English 21844 270-01 Intro to Creative Writing
University of Indianapolis
Assistant Professor Salvatore Pane
On Writing Short Stories, 2nd Edition edited by Tom Bailey
The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail, written by Gregory Sherl
Welcome to Intro to Creative Writing
In this course, you’re going to write and read a lot. You’ll produce fiction or poetry or creative nonfiction or a combination of the three, and along the way we’ll discuss the publishing industry, the internet blogging scene, and even have a few guest speakers. I’m not going to lie and say writing is easy. It’s not. It’s one of the hardest things you can ever do. But, and I can guarantee you this, if you’re serious about the craft of creative writing and you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll absolutely be a better writer at the end of the course than you are today.
Each student will put up 6 – 12 pages of literary fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry for workshop twice a semester. You can write a short story or flash fiction, you can write memoir or literary journalism, you can write a series of connected poems, but remember, you have to demonstrate the fundamental principles of writing we’ll discuss in class 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 300-500 word critiques for every student workshop. Similarly, you will read a ton of professional writing from our textbooks and handouts. Students will post 200-300 word takeaway posts for outside reading days.
Reading so much literary writing will allow you to build a library of published work in your head. Students are expected to use their knowledge of writers like Chuck Klosterman, Terrance Hayes, or Alissa Nutting 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 literature.
By the end of the course successful students will:
Use basic elements of craft (image, voice, character, setting, etc.) to create 15-30 pages of thoughtful creative writing.
Employ critical-reading skills while analyzing, for specific issues of craft, a wide range of published and peer writing.
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 writing.
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 this becomes a problem, I will mark you absent.
2.) Write a 300-500 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.
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.
Distribution of Manuscripts
For your workshops, you can put up any combination of fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry as long as you hit the page count—I don’t want novel chapters; more on this later.
In the first week, you will be broken up into one of five pods. Each pod has its own specific due date. Your work will be due at 10am on whatever due date corresponds to your pod. If your work 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. Please include page numbers.
ACE Takeaway Posts
On days when we aren’t workshopping, you will often be required to read at least one professional example of writing. On these class sessions, you must post a 200-300 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. During weeks in which we will be discussing multiple professional examples a classroom session, you are required to write a 200-300 ACE Takeaway Post that covers all of the assigned pieces. 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. Below is an 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.
NOTE: You will have to read one full book in this course, the very short The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail by Gregory Sherl. For this Takeaway Post, you must write 500 words. We will then Skype with the author. Come prepared to class with questions. He will give a short presentation, and then we’ll do a 30 minute Q&A.
After everyone has workshopped, I will break you up into small groups of Writing Buddies in which you will read each other’s revisions and then run mini-workshops. You should begin revising your work immediately after workshop as you will be expected to turn in mini-revisions (not your final revisions for the end of the course) to your writing buddies twice throughout the course.
Long Form Projects
Long form projects are wonderful. We love novels and memoirs and 100 page poems. Novels are why so many of us want to be writers. But in a workshop setting, students often use first chapters or short excerpts as an excuse to not end their work. They can avoid criticism by saying, “That happens in chapter two.” I’ve seen many, many talented writers produce thirty opening chapters in their undergraduate career, graduate, and have no idea how to sustain a middle or land an ending. I don’t want that to happen to you.
For the first workshop, I don’t want you to write a chapter of something larger. Everything must be self-contained. Everything must end. For the second workshop, if you’re really serious about writing a larger project, I want you to first provide me with a 4 page outline of the entire book. If given permission, you will put that AND a 6 -12 page chapter up for workshop. I want to know you have a plan and that writing a chapter isn’t just a way out from writing an ending.
All of our discussions in this class will center on literary writing. What is literary writing? We will explore that as the semester goes on. The point is that 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 work that drives toward emotional complexities. I don’t want to see battle scenes between elves and warlocks. Your stories can be wacky, your stories can be strange and not set in reality (wait till you see the craziness of Alissa Nutting!), but this class will never focus on straight genre fiction.
Turn off all cell phones before class begins. Do not text people during class. It’s really obvious when you’re doing this. If you’re checking your cell phone, I won’t interrupt class, I’ll just mark you absent.
