Advanced Fiction Workshop Fall 2013
by Salvatore Pane
Advanced Fiction Workshop
ENGL 472-50X (12032)
University of Indianapolis
Assistant Professor Salvatore Pane
Welcome to Advanced Fiction Workshop
By this point in your creative writing career, you know a few things. You can generate a scene out of nothingness. You can build a setting and populate it with characters who are more than just one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. You can write dialogue. You’ve written more than your share of stories, and hopefully, your writing routine reflects that. Hopefully, you’re working on your craft well before the night before a story is due. Hopefully, you’re even writing fiction even when there are no deadlines or class assignments.
But what is fiction? On a primitive level, we know the answer. But what can fiction do? Can it be more than a simple A to B to C narrative with a traditional rising action and climax, or are there new ways forward we haven’t even imagined yet? And if we are going to live in the world of traditional narrative, how can we do so to the very best of our abilities?
In Advanced Fiction Workshop, you will take the next step toward becoming an active literary citizen in a broadband world. That means not only are you expected to produce and revise a great deal of writing—both creative and critical—but you will be required to learn about and participate in the many writing communities within Indianapolis and nationally via public readings, book reviews, and social media.
Each student will submit 30-44 pages of literary fiction for workshop. You can write traditional short stories or multiple pieces of flash fiction or potentially even novel chapters, but remember, you have to demonstrate the fundamental principles of literary fiction in all of your workshop pieces. I want to see structure, character, development. I want nuance and complexity. I don’t want filler pieces meant to get you closer to the page requirement.
Substantial revisions will be required. Substantial revision does not mean fixing grammar. Substantial revision usually means a complete rewrite and perhaps multiple rewrites. Students must also post 500-750 word critiques for every student workshop. Similarly, you will read a large amount of published fiction. Students will post 500-750 word ACE Takeaway Posts for every published piece of fiction we read.
Reading so much literary fiction will allow you to build a library of published stories in your head. Students are expected to use their knowledge of writers like ZZ Packer or Jorge Luis Borges or Richard Yates to comment about peer work up for discussion. Students will make parallels and use the published work to inform their critiques of peer work. The majority of the course will be spent workshopping. The goal of the course is for you to not only become a better writer, but to become an active literary citizen who can participate in the ongoing dialogue concerning fiction.
By the end of the course successful students will:
Use basic elements of craft (image, voice, character, setting, etc.) to create 30-44 pages of thoughtful literary fiction.
Employ critical-reading skills while analyzing, for specific issues of craft, a wide range of published and peer fiction.
Substantially revise their work by utilizing critical feedback generated by class discussion and written critiques.
Contribute thoughtful and complex commentary to discussions of published and peer fiction.
You will be prepared for every workshop class by doing the following:
1.) Write comments in the margins of stories up for discussion. You MUST use the comments feature in Microsoft Word. All comments will be transparent to the entire class. I want you to upload your marked up versions of workshopped stories to Ace under the student-in-question’s forum. Failure to do so will negatively impact your grade. Also, DO NOT FORGET TO BRING A PRINT OUT OF THE STORY IN QUESTION TO CLASS. This is mandatory. If you don’t, I will mark you absent.
2.) Write a 500-750 word critique for each peer written story we read this semester. You must critique the story based on its own intentions. For example, if the writer is attempting to write in the realist mode of Ray Carver, do not suggest adding a mysterious underground school ala Patrick Somerville just because you don’t like realism. On the flip side, don’t knock an experimental story because you prefer realism. Judge the work the writer wrote, not the work you want to write. Try and help them see how they could better serve their material and unique world vision. In your responses, first describe what you think the writer is attempting to do and what the story is about— this should be the shortest section. Then discuss the piece’s strengths. Finish with prescription, a section where you point out very specific things that still need work within the story. Go beyond grammar. Character, plot, prose, all the building blocks of writing are on the table. You must use the description, strength, prescription model.
3.) Post your critique and margin comments to Ace by 12am the night before workshop. All critiques will be visible to all members of the class, and I encourage you to read what your peers are saying about every story. Name your thread on Ace after your favorite line of the story in question. If you don’t turn in these materials BY MIDNIGHT, you will lose points.
