Once a student completes the beginning workshop course, they have learned to polish the technical aspects of their prose. Their fiction
should be free of technical errors, which opens the possibility of more in-depth discussions of style. This course focuses on student work via a writer's workshop while additional weekly readings
and exercises will help students improve their control of such writing aspects as psychic distance, dialog, and when to use scene vs. narrative summary vs. exposition. Students will also continue
to develop their own styles of narration and description.
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 control of psychic distance
6) practiced the art of dialog
7) mastered when to keep a scene as scene, when to convert it to narrative summary, and when to turn it into exposition.
1) The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
2) Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books
and for ThoseWho Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
3) Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit
Yourself Into Print (2nd ed.) by Renni Browne & Dave King
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 stylistic qualities like increasing and controling psychic distance, revising and tightening dialog, and converting scene into narrative summary, exposition into scene, and so forth.
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).
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
At the end of the semester, you will turn in a final portfolio which consists of three parts. 1) A final draft of your original short story, 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?
Week 2 – Mock Workshops
Scene / Narrative Summary / Exposition