Fiction Writing I
English 351

Syllabus - Table of Contents

Click the links below to go to the appropriate section of this syllabus.

Instructor
   Contact Information
   Office Hours
Goals and Overview
Diversity and Disability
Readings

Daily Schedule

Course Requirements
Class Periods
   Attendance and Class Participation
Writing Projects
   Reading Responses
   Writing Exercises
   Two Short Stories
   Story Critiques
   Final Portfolio
Grading
    Level Up
    Penalty
Bonus Events and Activities

"It's a human need to be told stories. The more we're governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible."
    - Alan Rickman

Instructor

Chris McKitterick is an author and Director of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction and teaches SF and creative writing at KU. He has been a professional writer for more than 20 years, an editor for nearly as long, managed technical writers and editors, freelances for a variety of publishers, and is a popular public speaker. He writes not just stories and novels, but also nonfiction such as astronomy articles, technical documents, gaming supplements, articles, and some poetry, too. Feel free to mine his experience for tips and advice about writing, editing, and the publishing industry.

If you have questions, need assistance, or just want to chat about writing, feel free to visit during office hours, or drop an email any time. If I'm not in the office, leave a message. It might take a little time to respond if I'm out of town or in the middle of a project, so don't wait until the last minute!

Contact Information

At KU:

Office: Wescoe Hall 3040 and Nichols Hall 340
Phone: (785) 864-2509
Email: cmckit@gmail.com

I get a ton of email, so to be sure I see yours, please put "ENGL 351" in the subject line for clarity, and give me at least a weekday to respond. If you don't hear back from me in a couple of days, just "reply all" to the original message (rather than create another), reminding me of your inquiry, so it pops the original message back to the top of my queue. Don't worry about bugging me - I appreciate reminders! On leave Spring 2017

Other contact info:

Personal website

Academia.edu
Facebook
Goodreads
Google+
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database
LinkedIn
LiveJournal
My "Writing Tips" posts on my Tumblr
Twitter
Wikipedia

Go to this page to meet the other people of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction - and let me know if you'd like to get involved!

Office Hours

On leave Spring 2017

Other times by appointment: I am sometimes in the office when not in class and almost always available via email.

Goals and Overview

"You can't please all of the readers all of the time; you can't please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time."
    - Stephen King.

Through applying effort, drive, and passion - and mastering the fundamentals - anyone can become a published author. We'll work to demythologize the artistic process by breaking it down into everyday acts anyone can learn to do. You don't need to be touched by some angel of creativity to become an author, though this kind of opinion still prevails among certain literary elitists as well as in primary and secondary schools, where talent is immediately visible. You can write successful stories if you learn the tools, elements, and theory, and put what you learn into practice by writing and revising what you write.

To accomplish this, we'll break down the creative act into things we can discuss. Any complex action is only understandable if you can break it down into smaller segments. This semester, you'll learn to write engaging short stories by mastering the elements of fiction writing, with a focus on the basics of popular short fiction. Classes cover a wide range of subjects including character, dialogue, idea generation, micro-writing, openings, plot, point of view, scenes, setting, structure, voice, publication strategies, and more. You'll write a number of fragments and two short stories, plus possibly revise one or write a new, third story as a final project. You'll also practice editing by reading, critiquing, and discussing professionally published stories as well as each other's fiction, because mastering revision is the only way to improve your writing.

In addition to traditional fiction, I welcome stories that are science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, and other genres! Readers have varying expectations, so we'll discuss that, as well.

This course satisfies KU Core Goal 1.1, KU Core Goal 2.1, and the Humanities requirement. Ask your advisor for details about how this course fits your needs.

Diversity and Disability

Everyone enjoys equal access to the Gunn Center's offerings, and we actively encourage students and scholars from diverse backgrounds to study with us. All courses offered by Gunn Center faculty are also available to be taken not-for-credit for professionalization purposes by community members (if space is available). Click here to see the Center's Diversity Statement.

The Academic Achievement and Access Center (AAAC) coordinates accommodations and services for all eligible KU students. If you have a disability for which you wish to request accommodation and have not contacted the AAAC, please do so as soon as possible. Their office is located in 22 Strong Hall; their phone number is (785)864-4064 (V/TTY). Also please contact me privately about your needs in this course.

Readings

You don't need to purchase any texts for this course. Part of the reason for this is that I encourage that you print out stories to do hand mark-ups for your fellow students who'd like such, and that can get pricey.

See the reading list in the Daily Schedule, below, for the most-current set of works we'll be reading and discussing. Note: The readings list will continue to change throughout the semester as your instructor identifies student needs, finds great new materials, and student projects are assigned for in-class critiquing, so check back here regularly.

Want to check out the large array of writing-workshop handouts I've assembled? Peruse this page. Want more fiction recommendations? See the Recommended Readings section of this syllabus.

Daily Schedule

Here are the nonfiction articles, professional fiction, and student writing works we'll discuss each day, with links to many of the articles online.

You'll write frequent responses or full critiques to the readings, create writing exercises and short stories, and participate in class discussions and writing-workshop sessions. Success in this course and in improving your writing comes from staying on top of the schedule, doing all the assigned work, attending all the class sessions, and turning in everything on time.

Syllabus last updated Jan 2, 2017
Note: This is a new course, so expect several updates before the first class, plus ongoing updates to fit student needs - and new suggestions to Level Up.

Week 1: Monday, August 22
  Course Introduction

"Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you."
    - Shannon L. Alder

Topics

Introductions: Let's get to know one another!

  • What drew you to writing fiction (and this class)?
  • What kind of fiction do you like best to read?
  • What kind of fiction do you want to write?
  • Are these different - and if so, why?
  • Tell us something interesting about you - what's unique about you as a character?

Course and syllabus overview.

Begin critique sign-up for exercises and stories.

For a fantastic illustrated history on modern popular literature, check out Ward Shelly's excellent "The History of Science Fiction" poster.

Writing Due

If yours is one of the exercises we'll be critiquing on Blackboard next week (Character: Someone You Don't Know), it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Friday - this ensures that everyone has time to read it and formulate thoughts while they read the relevant articles.

 

Week 1: Wednesday, Aug 24
  Writing Process. What Makes a Good Story?

"The first draft of anything is shit."
    - Ernest Hemingway

Readings

"Shitty First Drafts," by Anne Lamott.

"Rethinking the Shitty First Draft," by George Dila.

"The Nine Archetypal Heroines," by Tom Gauld.

Story for Class Workshop

"Bullet in the Brain," by Tobias Wolff (see Blackboard Course Documents).

Writing Due

What makes a good story? Let me know in the form of a response to today's readings (and whatever else you want to add)! Everyone - your reading response to today's articles and short story are due to me via Blackboard before class.

