ADVANCED FICTION WORKSHOP SYLLABUS: LIVING THE WRITING LIFE

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1 English 14A Section Marcy Alancraig, Instructor Spring 2012 Office: 427-D, Tues. 6-9 Room 320 Office Hours: T 5-6, W 1:00-2:20 or by appointment ADVANCED FICTION WORKSHOP SYLLABUS: LIVING THE WRITING LIFE If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. This first thing a writer should be is excited. Don t use anything as an excuse. Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing Get excited! This class is a celebration of the written word and an affirmation of the craft of writing. The class is a journey, a quest for the heart of what you see in the world and inside yourself. The class is demanding, requiring that you imagine, envision, take risks, write from the gut, expose yourself and have fun. As an advanced fiction course, it assumes that you love to write and have spent time dedicating yourself to that task. You have experimented with the fundamentals and are willing to learn more. The class is based on the premise that while writing is a solitary act, coming together with other writers can create sparks. Together we will build a writing community where everyone s vision is taken seriously and supported. What you create, make into flesh and bone through words, will be the root and breath of our class. 1

2 STUDENT LEARNING OUTCOMES/COURSE GOALS Here s what you should be able to do by the end of this course: Write short stories and other fictional prose demonstrating consistent control over the use of description, characterization, dialogue, plotting, point of view, voice, tone, and other fiction elements and stylistic techniques. Critically assess one s own work and the work of others. RULES AND REGULATIONS Have fun. Never apologize for your own writing, by word, look or deed. Feel free to change or alter any assignment I give you to suit your writing needs. You are in charge of getting what you need from the class. TOOLS OF THE TRADE You will need the following: Something to write on in class each week (notebook, lap top etc). Access to the internet to look at things posted on Marcy s web site. Plenty of patience with yourself and your writing. Enthusiasm for the writing of your classmates. A willingness to read your work aloud to the class. The discipline and commitment to write for at least 6 hours per week and produce one piece of prose to share each week. This can be a scene, a chapter from a novel you are writing or a short story. The point is to write each and every week. Writers write with their hands. It s a physical act that must be given time. Thinking is important, but the actual sitting down to do it is what makes words appear on the page. I ask that you take this seriously by committing six hours a week to your creative prose. 2

3 CLASS STRUCTURE There are five main activities in this course: Read-Arounds: We ll sometimes begin each class with a short read around that will provide everyone with an opportunity to read work aloud. This is not a time to offer each other feedback. We re simply listening, creating a bowl to hold each other s words. In-class Writing Exercises: These odd, provocative exercises will focus on the specific aspects of fiction writing and will help you to generate new material or to further a piece that you are already working on. Feel free to change the assignments to suit your needs. Homework Writings: This is the required six hours of writing that I m asking you to do outside of class. You can work on anything that you choose: a novel in progress, a short story or an expansion of an in-class writing. For those who don t know what to write, I will have a suggestion in the syllabus. Feel free to change it. Just writing something! In-class Feedback Sessions: We will often end class with sharing your homework writings in small groups. You ll be asked to bring 2 copies of your homework writing to class on those days. You can also use that time to get feedback on something you ve just written in class. Small Group Workshops: During these three sessions, you ll work in groups of four to provide detailed feedback on each other s fiction. See the Guide to Workshops in this syllabus which explains these workshops in detail. FICTION WRITING MEANS. To fulfill any of the above activities, please create work in any fiction genre except for pornography and/or stories with very graphic violence. There are many other places where you can get feedback on that kind of material; here your work must be appropriate for a community college classroom. If you re uncertain what that means, come talk about it with me. If you do turn in something that I feel is inappropriate, I will ask you to submit something else. 3

4 TEXT BOOK There is no required text for this class because I have not found one that I think is worth your hard-earned dollars. Instead, posted on my website, is a collection of writing tips assembled by last year s creative writing students (edited by your teacher). Use it when you need help with a particular aspect of fiction writing. You may also find the following books helpful: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg Escaping into the Open by Elizabeth Berg GRADING REQUIREMENTS I highly recommend that you take this class for credit/no credit! I hate grading creative writing and feel that the creative process should be free of the pressure of grades. Since I am required to give you grades, here is my compromise with the system: 1. No one s work will be compared to others as the basis for a grade. 2. The production of writing will determine your grade. I know that you may be taking this class for a variety of reasons. Below you will find a list of requirements, depending on what grade you want to earn. By the second class, I ll ask you to complete a contract which will tell me what grade you re shooting for and what work you promise to do for the semester. Minimum Requirements (for a C or Pass): One piece of writing for the each of the three Small Group workshops. Participation in class, including doing all the required work and reading for the Small Group Feedback days. 75% of the homework writing assignments turned in to me for feedback. A Writing Portfolio Completion of Take-Home Final. Requirements for a B One piece of writing for the each of the three Small Group workshops. 4