Example of a good critique:
[TITLE OF STORY REMOVED] is primarily about a squeamish young man who dates an over-sized, sailor mouthed woman he meets in a bar. She is emotionally unavailable and taunts the boyfriend–who she nicknames Christopher Robbins–quite a bit, but in many instances Robbins interprets these gestures as tenderness and grows to love his female companion. He can’t leave well enough alone, however, and decides that he has to figure out her past–which he believes is connected to the sea. He takes her to a small boat off a dock in New York City and when pushed, Mary lies to him prompting CR to trick her into falling into the ocean. Then he sails away but remembers he can’t.
The principal strength of the story is the prose. It is quite beautiful in places and has a really sweet lyrical tendency despite the crazy subject matter and frequent cursing. The sentences move. Also, the character of Mary is quite strong. She’s an enigma to CR, and she’s an enigma to the reader. I don’t want her backstory, and I don’t think the writer should be talked into giving it to us. Mary is a puzzle inserted into fiction. She doesn’t need to be solved.
Christopher Robbins does not fare as well. I’m going to echo [NAME REMOVED]’s sentiments. We don’t know CR well enough and that makes some of the story fall relatively flat. When CR gives up his previous life to follow Mary everywhere it doesn’t have much impact because we have no idea what he’s giving up. Is he some little rich kid–he implies otherwise when Mary accuses him of having Harvard hands? Is he right out of college? Does he have some office job? Does he live in Hoboken and eat canned soup? We need the details of his life before-Mary to understand how his life post-Mary is so different and strange, and at times, wonderful.
Secondly, the story makes a big leap in logic when CR definitively decides that his girlfriend’s past is tied up with the sea. We need more concrete hints from Mary to buy into this. And why does he want to know about her past so much in the first place? Is he inherently an inquisitive person? Does he need to solve everything he comes across? Up until this point in the story, CR seemed so utterly passive. Why the change in demeanor? Also, the boat plot at the end seems a little half-baked. He thinks something terrible happened to his girlfriend at sea, so his solution is to tell her he has a surprise for her, then he brings her to a boat. That’s kind of crazy and out-of-character. It almost makes it seem like he’s getting back at her for all the little pot shots she’s taken but I don’t think that’s your intention. The final image of CR sailing away from Mary is a compelling ending, but it does not (yet) feel earned.
Distribution of Manuscripts
For your workshop, you must submit 15-22 pages of literary fiction the Wednesday before your stories are due by 3pm. I will release the workshop schedule after the first week of class when the student roster is locked. Please feel free to include any combination of short stories. For example, a single 17 page story is absolutely fine, as are 17 one page stories. The breakdown is up to you as long as you don’t dip below or above the 15-22 page limit.
If your story is late, your grade for that story will drop by an entire letter. If you are more than a day late, you will get an F, no exceptions. Once you upload your manuscript, you CANNOT EDIT IT FOR ANY REASON. If you do, we will skip your workshop and you will take an F. You are responsible for printing out your peers’ stories for discussion on workshop days. Reduced grades will count toward the final grade. Also, please include page numbers.
Notes About Workshop
When you are being workshopped, it is very important that you are quiet, take notes, and do not respond to anything verbally. To reiterate, you are not allowed to talk when being workshopped unless I specifically ask you something, and that will be very rare. You are not there to defend your story. Your story must stand on its own.
Please proofread your work. If a story is excessively sloppy, I will not workshop it. Do not depend on your classmates to fix your grammar.
ACE Takeaway Posts
Before we discuss a story you must post a 500-750 word Takeaway Post on ACE under the appropriately titled forum. Posts must be uploaded by midnight the day before we discuss the work. If your post is late, you will lose points. Post your responses on the appropriate Ace forum. There’s a forum designated by name for every professional piece of writing.
Let me be very clear on this. This is not a forum for you to explain whether or not you like the piece in question. I don’t care. What I’m looking for is what you can take away for your own writing. Every piece of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction has something to teach us as writers, something we can take for our own writing. Whether you like or dislike a piece of outside writing is beside the point in this class. If you simply talk about why you love or hate a specific piece of writing, you will take an F on the Takeaway Post in question.
In addition to what you took away from the published piece as a writer, I want you to provide three questions for the class related to craft. I don’t want you asking plot questions or questions about why a story is so bad or so good, but questions meant to stimulate discussions of craft related to the story. Your three questions will count toward your word count.