We'll discuss your responses, the readings, and other relevant things each day in class. (Starting Wednesday, we'll also discuss the readings in terms of the student exercises you critiqued.)

If yours is one of the exercises we'll be critiquing on Blackboard next week (Character: Someone You Don't Know), it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Friday - this ensures that everyone has time to read it and formulate thoughts while they read the relevant articles.

 

Week 2: Monday, Aug 29
  Character Is Everything.

"A writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature."
    - Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

Readings

"Creating Characters," by Kij Johnson.

"25 Reasons I Hate Your Main Character," by Chuck Wendig.

"25 Things A Great Character Needs," also by Chuck Wendig.

Writing Women Characters

Story for Class Workshop

"The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien (see Blackboard Course Documents).

Student Exercises for Class Workshop

Lars Erickson, Daniel Kounter (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - reading response to today's articles and story is due to me via Blackboard before class. Also include critique notes for today's student exercises.

Everyone - this week's writing exercise (Character: Someone You Don't Know) is due to me via Blackboard by 5:00pm Friday.

If yours is one of the exercises we'll be critiquing on Blackboard next week (Openings: Hook 'Em!), it is due via Blackboard to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Friday.

We'll discuss your responses, the readings, and other relevant things each day in class. Starting today, we'll also discuss the readings in terms of the student exercises you critiqued, when relevant.

 

Week 2: Wednesday, Aug 31
  Point of View. Openings and Hooks.

"Tension is the mother of fiction. When tension and immediacy combine, the story begins."
    - Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction

Readings

"Point of View," by Rob Sawyer

"Crafting Openings," by James Gunn.

"The MICE Quotient," based on the concept by Orson Scott Card.

"Openings and Hooks," by Kathy Kitts.

Senses.

Fiction Reading for Class Workshop

Examples of Great Openings (especially for hooking and immersing the reader)

Student Exercises for Class Workshop

Lars Erickson, Daniel Kounter (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - this week's writing exercise (Character: Someone You Don't Know) is due to me via Blackboard by 5:00pm Friday.

Everyone - reading response to today's articles and story is due to me via Blackboard before class. Include critique notes for today's student exercises.

If yours is one of the exercises we'll be critiquing on Blackboard next week (Openings: Hook 'Em!), it is due via Blackboard to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Friday.

 

  Monday, Sept 5: Labor Day (no class)  

"Have regular hours for work and play. Make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well."
    - Louisa May Alcott

 

Week 3: Wednesday, Sept 7
  Scene, Plot, and Pacing.

"Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations."
    - Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Readings

Plots and Story Structures.

"Four Undramatic Plot Structures," by Tom Gauld.

Kurt Vonnegut Explains Drama.

"Scene - the Smallest Dramatic Unit," by James Gunn.

Van Vogt on the Scene.

"Sequels," by Jim Butcher; and a deeper look into this: "Writing the Perfect Scene," by Randy Ingermanson.

Story for Class Workshop

"Children of the Corn," by Stephen King (see Blackboard Course Documents).

Student Exercises for Class Workshop

Frazier Crawford, Alexis Butts, Juan Torres-Gavosto, Lauren Molloy (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - reading response to today's articles and story is due to me via Blackboard before class. Include critique notes for today's student exercises.

Everyone - this week's writing exercise (Openings: Hook 'Em!) is due to me via Blackboard by 5:00pm Friday.

If yours is one of the exercises we'll be critiquing on Blackboard next week (Bridging the Gap), it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm Friday.

 

Week 4: Monday, Sept 12
  Show and Tell. Exposition. Setting.

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."
    - Anton Chekhov

"The most important things to remember about back-story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn't very interesting."
    - Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Readings

Don't Write What You Know.

Exposition

"Thought Verbs," by Chuck Palahniuk.

Show, Don't Tell (for creating characters).

2 Stammer Verbs to Avoid in Your Fiction, by Jessi Rita Hoffman.

"The Perfect Gerbil," by George Saunders (see Blackboard Course Documents).

Level Up extras:
Interested in going really in-depth in your worldbuilding? I've gathered some some great resources with my "worldbuilding" tag on Tumblr.
This is part of my "Writing Tips" tag, where I've gathered tons more great stuff.

 

Story for Class Workshop

"The School," by John Barthelme (see Blackboard Course Documents).

Student Exercises for Class Workshop

Annie Jones, Matthew Leibold, Ishan Lal, Kolbe Murray, Mariah Severud (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

If yours is one of the exercises we'll be critiquing on Blackboard this week (Bridging the Gap), it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm Friday. This ensures that everyone has time to read it and formulate thoughts while they read the relevant articles.

Everyone - reading response to today's articles and story is due to me via Blackboard before class. Include critique notes for today's student exercises.

 

Week 4: Wednesday, Sept 14
  Dialogue. Ideas.

"Dialogue is not just quotation. It is grimaces, pauses, adjustments of blouse buttons, doodles on a napkin, and crossings of legs."
    - Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction

Readings

Think About Your Story exercise (14 questions to ask that will help you focus when writing your story), by the Clarion Foundation.

Dialogue

"Proper Manuscript Formatting," by William Shunn.

Level Up extras:
I've gathered lots of posts about ideas in fiction writing under that tag on Tumblr. This is related to my "Writing Tips" tag, where I've gathered tons more great stuff.

"Critiques of Ideas," by James Gunn. Page two has lots more thoughts on ideas.

Story for Class Workshop

"The Pelican Bar," by Karen Joy Fowler (see Blackboard Course Documents). Note: Fowler is coming to KU as the Spring semester Gunn Lecturer, probably in March.

Student Exercises for Class Workshop

Annie Jones, Matthew Leibold, Ishan Lal, Kolbe Murray, Mariah Severud (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

In-class dialogue exercise (no need to do this in advance; we'll go over in class).

Writing Due

Everyone - this week's writing exercise (Bridging the Gap) is due to me via Blackboard by 5:00pm Friday.

Level Up opportunity tomorrow night (Sept 15, 5:30pm - 7pm at Jayhawk Ink Bookstore):

Kij Johnson's book release for The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe! Hear a wonderful (and multiple-award-winning) local author read from her new book, pick one up and get it signed if you're so inclined, plus there'll be light refreshments - why not go?

Another Level Up opportunity for Sunday, Sept 18, starting at 5:00pm at the Eighth Street Taproom (801 New Hampshire St, Lawrence):

Join us in celebrating the release of Jim McCrary's new chapbook, A Yearbook (Shirt Pocket Press, 2016), and Jim's 75th birthday! The evening will begin usual with a community open mic, so consider bringing a poem to share in honor of the occasion. Then there'll be celebratory poems from a variety of poets near and far, headlined by Jim reading from A Yearbook. There might even be cake - and there will definitely be drinks served up by our beloved Ian. It's going to be a fun night.

 

Week 5: Monday, Sept 19
  Writing and Critiquing: Pulling It All Together.

