The Stories I Like to Teach

Short story anthologies are usually uneven and disappointing, so I assembled my own collection


When I sat down to design my first creative writing course, I checked out dozens of contemporary short fiction anthologies from the library and borrowed others from friends, looking for the anthology that would fit the lessons I had in mind.

 

No collection had a story that fit every lesson I wanted to teach. I needed stories that illustrated key concepts clearly. They couldn't just be good or famous. I also didn't want to make students buy a book and then only read a handful of stories from it.

 

Teach like yourself

Every teacher has their own style and instincts. Follow those instincts. You can't teach like someone else. You have to teach like yourself. Trying to conform your lessons solely to the stories within an existing anthology is like trying to teach like someone else.

 

So decided to assemble my own collection and I encourage other teachers to do the same. Below are the stories I chose and their corresponding lessons. I don't expect everyone to use these stories in their teaching. I am able to marry the content of my lesson to these stories in ways that make sense to me. It won't make sense for everyone else to teach the same concepts the same way.

 

Stories don't have to be famous

Half of the stories below are not heavily anthologized, famous stories. Half of them are. They don't all have to be famous because a creative writing class is not a literature class. They have different goals. For example, literature classes often teach the dramatic monologue with "My Last Duchess." However that story is so old, its premise so foreign to contemporary life, it's hard make a good creative writing lesson out of it.

 

On the other hand, Fleming's contemporary story "Wind and Rain" is a monologue delivered by a man sitting at the side of his unconscious brother's hospital bed. The narrator is speaking out loud to someone who cannot hear him, and that allows the class to have a conversation about why people write letters but never send them, talk out loud at gravesides, et cetera. It's not a famous story, but it is a good entrance into the genre of dramatic monologue and contemporary ways it can be used.

 

Character & Conflict: The Three Sources of Heat
“Least Resistance”  by Wayne Harrison

a love triangle isn't what the narrator thinks

“The Payoff”  by Susan Perabo

kids blackmail a teacher and learn empathy

“Everything That Rises Must Converge”  by Flannary O’Connor

son and mother clash when a woman with a hat appears

“A&P”  by John Updike

girls in his checkout line cause a cashier to clash with his boss

   
Revealing Internal Conflict with Symbols  
“Chango”  by Oscar Casares a severed monkey head reveals a man's grief
“The Chrysanthemums”  by John Steinbeck flowers and more say what characters won't say aloud
   
Narrative Structures  
“The Wizard of West Orange”  by Steven Millhauser epistolary steampunk in the form of journal entries
“Alligator Joe & Pancho Villa” by William Kanouse flash fiction with a hook, three-acts, & epiphany
“Wind and Rain”  by John Henry Fleming    dramatic monologue at a hospital bedside
"Lust"  by Susan Minot fragmented, nonlinear narrative
   
Endings  
“Virgins”  by Danielle Evans the power of their endings come their penultimate paragraphs
“Brownies”  by ZZ Packer
   
Point of View  
“Man’s Courage”  by Blassingame the rarely used "we" is essential to the tension
“Tony’s Story”  by Leslie Marmon Silko switch POV to another character and this story loses its meaning
   
Pyschic Distance  
“Chango”  by Oscar Casares limited third person lets us hear a man's thoughts in his voice
“Hills Like White Elephants”  by Ernest Hemingway never hearing the character's thoughts is essential to the drama
   
Description  
Eavesdropping (excerpts) by Steve Kuusisto  vivid descriptions from a blind memoirist
   
Dialog and Dialect  
“Virgins” by Danielle Evans captures the rhythms and vocabulary of dialect without phonetic spelling
Of Mules and Men (excerpts)  by Zora Neale Hurston code switches from dialect to formal English
   

Narrative Summary & Scene

 
“A Slow, Soft River”  by Lawrence Dorr switching from scene to narrative summary causes this canoe trip to slow down and speed up
   
Exposition  
“Wind and Rain”  by John Henry Fleming a rant about golf says nothing about golf and everything about the character