5 Participation in class, including doing all the required work and reading for the Small Group Feedback days. All homework assignments except two. A Writing Portfolio Completion of Take-Home Final. One private conference with Marcy about your writing (it s up to you to schedule this with her in advance) Requirements for an A One piece of writing for the each of the three small group workshops. Participation in class, including doing all the required work and reading for the Small Group Feedback days. All homework assignments except one A Writing Portfolio Completion of Take-Home Final. One private conference with Marcy about your writing (it s up to you to schedule this with her in advance) For the sanity of your classmates and teacher, please do not submit any piece for feedback that is longer than 10 pages double-spaced (or 2500 words). If the class is large, your beleaguered instructor reserves the right to comment on only half of the homework each week, although you still need to turn in a piece each week. Photo by Susan Alancraig FULL DISCLOSURE: THINGS THAT MAKE MARCY SMILE I don t want you to waste time trying to figure out how to make your teacher happy. In the spirit of transparency, here s the scoop about all my quirks and how you can brighten my day: Come Visit During my Office Hours. This is a time when we can talk one- toone about anything. Those who want an A or B must come see me for a private conference. I love to meet with you and talk about your writing! Complete Your Work. I know that this class is demanding, but I ve tried to make the load manageable, and you know from the syllabus when everything is 5

6 due. But life can throw curve balls. Please see me if your life goes wacko and you are having problems doing the work for the class. Come to Class on Time! I love seeing your faces at the start of class. Better yet, come early and chat; much of the real juice of the class takes place in these gaps between the main events. Anyone coming ten minutes late will be asked to bring food for everyone at the next class. This is known as a "Tardy Party." Proofread Your Work! Okay, here s a true confession. I have been teaching writing for going on 30 plus years now, so I suffer from English Teachers Disease. That means that I get grumpy about bad grammar. I m not talking about when you deliberately choose to create a character who speaks without correct grammar. I mean the kinds of errors you make when you forget how to use commas or periods or the spell check. Please proof-read and correct your errors before you turn in a piece. Be Prepared for Your Three Small Group Workshops. I love it when you take this part of the class seriously. It s what matters most for me. Writers in your group are counting on you to feedback their work in depth. Please treat their work seriously and courteously. After each group meets, I will be asking each group member to tell me about the feedback he/she received and you will be turning in a copy of your feedback on one piece. If I discover that you have not carefully read and commented on your group members work, I reserve the right to take you out of this part of the class. Warming: this will prevent you from passing the class and, more importantly, getting in-depth feedback on your work from your classmates. Please don t flake on this!!! Turn Off Your Cell Phone During Class. Please put your cell on vibrate. Answer any calls later. Don t even think about texting someone. If you have some sort of emergency and need to use your phone, let me know ahead of time. Being Together for our Final. I m always sad on our last day. Mark your calendars our final is Tuesday May 29 from 6-9 pm. 6

7 CLASS SCHEDULE Here s the roadmap for our adventures this semester. This is a list of the topics we will be covering and your homework assignments for each week. Please note that you should have this work done by the time class meets on that day. FEB 14 THE COMPLEXITY OF WRITING ABOUT LOVE Begin your writing practice of writing at least 6 hours a week. If you are not sure what to write this first week, try this: Describe a moment of connection or alienation between two people, focusing on writing from only one point of view and one sense. Do not use the visual sense, however, since this is so familiar to us. If you want to complicate it even more, write this in two parts, one from each person s point of view and from a different sense each time. Remember that this is an optional assignment. If you don t like it, do something else. Bring two copies of this newly generated writing to share with others in class. FEB 21 FEB 28 REAL HEROES AND VILLAINS: CREATING STRONG CHARACTERS WRITE YOUR USUAL SIX HOURS A WEEK. IF YOU RE NOT SURE THAT TO WRITE ABOUT, TRY THIS: DESCRIBE A PLACE THAT EMBODIES THE INNER MOOD OF A CHARACTER. SHOW HER OR HIM MOVING THROUGH THIS PHYSICAL LANDSCAPE AND DESCRIBE YOUR CHARACTER S FEELINGS BY HOW AND WHAT IS PERCEIVED. Bring two copies of this newly generated writing to share with others in class. CELEBRATING COMPLEXITY: MAKING CHARACTERS STORY #1 DUE Prepare your first fiction to be critiqued in detail by members of the class. This can be anything you want, taken from in-class or outside class writing, or be a part of a longer work. Make sure it s no more than 2500 words. At the end, include instructions about what you want feedback on. Take some time to think about what you truly need to know and what you re not willing to hear. Be honest. Make 4 copies of the piece and your instructions, one for each person in your group and one for Marcy. 7