"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
    - Stephen King, "The Craft Of Writing Horror Stories"

Readings

"Critiques and Workshopping" - also contains critique guidelines.

"How to Be a Good Critiquer and Still Remain Friends."

"How to Give and Get Good Critique," by Randy Henderson.

(These and more are consolidated in the Story Critiques section of this syllabus.)

Prior to each class wherein we're workshopping student writing, you'll write a short critique for both stories and turn them in to me via Blackboard in the "Week: [x day] Critiques" slot; also give them to the student authors by the end of the class when we workshop that story. Along with participation in the workshop session, these critiques are scored as an important measure of your engagement with the stories.

Requirements

  • Read and use the "Resources" list below as your guidelines.
  • Follow this critique guidelines sheet when formulating your critiques.
  • Respond to all stories for that day with separate critique documents.
  • Bring your critiques to class to help during the workshop.
  • Turn these in via Blackboard in advance of class (you're able to upload multiple files for each assignment).
  • Give these to the authors, as well (printed or electronically), so they can use them in revising their work.

Resources

Writing Due

Everyone - reading response on the critiquing materials due to me via Blackboard before class.

- Heads up for next week's story workshopping: Before you start critiquing student stories, read today's critiquing documents.
They're consolidated in the Story Critiques section of this syllabus. -

Due dates

Everyone: Your written critiques are due to me before class on the day we workshop those stories in class. Send your full critiques of student stories to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email (if you do hand-critiquing, find a way to transfer that information to digital), and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Follow this critique guidelines sheet when formulating your critiques, though you do not need to structure it like that. Bring these with you to class, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

Writers: If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Monday, it is due via Blackboard both to me (in the appropriate Assignment slot) and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Thursday.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Wednesday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by noon Friday. This ensures that everyone has time to read it and formulate thoughts.

 

Week 5: Wednesday, Sept 21
  Elevating your writing:
    Workshops, MFA programs, writing process.

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very.' Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."
"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
    - Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Readings

"Writing Tip #34,567: Avoid Contemporary Literary Style" (doc), by McKitterick.

"Literary Aspirations? Get Tough" (doc), by McKitterick.

"How to Write with Style" (pdf), by Kurt Vonnegut.

Some relevant Level Up readings for preparing for next week, as curated in my Tumblr Writing Tips collection:

  Critiques | Drafting | Editing | Endings | Practice | Revision | Where to start | Writing process

Writing Due

Heads up for next week's story workshopping: Before you start critiquing student stories, read today's critiquing documents.
They're consolidated in the Story Critiques section of this syllabus.

Due Dates

Everyone: Reading response to today's articles due to me via Blackboard before class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during in-class discussion.

Your written critiques are due to me before class on the day we workshop those stories in class. Send your full critiques of student stories to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email (if you do hand-critiquing, find a way to transfer that information to digital), and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Follow this critique guidelines sheet when formulating your critiques, though you do not need to structure it like that. Bring these with you to class, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

Writers: If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Monday, it is due via Blackboard both to me (in the appropriate Assignment slot) and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Thursday.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Wednesday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by noon Friday. This ensures that everyone has time to read it and formulate thoughts.

Level Up opportunity tonight (Sept 21), 7:00pm - 8pm in the Kansas Union's Centennial Room: Philip Metres Poetry Reading.

Poet Philip Metres will read from his work as part of the KU English MFA Visiting Writers Series. Metres is the author, most recently, of the books Pictures at an Exhibition: A Petersburg Album and Sand Opera. His work has garnered two NEA fellowships, two Arab-American Book Awards, and many other accolades. He is Professor of English at John Carroll University in Cleveland. 

Another Level Up opportunity tomorrow night (Sept 22):

On behalf of the University of Kansas Libraries, Dean Kevin L. Smith invites you to attend a reading of poetry written by

Thursday, September 22, 2016
Kenneth Spencer Research Library, North Gallery

1450 Poplar Lane | Lawrence, Kansas
3:00pm - 4:15pm. 

Please join us as poet Janet Eigner and creative writing graduate students Hannah Warren and David Miller read from the poetry of Larry Eigner (1927-1996). Visitors will also be able to peruse a display of Eigner's manuscripts and books from Spencer Research Library's collections.

Larry Eigner was a celebrated American poet who authored more than 40 collections of poetry. His work was featured in the journals The Black Mountain Review and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and in the anthology The New American Poetry, 1945 - 1960.

 

Week 6: Monday, Sept 26
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."
    - Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Aaron Mullis, Mariah Severud (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

A relevant Level Up reading for everyone:

  "How to Write," by David Ogilvy.

Some Level Up readings (as curated in my Tumblr Writing Tips collection) relevant to those working on stories:

  Creativity |Ideas | Imagination | Inspiration

Writing Due

Everyone: Turn in

Writers: If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Monday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Thursday.

 

Week 6: Wednesday, Sept 28
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window."
    - William Faulkner

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Alexis Butts (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - no class meeting today, so I'm offering an alternative Level Up exercise: Creative Juxtaposition Exercise.
your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Wednesday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Friday.

 

Week 7: Monday, Oct 3
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"The scariest moment is always just before you start."
    - Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Daniel Kounter (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Monday, it is due via Blackboard (both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum) before class today.

 

Week 7: Wednesday, Oct 5
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories."
    - Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Frazier Crawford (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Wednesday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Friday.

 

  Monday, Oct 10: Fall Break (no class)  

"Have regular hours for work and play. Make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well."
    - Louisa May Alcott

 

Week 8: Wednesday, Oct 12
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"I started out very quietly and I beat Mr Turgenev. Then I trained hard and beat Mr de Maupassant. I've fought two draws with Mr Stendahl and I think I had an edge in the last one. But nobody's going to get me in any ring with Mr Tolstoy unless I'm crazy or I keep getting better."
    - Ernest Hemingway, using one of his favorite metaphors, on which writers he has gotten into the metaphorical boxing ring with.

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Matthew Leibold (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Monday, it is due via Blackboard (both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum) by 5:00pm this Thursday.

 

Week 9: Monday, Oct 17
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either."
    - Meg Cabot

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Ishan Lal (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Monday, it is due via Blackboard (both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum) by 5:00pm this Thursday.

 

Week 9: Wednesday, Oct 19
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it."
    - Anaïs Nin

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Lauren Molloy, Lars Erickson (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Wednesday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Friday.

 

Week 10: Monday, Oct 24
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"Make up a story... For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don't tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief's wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear's caul."
    - Toni Morrison, "The 1993 Nobel Lecture In Literature"

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Kevin Newton (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Monday, it is due via Blackboard (both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum) by 5:00pm this Thursday.

 

Week 10: Wednesday, Oct 26
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"But this too is true: stories can save us."
    - Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried"

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Annie Jones (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Wednesday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Friday.