Below is a truncated example of a good Takeaway Post:
Don Lee’s “The Price of Eggs in China” provides a great example of keeping characters consistent. They’re unique characters, I think, but they’re always consistent.
Dean is a devoted, committed boyfriend. No matter how Caroline treats him, he wants to be with Caroline. He wants to help her when she’s sick, even though she’s broken up with him. He wants to help her with the problem with Marcella.
Caroline is consistently just kind of mean and crazy. She seems to have no filter on what she says…as made obvious when she says “This is what it’s come down to, this is how far I’ve sunk. I’m about to fuck a Nipponese fire hydrant with the verbal capacity of tap water,” and again when she responds with “yikes” to Dean’s declaration of love.
One of the good things to learn from this story, though, is that we see a mean character who is not evil, only evil, all we see is evil. I know that’s something I had a problem with in my last workshop story–that the character was just mean, and rude, and no one could understand why the main character was friends with her. In this story, you see Caroline’s vulnerable side. You see her vulnerable side when she starts getting sicker due to a stalker who is leaving her death threats. Though this sympathy is kind of taken away when it’s suggested she might have sent herself the death threats, you still see the vulnerable side. The side that is not completely mean/evil. She also transforms at the end when she becomes a mother, and although we do not see her in that role, it is described in the narration. I think this was a really good story to help show a way to fix the problem that a lot of us are having with writing a completely “evil,” one-sided character.
1) How is “The Price of Eggs in China” different from what we typically think of as mystery fiction?
2) How is it similar to what we typically think of as mystery fiction?
3) How does “The Price of Eggs in China” manage to achieve a satisfying ending without revealing the truth behind the mystery?
All of our discussions in this class will center on literary fiction. If you’re here to work on your vampire zombie spaceship novel, this class is not a good outlet for that kind of work. I’m expecting you to produce character driven literary fiction that drives toward emotional complexities. I don’t want to see battle scenes between elves and warlocks, young adult work, etc.. Your stories can be wacky, your stories can be strange (look to George Saunders or any other published fiction we read in this course for examples), but this class will never focus on straight genre fiction, and you will be expected to write literary fiction.
Primarily, we will be focusing on short fiction in this course. However, for your second workshop, you may choose to submit a novel chapter if you provide me with a four page outline of your entire novel in addition to a 15-22 page opening BEFORE uploading your work to ACE.
After your workshops, I will schedule a mandatory conference with you during my office hours to discuss your work and provide feedback. Please remember: my door is always open, and I want to help you become a better writer.
Over the last decade, social media hasbecome one of the best sources for writers to stay up-to-date on the latest books, literary journals, presses, reading series, and writers. This semester, you will be asked to enter into that world. You will be required to sign up for Twitter—however, feel free to keep your tweets protected if you’re so inclined—and each week you will follow five new literary journals, presses, reading series, or writers. Every Friday by 5pm, you will post which five accounts you’ve followed on the Twitter forum on Ace. Please feel free to follow accounts other students have found. Pay attention to whom and what other writers and journals tweet about. They’ll often discuss new writers and journals for you to discover.
Over the course of the semester, you will be required to write two 500-1000 word book reviews chosen from the list of books I’ll recommend to you during your individual conferences. These are the only books you’ll be required to obtain over the course of the semester. We will talk about this more in depth as this semester goes on.
Students will be required to attend five readings outside of our class. You must attend the Roxane Gay Kellogg Writers series event in addition to two student hosted readings—more about that soon—along with two readings of your choice. To become an active literary citizen, you must actually engage with writers in our community. That means going to readings. Below are some options available to you, but I’ll approve other readings if you know of them. In addition to attending the readings, you must write a 100 word review of each event and post them to Ace. Keep in mind, readings are huge opportunities. Don’t treat these as burdens. I encourage you to go to all of the readings happening this fall.
