Instructor: M Fuentes
Office Hours: M W 3 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Office: 946 Langdale Hall
M W 12 p.m. –1:15 p.m.
Kell Hall Rm 280
This workshop provides you with a place to share your fiction, encounter the creative work of others, and offer and receive constructive criticism; it also serves as a twice-weekly reminder that you are not alone in the sometimes-solitary endeavor of writing.
There are seven components to this class:
- Six creative exercises (20%)
- Reading responses (5%)
- Two short stories—one in the third person point of view, one in the first person (30%)
- Critiques of your classmates’ stories (10%)
- “Five Elements” assignments (10%)
- Participation (10%)
- A revision plan and a revision of one of your two short stories (15%)
1) Creative Exercises
You will complete six creative exercise that will allow you to put into practice the concepts and formal elements of narrative design that you will learn from our discussions and from your readings. Your grades for these assignments will be based on your attention to each exercise’s instructions, and on the creative ways you answer each exercise’s challenge. You will turn these in to me by midnight on Canvas, but make sure to also bring a hard copy (print) or an accessible copy (laptop, tablet) with you to class as we will be sharing/reading in class.
2) Reading Responses
We will read eight published stories that provide interesting examples of narrative craft, and you will complete six reading response essays (on one day we will read and discuss three very short stories; your response for that day should address both stories). Each reading response should be a typed one to two-page (250-500-word) informal essay in which you discuss what you have learned by “reading as a writer” the stories assigned for each class meeting. This kind of reading is different than both the kind of reading you do for fun, and the kind or reading you do for literature classes where you seek to identify in the text themes, symbols, or cultural influences. When you read as a writer, you read in order to figure out how the writer made the story fun to read (or failed to make it fun to read), what narrative techniques the writer used to incorporate themes, symbols, etc. These notes on your discoveries should center on issues of craft—how a writer develops characters; how she or he uses POV, dialog, setting, etc.—and your responses should focus on those elements of craft you hope to take to your own work—and/or those elements you plan to avoid. Be sure to give specific examples from the work: quote good (or bad) dialog, point out good character construction, and avoid general statements like “This story doesn’t make any sense” or “This is great!” and offer instead thoughtful analyses of why a story succeeds or does not succeed. (NB: “Informal essay” means that you can use the first person and other less-formal narrative techniques, not that you will receive a passing grade for sloppy work written at the last minute.) Reading responses are due at the start of the class period.
3) Short Stories
The remaining meetings of the semester will be a series of workshops in which you will offer for critique two original short stories of no fewer than seven pages and no more than fifteen pages (1750-3000 words), one written in third person point of view, one in first person point of view. (Two different stories, not the same story told from two different points of view.) We will workshop two stories each time we meet. On the days when your work is being discussed, prepare for me a list of three questions that focus on the aspects of your story about which you have concerns. (For example: “Is there too much dialog?” “Is there enough dialog?” “Is it clear that the narrator is not the woman she claims she is?”) You are not allowed to talk while your work is being discussed, so I’ll use this list to make sure that your most pressing concerns are addressed. Workshop stories are due the class meeting before the meeting during which they will be discussed—no exceptions. You will need 20 copies. Print them the day before to avoid any last-minute problems: your grade will be lowered and your will lose your scheduled workshop if you do not arrive to class with your work ready to distribute.
There are some rules about what you cannot do in these stories:
- No porn (sexual, violent, etc) for porn’s sake.
- No genre (romance, sci-fi/fantasy, spy, crime, vampires, etc.).
- No psycho killers for the sake of psycho killers.
- No characters with the names of students in the workshop or the workshop’s leader
- No imagined friends or enemies (The Fight Club Rule)
- No talking dogs, cats, goats, et cetera as main characters
- No stories about having to write stories for a class
These kinds of stories are not allowed because they are so bound by conventions that they negate the essential humanity of characters and replace that humanity with with something else: tricks, jokes, recognizable plots, distractions, etc. Humanity is what allows art to rise above simple entertainment.
For each workshop, you will prepare in duplicate typed critiques of your classmates’ stories. These critiques should in paragraph form identify each story’s two strongest elements and its two weakest elements, and explain why you feel these elements are strong and weak. These should be at least 250 words and no more than 500 words. One copy of this critique will go to the writer, and one copy will go to me. (Here is a sample critique). Critiques are due at the start of each workshop.