 

Week 11: Monday, Oct 31
  Workshop (last of the first) Awesome Student Stories!

"Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words."
    - Mark Twain

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Juan Martin Torres-Gavosto (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Monday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Thursday.

 

Week 11: Wednesday, Nov 2
  Workshop (first of the second) Awesome Student Stories!

"You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say."
    - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Frazier Crawford (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Wednesday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Friday.

 

Week 12: Monday, Nov 7
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"Give me just enough information so that I can lie convincingly."
    - Stephen King

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Lauren Molloy (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Monday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Thursday.

 

Week 12: Wednesday, Nov 9
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"The man that I named the Giver passed along to the boy knowledge, history, memories, color, pain, laughter, love, and truth. Every time you place a book in the hands of a [reader], you do the same thing. It is very risky. But each time a [reader] opens a book, he pushes open the gate that separates him from Elsewhere. It gives him choices. It gives him freedom. Those are magnificent, wonderfully unsafe things."
    - Lois Lowry, from her Newbery Award acceptance speech

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Annie Jones (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Wednesday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Friday.

 

Week 13: Monday, Nov 14
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"It is impossible to discourage real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write."
    - Sinclair Lewis

"Anyone who can be discouraged from becoming a writer should be. The rewards are small and delayed, few people will ever care about your work, and there are no guarantees. Only if you cannot be discouraged will you find success."
    - James Gunn

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Ishan Lal (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Monday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Thursday.

 

Week 13: Wednesday, Nov 16
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"You must write, and read, as if your life depends on it."
    - Adrienne Rich

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Mariah Severud (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Wednesday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Friday.

If you haven't started on it yet, get working on your final portfolio!

 

Week 14: Monday, Nov 21
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal."
    - T.S. Eliot
    (Note: This is about inspiration, not plagiarism, of course. Good analysis here.)

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Daniel Kounter (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Monday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Thursday.

Keep working on your final portfolio!

 

  Wednesday, Nov 23: Thanksgiving Break (no class)  

"Have regular hours for work and play. Make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well."
    - Louisa May Alcott

 

Week 15: Monday, Nov 28
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist."
    - Pablo Picasso

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Kevin Newton, Lars Erickson (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Wednesday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Friday.

Keep working on your final portfolio!

 

Week 15 Wednesday, Nov 30
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it."
    - Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Stories by Matthew Leibold, Lars Erickson (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If yours is a story we'll be critiquing in class next Monday, it is due via Blackboard both to me in Assignments and to your classmates in a new thread in the appropriate Discussion Board forum by 5:00pm this Thursday.

Keep working on your final portfolio!

 

Week 16: Monday, Dec 5
  Workshop Awesome Student Stories!

"Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either."
    - Meg Cabot

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Juan Martin Torres-Gavosto (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If you're doing one, keep working on your final portfolio!

 

Week 16: Wednesday, Dec 7
  Last Class Workshopping Awesome Student Stories!

"A writer's only compensation is absolute freedom. [They have] no master except their own soul, and that, I am sure, is why they do it."
    - Roald Dahl

Student Stories for Class Workshop

Story by Aaron Mullis (see Blackboard Discussion Board).

Writing Due

Everyone - your full critiques of today's student stories are due to the authors via their Blackboard Discussion Board post or via direct email, and to me via Blackboard before the start of class. Bring these with you, as well, to refer to during the in-class critique session.

If you're doing one, start wrapping up your final portfolio.

 

Finals Week:
  No class (unless you want!).
  Final portfolio due.
  Late Projects due.

"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."
    - Madeleine L'Engle

No class... unless y'all want to get together during our assigned Finals time-slot to talk. Let me know!

Final test! It's not what you think:
After our last class: In the "In-Class Participation" assignment in Blackboard, describe the top 10 things you learned this semester that you didn't know before and found valuable for your writing or life in general - and how you're applying (or will be applying) these in your writing or writing life. Be as creative as you want (bonus points for cleverness or insightful comments). I'd also love to hear your overall thoughts, especially on things like which readings you liked best, what you'd like to see more of, your thoughts on the additive grading process (opportunities to Level Up rather than deductions), and so forth. The default score for this is a measure of your attendance and engagement, but if you attended every class and took part in the conversations, you can expect to get more than the maximum points! I've been tracking who has contributed significantly to in-class discussions, both as participants and discussion leaders. Many of you will get a ton of points for this! Bonus points also go to those who write this in a way that demonstrates your writing skill. I'll provide your participation points once I see this submission!

Final portfolio deadline (for bonus credit):
Turn in to me via Blackboard by Thursday, Dec 15, before 5:00pm.

Late projects:
To receive (reduced) credit, hand off your missing reading responses, exercises, and stories before 5:00pm to Blackboard by Friday, Dec 16. If you didn't manage to finish something when it was due, turn it in after you turn in your more important final portfolio. You cannot turn in late critiques beyond one week past when they were originally due.

 Course Requirements

To successfully complete the course and get out of it all you can, at a minimum you are required to:

  • Attend every class each week.
  • Participate in class, which means being involved in every discussion, each day.
  • Participate in live, round-table critique sessions during many classes.
  • Read the required materials and student writings.
  • Write insightful reading responses and useful critiques.
  • Create four short writing exercises.
  • Create two new short stories.
  • Write a third short story or revise one, plus provide a self-reflection on your writing, for your final portfolio.

To earn top scores and earn the best final grade, be sure to Level Up whenever possible! You can write additional exercises, reading responses, or even create a final portfolio (a third story or a significant revision). The more work you put in to this course, the more improvement you'll see in your writing (and in your final grade)!

 Class Periods

Class periods revolve largely around discussion of the readings and critique of student writings, with some lecture by your professor.

During the first part of the semester, before each class everyone is responsible for having read a couple short articles about writing that we'll discuss during that class.

After the first couple of get-togethers, you'll also begin creating interesting writing exercises (due before we meet) based on that class' readings, and we'll do either a live critique or two in class (or on the Blackboard Discussion Board) to put what we learned from reading the theory articles into practice, helping one another improve in those measures. To prep for this, if we have time I'll likely ask you to break into groups of 3-5 to come up with your most-relevant commentaries (10 minutes or so), then shift to all-class discussion.

Starting later in the semester (which week depends on whether the class remains full or if some writers drop), you'll begin to create new short stories and turn them in to me and to the rest of the class via Blackboard.

During the majority of these later class sessions, we'll critique two or more short stories each day. We'll use a round-robin workshop format, concluding with your professor's critique and as much in-depth commentary as we have time for. Everyone provides feedback in turn (except for the author, who remains silent) - keep your verbal responses shorter than 90 seconds; no going over unless your professor says otherwise.

Occasionally, we might have guest speakers in class or get together (for bonus credit) at readings outside of class.