I want to be as clear as I can on this. If you miss class five times, you will fail. There will be no make up assignments. Don’t come back to class. The ONLY excuses I will accept are a doctor’s excuse or some kind of family emergency. I am not going to make any exceptions on this front.
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.
This is what you have to do if you want an A in this course. You have to put up two thoughtful workshop pieces. Then you have to take the time to substantially revise them. You have to be engaged in classroom discussions and add something relevant every class. You must do all the Ace posts and turn them in on time. You do all these things, you get an A. You slack off, turn work in late or short, doze off in class, and you’re not getting anything that even resembles an A.
Here’s the grading breakdown. 70% of your final grade will come down to your final portfolio, i.e. all of your revised work at the end of the semester. The other 30% comes from participation and Ace posts. Please note: participation is mandatory. If you are not contributing to every single workshop, you are not going to get a good grade. This is a workshop course. The same goes for Ace. If you consistently fail to turn in work on time, you’re not going to get a good grade.
On the last day of class, you will be expected to turn in two substantial revisions of your workshop pieces between 15-30 pages. Late portfolios WILL NOT be accepted. We’ll talk more about this as the semester goes on.
After your first workshop, I will schedule a conference with you during my office hours. After your second workshop, please contact me and we can either set up an appointment to discuss your work or I can just send you your critique. I encourage you to meet with me in person, but this second conference is optional. Please remember: my door is always open.
I have scheduled a number of visitors throughout the semester. Some run reading series or lit journals here in Indianapolis, others are national writers dropping by on tour, some will chat with us via Skype. I want you to be engaged in these discussions. Participate. These are very rare opportunities. Don’t squander them.
Students are required to attend one reading outside of class. The details will be announced, but you will have multiple opportunities to attend one, although I encourage you to go to them all. I sure will. These are opportunities, not burdens, and I hope you treat them that way.
You will be required to attend and write a short 300 word Takeaway Post for one of these readings.
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.
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.
Monday January 14
Justin Taylor “Tetris”
Wednesday January 16
Lorrie Moore “How to Become a Writer” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Geoffrey Wolff Excerpt of The Duke of Deception COURSE DOCUMENTS
Friday January 18
John Updike “A&P” On Writing Short Stories
Terrance Hayes “The Same City/Snow for Wallace Stevens/All the Way Live” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Monday January 21
Wednesday January 23
Alissa Nutting “Porn Star” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Chuck Klosterman “Being Zack Morris” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Friday January 25
Flash Fiction Tutorial Etgar Keret/Roxane Gay/xTx COURSE DOCUMENTS
Pod 1 Writing Due
Monday January 28
Wednesday January 30
Friday February 1
Skype with Gregory Sherl, writer of The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail (You must have the book read by this point; Takeaway Post due)
Pod 2 Writing Due
Monday February 4
Wednesday February 6
Friday February 8
Metonymy Media Visit
Pod 3 Writing Due
Monday February 11
Wednesday February 13
Friday February 15
Wells Tower “Welcome to the Far Eastern Conference” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Pod 4 Writing Due
Monday February 18
Wednesday February 20
Friday February 22
Raymond Carver “Cathedral” On Writing Short Stories
Pod 5 Writing Due
Monday February 25
Wednesday February 27
Friday March 1
Lit Journal Presentation
NO CLASSES SPRING BREAK
Monday March 11
Wednesday March 13
Anton Chekhov “The Lady with the Pet Dog” On Writing Short Stories
Sheryl St. Germain “Addiction/Sestina for the Beloved/Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Friday March 15
Writing Buddies I
Pod 1Writing Due
Monday March 18
Wednesday March 20
Friday March 22
Pod 2 Writing Due
Stuart Dybek “Pet Milk” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Monday March 25
Wednesday March 27
Monday April 1
Wednesday April 3
Friday April 5
Tobias Wolff “Bullet in the Brain” On Writing Short Stories
Monday April 8
Wednesday April 10
Friday April 12
Monday April 15
Patrick Somerville “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature” Course Documents
Billy Collins “Consolation/Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes/Workshop” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Wednesday April 17
Public Reading I TBA
Friday April 19
Erik Deckers Visit
Monday April 22
Writing Buddies II
Wednesday April 24
Public Reading II TBA
Friday April 26