8 MAR 6 WORKING WITH THE INNER CRITIC SMALL GROUP WORKSHOP Read and comment on the three stories for the small group workshop. Write detailed comments in the margins (at least three per page), plus a lengthy end comment that answers each writer s questions. Be sure to sign your copy and be ready to share your opinions about each piece with the group. Remember; your job is to help the writer keep going. Be a mirror, not a judge. Make a copy of one of the pieces you critiqued to hand in to Marcy. MAR 13 MAR 20 DEEPENING CHARACTER COMPLEXITY REVISION WORKSHOP Revise the piece you presented in the small group workshop, utilizing the useful feedback you received and disregarding the rest. Bring three copies of the revision to class and be prepared to show it to last week s group. FINDING A CHARACTER S VOICE: DIALOGUE CLINIC Write your usual six hours a week. If you re not sure what to do, try this: Create a moment where a character is talking or thinking to him/herself. Make that voice clear and true to the character s personality. Then show that moment being interrupted by another. Does your character s voice change when interacting with another? Play with the idea of your character having one voice that is inner or private and another that is more public. Bring 2 copies of this piece to class to share. In addition, bring a piece to class that needs some dialogue. Or bring a piece where the dialogue doesn t quite satisfy you. You will be working with this during class. MAR 27 DIALOGUE AND PLOT STORY #2 DUE Prepare your second piece of fiction to be critiqued in detail by members of the class. This can be anything you want, taken from in-class or outside class writing or part of a longer work (no more than 2500 words). At the end, include instructions about what you want feedback on. Take some time to think about what you truly need to know and what you re not willing to hear. Be honest. Make four copies of the piece and your instructions, one for each person in your group and one for Marcy. 8

9 APR 3 APR 10 PLOT DEVICES SMALL GROUP WORKSHOP Read and comment on the three stories for the small group workshop. Write detailed comments in the margins (at least three per page), plus a lengthy end comment that answers each writer s questions. Be sure to sign your copy and be ready to share your opinions about each piece to the group. Remember; your job is to help the writer keep going. Be a mirror, not a judge. Like before, make a copy of one of the pieces you feedbacked to turn into Marcy. SPRING BREAK APR 17 WORKING WITH TENSION AND CONFLICT REVISION WORKSHOP Revise the piece you presented in the small group workshop, utilizing the useful feedback you received and disregarding the rest. Bring three copies of the revision to class and be prepared to show it to last week s group. In addition, bring a piece of your own writing to class in which there is a conflict. We will be using methods to improve your representation of the conflict, so pick a piece that needs work! APR 24 MAY 1 ISSUES WITH PLOTTING Enjoy yourself by indulging in another six hours of writing this week. If you re not sure what to write, try this favorite exercise (I love it because it has resulted in the start of at least two students novels): 1) Write a monologue in a character s voice which begins, I would never Make whatever the thing the narrative will never do be something important, something that really matters to the character. 2) Now, write a scene in which your character is forced to do the very thing they have insisted they will never do. What happens? GETTING UNSTUCK Write your usual six hours a week. If you re not sure what to do, try expanding one of the exercises we ve done in class or a homework piece 9

10 that has potential. Develop one of the seeds you ve created this semester. Bring in 2 copies of whatever you write to share. Also, bring in a piece of work that feels stuck to you. Make sure it s one you d like to keep working on as we will be working on it in class. MAY 8 MAY 15 PUBLISHING: BEING A PUBLIC WRITER STORY #3 DUE Prepare your final piece of fiction to be critiqued in detail by members of the class. As always, this can be anything you want, taken from in-class or outside class writing or part of a longer work (no more than 2500 words). At the end, include instructions about what you want feedback on. Take some time to think about what you truly need to know and what you re not willing to hear. Be honest. Make four copies of the piece and your instructions, one for each person in your group and one for Marcy. SMALL GROUP WORKSHOP Read and comment on the three stories for the small group workshop. Write detailed comments in the margins (at least three per page), plus a lengthy end comment that answers each writer s questions. Be sure to sign your copy and be ready to share your opinions about each piece to the group. Remember; your job is to help the writer keep going. Be a mirror, not a judge. Like before, make a copy of one of the pieces you feedbacked to turn into Marcy. MAY 22 MAKING YOUR WRITING DREAMS REAL PORTFOLIOS DUE Prepare your portfolio according to the directions in your syllabus. MAY 29 FINAL 6-9 PM PUBLIC READING TAKE HOME FINAL DUE Complete your Take-Home final. Prepare a piece to read aloud at our public reading final. Bring some food to share for the class and/or reading guests. 10

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