Be civil: Critiques are about helping one another become better writers! Civility and respect for the opinions of others are vital for a free and healthy exchange of ideas that are helpful for everyone learning how to write better. You might not agree with everything I or others say in the classroom, but I expect respectful behavior and interaction all times. When you disagree with someone, make a distinction between criticizing an idea and criticizing the person. Similarly, try to remember that discussions can become heated, so if someone seems to be attacking you, keep in mind they take issue with your writing, not who you are, and respond appropriately. Expressions or actions that disparage a person's age, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, nationality, race, religion, or sexual orientation - or their marital, parental, or veteran status - are contrary to the mission of this course and will not be tolerated. If we all strive to not only become better writers but also better human beings, everyone will get the most out of this course!

Attendance and Class Participation

This is a discussion- and critique-based course, so class participation is scored heavily. Coming to every class and getting involved in discussions is necessary for a good grade, and also for getting the most value from the course.

Your instructor will likely open each day with background on fiction writing, especially the topics and movements relevant to the day's discussions. We'll then move on to open discussion about the readings and critique sessions of the fiction pieces and exercises you read for the day.

The discussions - and especially critiques - aren't just talking about what we liked or didn't like; I expect you to exercise your critical-reading skills. That is, don't just read the fiction for pleasure, don't just accept the articles as canon, and don't feel the need to agree with your teachers or classmates. No one knows the One True Way to Write. If you apply yourself, by the end of this course you'll possess expertise of your own on the topic. During discussions and critiques, demonstrate your growing understanding of what makes great fiction (including how to do great revisions). In everything you turn in to me, demonstrate this through your responses to the required readings and your written critiques of student writings, and in how much your own writing improves.

Of course, be polite and diplomatic. Avoid dominating discussions, mindlessly blathering, talking over others, or speaking even when someone shyer than you has already raised their hand; doing so frequently can negate possible bonuses. During round-robin critique sessions, don't speak out of turn. Exercise your socialization: If you're normally shy, here's your chance to talk about something you love! If you're normally domineering, tone it down.

When we get to critiquing full-length student stories, we have only about 30 minutes per story (assuming we begin right after the bell - unlikely, as we'll often open with general discussion). It comes down to simple math: In order for 20 or more people to all share their comments on two stories, everyone absolutely must finish their comments in about a minute and a half, so we'll pass around the Baton of Critique Time to reign in verbose commenters. With smaller classes, we'll have more time for critiques and discussion.

If you know you are going to miss a class for an academic event, illness, or other excusable reason, contact me as soon as possible to see if we can work out something so it does not negatively affect your overall grade too much. If appropriate, I can mitigate this loss so your attendance score remains unaffected.

If your writing exercise or story is scheduled to be critiqued in class, you must attend. If something comes up and you cannot attend, you must inform me well enough in advance (at least 10 days' notice for a story, at least 5 days' notice for an exercise) that I can arrange for a volunteer to take over your slot. If you're ill or facing an emergency and absolutely cannot make it to class, we'll try to schedule a backup to replace you, but we might end up critiquing your work without you! Don't miss days when your work is being critiqued. Skipping a class when your work is scheduled leads to not only losing that day's participation points plus an additional penalty (see below), but it's also really impolite to the people who worked hard on critiquing your writing.

During discussions, do not expose yourself or others to distractions such as checking email, Facebook, and so forth. If you're looking up relevant content, do so in a way that doesn't distract you or your classmates. Obviously, turn off your phone's ringer/buzzer. I know it's sometimes a challenge to focus during extended discussion, but recent studies show that the human mind cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time, and fracturing your attention means you're not getting everything possible out of each discussion. Feel free to take notes on your computer or portable device - or use them for pulling up your notes or looking for content to share - just stay away from distractions. It's difficult to remain engaged in discussions if your mind is elsewhere, and doing so also bumps down your overall grade. On the other hand, actively participating in class discussions bumps up your overall grade. Even worse, monkeying around online also interrupts your neighbors' attention.

I'm sure you have heard this before, but it's as true as ever: You get out of any activity only what you put into it. The more effort and creativity you apply to your projects and to class discussions and critiques, the more you will learn about how to write engaging fiction - and the better the class will be for everyone else, as well. If you do not regularly attend class or do not participate in discussions, you'll miss out on a lot of opportunities to learn and grow as an author and a person. Because, really, fiction is the best way to express your unique understanding of what it means to be a human being.

TL;DR - Always show up to class and get involved in the most decent and helpful ways you can!

Attendance and Participation Scoring

Attendance and class participation base value (2 points per class session): 15 weeks x 2 classes each week x 2 points (-1 day) = 58 base points possible.

Level Up

  • Never miss a class: +4.
  • Miss only one class: +2.
  • Provide meaningful and insightful verbal comments during workshop sessions: +1 per story.
  • Add meaningfully to class discussion outside of workshops: +1 per class.
    ... Great participants in daily discussions can earn +20 or more over the course of the semester!

Penalty

  • Missing class is the quickest way to lose points in this way: -2 points per missed class (after the first two days).
  • Missing class when your work is scheduled to be critiqued: additional -2 for that day (total of -4 for the day).

If you know you are going to miss a class for an academic event, illness, or other excusable reason, contact me as soon as possible to see if we can work out something so it does not negatively affect your overall grade too much. If appropriate (and if you don't have a project we'll be critiquing that day), I can mitigate this loss so your attendance percentage remains unaffected.

Writing Projects

"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."
    - Ray Bradbury

In addition to good participation, much of your grade depends on the short responses and critiques you write twice a week, your two short stories, plus the final portfolio. If you use non-standard software to create your projects, save them in standard formats (you must use .doc, .docx, or .rtf formats). Turn in projects via Blackboard. They will be scored and returned via Blackboard in a reasonable time.

Want to enhance your literary-criticism chops and Level Up by incorporating traditional (or new) lit-crit approaches into your responses? Check out this overview page about literary-criticism approaches.

 Reading Responses

Prior to each class, write a short reading response and turn it in via Blackboard in the "Week: [x day] Reading Response" slot. Along with participation in each week's discussion, these responses are scored as an important measure of your engagement with the day's topics.

During the weeks when we're only reading student stories, turn in your critique under that day's Blackboard Assignment slot to earn credit for doing the work.

