarize them with it.   view the assignment

Edit a Contemporary Short Fiction Anthology

Many professional writers also edit anthologies of short fiction. For students, compiling and editing an anthology of contemporary fiction can be an opportunity to discover their personal fiction aesthetic.  view the assignment

Prose vs. TV and Film

Because television and movies are the dominant narrative art forms of the twenty-first century, it is likely that each of us has spent more hours watching TV and movies than reading prose fiction.


Consequently, as young writers we often write in a very cinematic style—our narrators are omniscient and can be everywhere, and yet cannot see into the characters’ heads. This remote psychic distance is the point of view of a camera.


To succeed as authors of novels and short stories, we need to overcome the influence of TV and movies, close the psychic distance in our stories, and use techniques available to prose authors that are not available to screenwriters. This assignment will help students recognize how limited the camera's POV is, and how versatile the third-person limited can be.  view the assignment

Thou Shalt Not - A List of Bad Story Ideas

There are a lot of bad story premises out there. Sometimes, we might have an idea and think, "I've never seen a story like that before." It would be great if that meant we were brilliant, original thinkers, but instead we've probably never seen that story before because it is a really bad idea.


The online speculative fiction magazine Strange Horizons  has a fantastic list of "stories we've seen too often," and a second list just for horror stories, that I like to share with my students. Share it with your students too, especially since so many young writers want to write sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.