5) Five Elements
Twice times during the semester—at the first meeting and after we have finished the workshops—you will make a list of the five elements you feel make a short story successful and then offer a brief explanation of why each element is important. Chances are that your list will evolve over the semester, and so part of your final explanations will be why you have added new elements and removed others, and/or what has convinced you to stick with your some (or all) of your original five, and/or how your feelings have changed even if some or all of your elements have remained the same. The first in-class version of this assignment will be little more than a list, but the midterm and final versions should be at least 500-words (two typed pages) and each element should have its own brief paragraph in which you note at least one example from the published stories you feel proves your claims.
Your participation in the workshop community is important. 10% of your grade is based on your class participation, which means that you have to be in class for every meeting to earn that 10%. You also have to come prepared to voice your opinions about the stories under consideration, and to be prepared to hear different opinions and to consider how those opinions might help you to expand your critiques and to consider similar issues in your own work. You must arrive on time and stay for the entirety of the class. Unexcused absences are unacceptable. Each class meeting is one hour and fifteen minutes long. You can miss two class meetings without penalty (unless your story is due to be distributed or workshopped), but missing three class meetings will cause your final grade to be lowered by 5% (82 will become a 77), missing four class meetings will cause your grade to be lowered by 10% (82 will become 72), and missing five or more class meetings without valid excuses will result in an automatic F for the class. Arriving more than 10 minutes late counts as an absence for the day. Leaving more than 10 minutes early (unless you provide a valid excuse) also counts as an absence. Also: turn off your cell phone’s ringer. Do not send or receive text messages during class. If you are asked to leave because of disruptive or inattentive behavior (textaholics, chronic talkers, sleepers) you will receive an absence for the day.
7) Revision: Plan & Execution
The last assignment of the semester is to revise one the two short stories you offer the workshop for critique—one of the stories, not both. You pick the story, but I may suggest in my comments which may be a better candidate for revision. My general advice is to revise the story you care most about. Your revision will begin with a revision plan. This plan will lay out both generally and page-by-page what you plan to do in your revision. It will also allow you to comment on what critiques you found most helpful, surprising, etc. and why you have decided to either take or ignore the advice of your fellow students and your professor. In your revision you should seek to improve your story by attending to both surface issues and more global concerns. Revisions that do little more than fix punctuation and spelling mistakes and drop in short chunks of new material (biographical details about characters that read like encyclopedia entries and details about the weather are two popular bad examples) are not acceptable and will receive a failing grade. The plan counts 5%, the revision 10%. (Here are more details.)
A Few Very Important Notes
- Every story and exercise will be treated as if its author was honestly attempting to create a serious work of art, so don’t waste the workshop’s time—or mine—with stories or exercises written the night before or recycled from other classes.
- Please don’t mistake enrollment in this workshop with a guaranteed A. Writing workshops are serious business. To receive a passing grade you must complete all of the assigned work and complete it well and on time, you must come to every class on time and come prepared, you must participate in discussions, and by the end of the term your work must show improvement.
- Plagiarism is foolish and will result in the harshest penalties allowed by Georgia State University.
One Last Note
If you are interested in creative writing/fiction as your concentration for the English major, please note the following required courses, which you must take in sequence:
- ENGL 3150B: Introduction to Creative Writing
- ENGL 3160: Narrative Techniques
- ENGL 3180B: Contemporary Fiction Craft
- ENGL 4310B: Senior Seminar: Workshop in Fiction
Please note that the creative writing faculty does not allow overflows into filled classes.
You should expect ENGL 4310B, Senior Seminar: Workshop in Fiction to be offered in the Spring semester only. Plan your long-term schedule accordingly!
In special cases, the Department of English might allow you to take ENGL 3180B Contemporary Fiction Craft at the same time as ENGL 3160 Narrative Techniques, or at the same time as ENGL 4310B Senior Seminar, but you will have to get permission to do so. Contact Heather Russel, Assistant to the Director of Creative Writing, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 404-413-5806 for more information.
If you are a senior or a second-semester junior, it will be difficult (and perhaps impossible) to complete the fiction writing course sequence by your anticipated graduation date. Please note that the Literary Studies concentration allows more scheduling flexibility than the Creative Writing concentration. Remember that students can write creatively even when they are not in a creative writing class, and a student pursuing the Literary Studies concentration is welcome to enroll in as many creative writing classes as he or she wishes (as long as the student meets the prerequisites, and the classes have available seats). A student considering graduate study in writing might like to know that very, very few Georgia State graduate students have undergraduate degrees with concentrations in creative writing; in fact, many do not have undergraduate degrees in English.
If you have further questions about the English major and any of the concentrations offered by the Department, you can make an appointment with a Department of English adviser at 404-413-5800.