Requirements

  • Articles and other assigned readings: List 5-10 things you learned from each. Respond to all the nonfiction for that day.
  • Student exercises:
    • When critiquing a short student exercise, list at least a few comments about each piece (turn it in both to the writer via the Discussion Board thread where they turned it in and to me in the appropriate Assignments slot) to earn full credit.
    • See this page for guidelines on writing successful critiques.
    • See this critique guidelines sheet for ideas when formulating your full critiques - no need to respond to all these measures for the short exercises, but it's a handy reference especially for the full-length stories.
  • When responding to professional fiction:
    • Provide deep or critical analysis about why the story succeeds (or why it doesn't) using the measures we've discussed.
    • Consider theme, ideas, character, narrative, dialogue, structure, setting, and all the other fiction-writing elements.
    • Don't provide a plot summary, but instead provide insightful, critical, and thoughtful reflections on the works.
    • Ask yourself what the author was trying to say (themes), analyze how it was written, and offer your thoughts on whether or not it was successful.
  • Exercise your critical-reading skills when writing these responses; that is, don't just read the fiction for pleasure, and don't just accept everything that scholars and critics have written as canon. I want to hear what you get from the assigned materials, your additional readings and other interactions, and your own experiences.
  • Aim for about 300 words. (Longer is better than too short.)
  • Format: You can use bullets for discussion points, bold the titles of the works you're discussing, or use the titles as headings. Your responses can resemble essays, citing the works in tandem, or merely respond to each individually. However you prefer to handle it is fine, but what's most important is that you've thought through all the works for each day and their relationship to one another as well as to how it helps better understand the art of fiction.
  • Tip: Include a couple of questions to pose to me or to your classmates to stimulate discussion.
  • Bring your response to class to help during discussion.
  • Turn them in via Blackboard in advance of class.

Due dates
Your reading responses are due before class on the day we discuss those materials.

Reading Response Scoring

Base value: 2 points each x 5 = 10 total.

They are usually scored in Blackboard by the following week. Here is how I score the reading responses and critiques:

    0 - missing, or poor response turned in late.
    1 - turned in, but provides no interesting insights or does not convince me you did close readings.
    2 - has interesting insights on the readings or convinces me you completed the reading.
    3 - (+1 Level Up) convinces me you did all the reading and provides interesting insights.
    4 - (+2 Level Up) also discusses additional materials relevant* to the day's topics.    

That means you could potentially earn up to double bonus over the base score for your reading responses by Leveling Up every class!

* Some examples of additional materials to cover in your response paper include a short story for novel, a fiction-related event (convention, book-club gathering, book release or reading), or so on.

Penalty

Late papers get -1 point each if turned in after the relevant class session begins. Turn them in on time! Missing response papers are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week.

 Writing Exercises

"The scariest moment is always just before you start."
    - Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

During the early part of the semester, you'll create several writing exercises - with the opportunity to turn in more for Level Up points.

See the Daily Schedule for due dates and other details. Here's the (growing) list:

Due dates

Everyone does these each week, with the opportunity to share them online (via Blackboard) for bonus credit. I'll pass around a sign-up sheet for when we'll perform online (and possibly in-class discussion) workshopping of your exercises, and later add you to the appropriate weeks:

  • Most of the time, your writing exercise is due to me by 5:00pm Friday on the week we discuss that topic. Unless you also share it on Blackboard, no one will see these.
  • If your exercise is scheduled for critique the next week, you'll usually turn it in to me and the class by 5:00pm on the preceding Friday (a week earlier than everyone else).
  • Turn them in...
    • ... to me under the appropriate Blackboard Assignment slot so I can give you a score.
    • ... for Level Up credit, via our Blackboard Discussion Board so everyone can find them and provide feedback (note that you did this in your regular turn-in to me, so I remember to look for it in the Discussion Board!).

Writing Exercise Scoring

Base value: 3 points each x 3 exercises = 9 total.

Here is how I score the exercises:

    0 - missing, or poor exercise turned in late.
    1 - turned in, but misses the point or doesn't reflect that you understood the readings.
    2 - lackluster attempt.
    3 - convinces me you understood the readings and is satisfactory.
    4 - (+1 Level Up) outstanding job!    

Level Up

Write additional exercises: up to +2 each.

Volunteer to share your exercise to be workshopped on the Blackboard Discussion Board: up to +2.

Penalty

Late exercises get -1 point each if turned in after the due date. "Late" is any time after when it was due to everyone for in-class critiquing (see the Daily Schedule for specific due days and times). If your work is scheduled to be critiqued, turn it in on time, even if you cannot attend the live class.

Turn in your exercises on time, and don't miss class sessions! Missing exercises are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week (at a deduction).

 Short Stories

"You fail only if you stop writing."
    - Ray Bradbury

During the regular part of the semester, you'll write at least two (2) complete short stories and share them with your fellow students (and me) for in-class workshopping.

Requirements:

  • 1000-5000 words each (that's about 4-15 pages).
    • Total (both stories) maximum combined word-count of 10,000. That means you can turn in one short-short and one longer story, but cannot exceed 10k with both unless you get special permission from your teacher.
  • Adhere to proper manuscript format. Read the article. Some elements include:
    • Double-spaced lines, except in the address section (use single-space there).
    • 12-point serif (Courier, Times New Roman, or similar) font face.
    • 1" margins all around.
    • Your name, title, and word-count on the first page (but no page number).
    • Page numbers and your name and title on every page after the first (don't type this - use your word processor's page-number insert tool for this).
    • Let the reader know things are done by putting the word END at the end of the story.
    • Use the pound sign or asterisk - centered on a blank line of its own - to indicate scene, time, or setting shifts.
  • Run a spell-check and clean up grammatical and punctuation issues.
  • Use this file-naming system: [yourname-storytitle-weekandday.doc] For example: McKitterick-ShadesofGary-week3Wednesday.doc
  • Only use standard, common file types: .doc, .docx, or .rtf. If your word processor cannot save in one of these formats, get one that can (free ones abound!). We can't expect people to buy new software to open your files.
  • Turn them in on time...
    • ... via our Blackboard Discussion Board, so everyone can find them when needed.
    • ... as well as to me under the appropriate Blackboard Assignment slot, so I can score them.
  • Stories may be based on writing exercises, expanded into a complete story, or come from any other inspiration.
  • Stories cannot be turned in late without penalty - particularly if we're scheduled to critique them the following week.

Due dates

I'll pass around a sign-up sheet for when we'll perform in-class workshopping of your two stories, and later add you to the appropriate Daily Schedule slots. If no one signs up for a day, I'll assign it for you, so pick what you prefer! Your due dates will vary based on when we'll go over them in class:

  • If your story is scheduled for critique on Monday of the next week, you'll usually turn it in to me and the class by 5:00pm on the preceding Thursday.
  • If your story is scheduled for critique on Wednesday of the next week, you'll usually turn it in to me and the class by 5:00pm on the preceding Friday.

Story Scoring

Stories are scored based on the quality of writing (including mundane things such as grammar and spelling), how well they reflect the readings and discussions so far, and how interesting, moving, funny, or otherwise engaging they are.

Base value: 40 points per story x 2 = 80 total.

Level Up

Some suggestions for earning more than the base points for your stories:

  • Demonstrate mastery of the elements we've been discussing all semester: up to +5.
  • For your second story, demonstrate significant improvement over your first, showing how you took your critiquers' comments to heart: up to +5.
  • Turn in a third story or a revision (see the Level Up section for details): up to +10.
  • Possibly more ways to earn bonus points - write a kick-butt story!

Penalty

Late stories get -2 points per day late (that's -10 after a week). "Late" is any time after when it was due to everyone for in-class critiquing (see the Daily Schedule for specific due days and times). If your story is scheduled to be critiqued in class, you must attend. If something comes up and you cannot attend, you must inform me well enough in advance (at least 10 days' notice for a story) that I can arrange for a volunteer to take over your slot. If you're ill or facing an emergency and absolutely cannot make it to class, we'll try to schedule a backup to replace you, but we might end up critiquing your work without you. If your work is scheduled to be critiqued, you must turn it in on time, even if you cannot attend.

Starting with Story 2:

  • Adhere to proper manuscript format or face a -1 deduction.
  • Run your spell-checker to catch obvious spelling errors or face a -1 deduction.

Turn in your stories on time, and don't miss class sessions! Missing stories are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week (at a deduction).

Writing Resources

Some resources you might find useful:

 Story Critiques

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere."
    - Anne Lamott, from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Prior to each class wherein we're workshopping student writing, you'll write a short critique for both stories and turn them in to me via Blackboard in the "Week: [x day] Critiques" slot; also give them to the student authors by the end of the class when we workshop that story. Along with participation in the workshop session, these critiques are scored as an important measure of your engagement with the stories.

Requirements

  • Read and use the "Resources" list below as your guidelines.
  • Turn in your full critique, both to the writer via the Discussion Board thread where they turned it in (or directly to them in email if you prefer to keep your comments between the two of you), and to me under the appropriate Assignments slot, to earn full credit.
  • See this page for guidelines on writing successful critiques.
  • See this critique guidelines sheet for ideas when formulating your full critiques. (Hint: This provides a good template to use for writing your critique).
  • Respond to all stories for that day with separate critique documents for me and your classmates.
  • Bring your critiques to class to help guide your in-person comments during the workshop sessions.
  • Turn these in to me via Blackboard in advance of class under the appropriate week's Critique Assignment slot (you're able to upload multiple files for each assignment).
  • Give these to the authors, as well (printed or electronically), so they can use them in revising their work.
  • If you'd like to share them more broadly, turn them in to the Discussion Board for your other classmates to read. That can be helpful, especially to new critiquers!

Resources

Due dates

Your critiques are due to me before class on the day we workshop those stories in class, and to the student writer by the end of that day (say, if you wish to update your comments).

Critique Scoring

Base value: 2 points each x 40 = 80 total (assuming we have 21 students; this will vary based on enrollment). Fall 2016: 2 x 10 = 20 point possible (11 students).

 They are usually scored in Blackboard by the following week. Here is how I score the story critiques:

    0 - missing, or poor critique turned in late.
    1 - turned, but provides little useful commentary, does not convince me you gave the story a close reading, or low-effort critique turned in late.
    2 - turned in on time and offers useful suggestions for improving the story or the author's writing skills, or outstanding critique turned in (a little) late.
    3 - (+1 Level Up) turned in on time and offers useful and insightful commentary.

That means you could possibly earn up to double the points by writing fantastic critiques of every story!

You can also earn more Level Up points by offering critiques of extra stories posted to our Bonus Stories discussion group on Blackboard, and then turning those in to me via the Level Up Critiques slot in Blackboard (as well as to the author).

Penalty

Late critiques get -1 point each if turned in after the relevant class session. Turn them in on time! Missing critiques are due ASAP, at the very latest the week after the story is critiqued in class. 

Final Portfolio

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
    - Mark Twain

Your final portfolio can include either a substantial revision* of one of your first two stories (based on feedback and what you've learned this semester), or a new story that better demonstrates your new understanding of how to write great fiction than your prior two can. Because 90% of successful writing is revision, I strongly recommend you do a revision; if you choose to do a new story, I strongly recommend that you work out a partnership with at least one peer-reviewer so what you turn in is fully revised before I see it. We all have blind spots about our own work - especially right after finishing a rough draft - because we know what we intended to say. Whether that succeeds on the page is another story, so don't turn in a new, untouched draft for your final project.

Also include in the portfolio you turn in a self-reflection on your writing: What have you learned during the course of the semester? What are your strengths? What are the areas that you still need to work on?

*A "substantial revision" means fundamentally re-imagining your story and allowing that change to alter all relevant aspects of the story. Some examples of substantial changes: changing the point of view, changing the sex of the primary character, changing who the main character is, changing where the story begins or ends, changing the plot, adding important new characters, and so on.

Length must be at least 1000 words (not counting your artist's statement), with a max of 5000 words - longer is okay if you must, just don't expect a thorough critique of a new novella!

Dramatize how the ideas and themes posed in your work might affect believable, interesting characters living in a convincing, fully realized world in addition to demonstrating substantial understanding of the fiction genre.

Turn in this project to me via Blackboard. You can turn in the story and the artist's statement together in a single file or as two separate files.

To be crystal-clear in defining how your creative work displays your current understanding of fiction writing (including your response to the readings, in-class discussions, and critiques), you must include in your portfolio an artist's statement. Help me evaluate your creative growth this semester. Write this either as an appendix to your document (but don't count this toward your word-count) or a second document, or paste it into the Notes to Instructor text box of the Blackboard assignment.

Final Portfolio Deadline

Your final project is due by 5:00pm on Thursday of Finals Week. The completed project is due via Blackboard, in the Blackboard Final Portfolio assignment slot.

Final Portfolio Scoring

Base value: +10 Level Up points.

Level Up

Some suggestions for exceeding the base points on this project:

  • Write a kick-butt story! Show your mastery of the elements we've been discussing all semester: up to +5.
  • Demonstrate significant improvement over the original version of the story, or turn in a new story that shows you took your critiquers' comments to heart: up to +5.
    Your artist's statement will help me understand and evaluate your growth as a writer.
  • Work with a classmate to peer-review (critique) one another's projects before you turn in your portfolio.
    • See this page for guidelines on writing successful peer critiques.
    • Not only does performing this extra critique earn you bonus points, but it will also improve both your and your partner's stories!
    • Bonus points you can earn here can vary widely based on how much effort you put into your critique: up to +10.
  • Possibly more ways to earn bonus points!

Grading

I want you to be in control of your final grade, so I've adopted a you-centered method for tracking success (in the academic world, it's called "incentive-centered grading" or "gamification"). Everything you do in this course beyond the basics of the required elements earns you points toward "leveling up" your scores (and, therefore, your grade), while giving you some freedom. Your final grade is up to you!

By simply completing all the readings, turning in good responses on time, creating two good stories that demonstrate your understanding of the readings, writing insightful critiques, and attending almost every class plus engaging in active and considerate discussion while there, you are likely to earn at least a B- for your final grade.

Want to reach higher and earn a better grade? See the Level Up! section below and throughout the syllabus.

Level Points Needed Grade

Legend

228 or above

A

Hero

220-227

A-

Master

212-219

B+

Guru

204-211

B

Expert (base)

195-203

B-

Adept

194-187

C+

Apprentice

186-179

C

Intern

178-171

C-

Trainee

170-163

D+

Novice

162-155

D

Beginner

154-147

D-

Conscript

146 or below

F

So if you're comfortable rising no higher "Expert" (a letter grade at the bottom of B-), you need between 203 and 210 points. You'll easily earn those points by doing solid work on the required course components:

  • Reading the assigned content and turning in all the response papers and story critiques: 52 base points possible (up to +26 or more Level Up possible).
  • Attendance and class participation: 27 x 2 = 54 base points possible (up to +25 or more Level Up possible for excellent contributions).
  • Exercises: 3 x 3 = 9 base points possible (up to +6 Level Up possible).
  • Story 1: 40 base points possible (up to +10 or more Level Up possible).
  • Story 2: 40 base points possible (up to +10 or more Level Up possible).
  • Final portfolio: (up to +20 Level Up possible).
  • TOTAL possible base points: 195.

But you have lots of chances to Level Up throughout the semester, making it easy to greatly grow your level. See each section for details on Level Ups and Penalties. TOTAL possible Level Up points: +120 or more!

 Level Up!

We use the metaphor of Leveling Up to earn better-than-average grades (think game systems). In place of the traditional deductive-only grade system (where you lose points by not turning in perfect work), our system uses additive grading (which is gaining pedagogical traction in education theory). You'll have a multitude of opportunities to earn bonus points by (for example) doing additional research, reporting on that added work, and sharing your discoveries in class. You can also Level Up for exceeding my expectations on every project and in every class period; that is, you get more points than the base value when you exceed "average effort" (traditionally graded as C work), thereby raising your grade incrementally toward a solid B or even an A. It's up to you!

On the other hand, if you choose to simply meet all the basic requirements and do acceptable work on your projects, you'll end up with a grade around a B-.

I want you to be in control over your final grade, using a familiar and empowering metaphor.

So, want to earn a higher grade in this course? Many sections in this syllabus offer options for Leveling Up! Possible bonuses abound: See each assignment section for details on more ways to earn bonus points. Here are some semester-long examples of how you can gain extra points:

Basically, be an epic student! Just as you're in control of increasing your writing skills, you're also in control of your final grade.

 Penalty

On the other hand, just like in many game-scoring systems, in this course you have a few ways to lose points, too:

  • Miss a class session: -2 (per missed class after the first week).
    Note: You're allowed one unexcused absence (when we're not reviewing your work in class) during the semester. Excused absences include medical and family emergencies, so if you encounter this, let me know. It's your responsibility to schedule employment, school, and other responsibilities around your classes, or accept the consequences. If you must miss class and have a good reason to do so, please contact me ahead of time to make arrangements for catching up on missed material; life happens.
  • Miss a class when we're reviewing your work, and you lose even more.
  • If you attend but do not substantially participate in class discussions, this also lowers your overall grade on a variable scale depending on engagement or lack thereof. If you have special needs (for example, you have social phobias), contact me in advance so we can work out alternatives. 
  • Of course, not turning in projects or doing poor work can lose you points, leading to reduced grades. So do your best - and exceed my expectations to Level Up instead!

More Good Stuff

Ready for more? Check out these suggestions.

 Level Up - Events and Activities

Throughout the semester, you'll have the opportunity to attend numerous fiction readings and other writing-related events. Attend these, write a response (like your regular reading and pro-fiction responses), and turn it in to the appropriate Level Up folder in Blackboard, and you can earn +2 bonus points per event!

Let me know if you've heard about an upcoming opportunity! A few places to look for upcoming talks and readings:

No one is required to attend these events, so any points you get for reporting on your attendance are added to your overall score.

Your response paper should discuss the event or exhibit similarly to how you discuss the weekly readings. Feel free to bring your thoughts to the relevant in-class discussions. Optimally, turn in these extra credit papers within a week of the event; the final deadline is Finals Week.

Watch this space for a list of upcoming recommended events. Feel free to attend as many as you wish, whether or not they appear in this list.

There's a ton more good stuff out there that we don't have time for in the syllabus. So for further reading - and to Level Up! - here are some works that I recommend you check out to expand your understanding the art of fiction writing. (Because of my particular scholarship and professional writing, much of this is speculative-fiction oriented.)

Want more ideas for Leveling Up? Check out these:

Want lots of free ebooks and e-zines? Check out Project Gutenberg's growing SF collection.

The Center's lending library holds many books, magazines, and more, so if you are local to Lawrence or are in town for our other summer programs, check with McKitterick to see if we can lend you a copy. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis. We also have a course-specific lending library for the SF Literature course - which is primarily supplied by previous students donating copies after completing their course - so if you want to pass on the love to the next generation rather than keep your books, let your teacher know!

Want more? Check out the finalists for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel of the year, and the finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short SF of the year. Many years, the majority of those works could have won these awards if the juries had just a few different members. The Center's "A Basic Science Fiction Library" is a go-to internet resource for building reading lists. It's organized by author.

Want to master SF by taking some of my speculative-fiction courses? Check out our growing list of offerings.

Go here to see lots more resources on the Center's website. A great resource for finding wonderful SF is to check out the winners and finalists for the major awards. For example, here's a list of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award winners. And here's a list of recent finalists for the Award. Here's the list of the Nebula Award novel winners. And the Hugo Award winners, which has links to each year's finalists, as well. A couple of books I didn't get a chance to mention include Ray Bradbury's R Is for Rocket, which contains a story that turned me into an author: "The Rocket" (along with Heinlein's Rocketship Galileo and Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time). Bradbury's Dandelion Wine is another, along with books like Frank Herbert's Dune, Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Clifford Simak's City (a Minnesota native), SF anthologies like James Gunn's Road to Science Fiction and the DAW Annual Year's Best SF, and tons more. My favorite Bradbury short story is pretty much everything Bradbury every wrote. His writing is moving and evocative like Simak and Theodore Sturgeon's - probably why those three made such an impression on the young-me. But if I had to pick only one that most influenced me as a writer, it would probably be "The Rocket," a beautiful story about a junk-man who has to decide between his personal dreams of space and love of his family. It was adapted into a radio show for NBC's "Short Story" series (you can listen to the MP3 audio recording here). I was on again in 2012, when they did a story on "What did science fiction writers predict for 2012?" The other guest was a futurist - an interesting discussion!

Stay tuned for more to come!

 

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