Kellogg Writers Series (http://www.uindy.edu/arts/kellogg-writers-series)
Word Lab (http://www.meetup.com/IndyWordLab/)
Indy Reads (http://indyreadsbooks.org/)
Service Center (https://www.facebook.com/servicecenterindy)
Butler University’s Delbrook Visiting Writers Series (http://www.butler.edu/mfa-creative-writing/delbrook-series/)
Once this semester, you will be required to team up with another student from our class to host a reading similar to the five you will attend on your own. At said reading, you will bring together a UIndy student writer of your choice—not yourself—with a local, established writer. Below, I’ve provided a list of venues in addition to a list of local writers who might be interested in headlining such an event. Please check out the venues beforehand and the work of the writers in question. Find someone you’re interested in, and when you do, contact me with your idea for the venue, headlining writer, and student writer. From there, I will put you in contact with the necessary people. You will be asked to promote said event via social media or other methods you’re comfortable with. You will also need to introduce both readers to the crowd at the event. Once an event is approved, those writers will be taken off the board of available readers.
Indy Reads (Mass Ave)
Indiana Writers Center (Broad Ripple)
The Wheeler Arts Community (Fountain Square)
The Service Center (Lafayette Road)
University of Indianapolis Schwitzer Building
University of Indianapolis Good Hall
At the end of the course, all students will be required to give a public reading of their work. This will take place during class time and other students and faculty will be invited to the reading. The reading will be livestreamed on the internet at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/uindy-lit.
You will receive preliminary grades for both of your workshop pieces that are not factored into your final grades and instead are meant as guideposts to where you work is before it is substantially revised over the course of the semester. At the end of the course, you will be expected to turn in a polished portfolio of your substantially revised workshop pieces that uses the feedback provided by me in addition to comments from your peers. An unwillingness to revise will result in automatic failure.
Final Portfolio 50%
In-Class/Ace Participation 35%
Literary Citizenship (Readings, Book Reviews) 15%
Turn off all cell phones, laptops, tablets, and whatever else is invented before this semester ends BEFORE class begins. If, at any point during class, you look at any of this technology, you will be marked absent. I will not disrupt class. You will just be automatically marked absent. Don’t check your phones if you want to pass this class. Don’t look at the readings on phones and laptops. Print them out.
If you miss class five times, you will fail. There will be no make up assignments. The ONLY excuses I will accept are doctor’s excuses or some kind of family emergency.
You should always be on time for class. If you are late, you will not get credit for attending an entire class.
If you are unprepared for discussion or workshop, I cannot give you credit for attendance that day.
The syllabus is subject to change. I will only push assignments and readings back however. No assignment will ever be due earlier than it’s listed here.
If you have a disability that may have some impact on your work in this class and for which you may require accommodations, please inform me immediately so that your learning needs may be appropriately met. Students with a disability must register with the Services for Students with Disabilities office (SSD) in Schwitzer Center 206 (317-788-6153 / http://www.uindy.edu/ssd) for disability verification and for determination of reasonable academic accommodations. You are responsible for initiating arrangements for accommodations for tests and other assignments in collaboration with the SSD and the faculty.
Intellectual theft, like any other kind of theft, is a crime, and is especially dangerous on a college campus. Plagiarism is defined as any use of another person’s thoughts or words as your own. I don’t expect to see plagiarism in this class, and if I do each case will be dealt with on an individual basis, but the MINIMUM penalty will be failure for the assignment in question. Failing the entire course is not out of the question. If you are doing research and are unsure how to incorporate someone else’s work into your own in a valid manner, please ask—I’ll be more than happy to help you out so that there’s no danger of confusion.
Syllabus and Introductions
AD Jameson “Seven Movie Reviews”
Anton Chekhov “The Lady with the Pet Dog”
Sam Martone “Last Tour”
Social Media Overview
Dennis Johnson “Emergency”
Amber Sparks “You Will Be The Living Equation”
Rick Moody “The Apocalyptic Commentary of Bob Paisner”
Hosted Reading Overview
Alice Munro “The Progress of Love”
Karissa Chen “The Emperor’s Malady”
Mike Meginnis “Navigators”
Book Review Overview
ZZ Packer “Dayward”
SKYPE WITH WRITER
Donald Barthelme “Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning”
SKYPE WITH WRITER
Cathy Day “Jennie Dixianna”
Jorge Luis Borges “The Garden of Forking Paths”
John Cheever “The Swimmer”
Richard Yates “The Best of Everything”
Roberto Bolano “Last Evenings on Earth”
Wells Tower “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned”