HW Assignments

For 9/8: (1) Create a WordPress account and e-mail me your username so I can give you permission to post on this blog. (2) Read “How to Read Like a Writer” (posted under “Readings”) and write a 300-word blog post describing (be specific) how you can apply Bunn’s advice in your quest to become a better writer both in and beyond this course. (3) Remember your lie from the icebreaker activity we did in class? In your notebook, spend 20 minutes inhabiting that lie. Believe that it’s true and, in your own voice (whatever that means to you), convince us that it’s true. Be prepared to share next class.

For 9/10: (1) In his book Fiction Writer’s Workshop, Josip Novakovitch writes, “Gabriel Garcia Marquez claims that in a journalistic article one false piece of information is enough to invalidate the article, and in a piece of fiction one striking and true detail may be enough to lend credibility to the entire story.” Marquez is famous for writing magical realism, and his short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is an example of that. In a 300-word blog post, answer the following: do you believe in the “reality” of what Marquez describes in his short story? Why or why not? How does Marquez use detail, and do you find his use of detail effective or ineffective? (2) For about 20 minutes in your notebook, free-write about an ordinary trip to the grocery store. However, include a fantastical element in your visit: a strange fruit, an unlikely encounter in the checkout line, a flying shopping cart, whatever. Consider how you can get your reader to believe you. Make the unreal seem real through your description. (3) Either print or handwrite the following on a piece of paper: “WOULD YOU WANT TO TRY THIS TECHNIQUE IN YOUR OWN WRITING?” Tape it to your notebook, folder, or your desk where you will be doing work for this class. Post a photo of your sign to the course blog.

For 9/15: (1) Read Kim Addonizio’s “Ever After“. In a 300-word blog post, answer the following questions: What cliches does the author turn on their head? Do you think the story was executed successfully? What technique would you like to try in your own writing? (2) Consider your favorite fable, fairy tale, or folk tale. Freewrite for 20 minutes: think of a scene from that tale and rewrite it with a twist – could be a new setting, new characters, etc. (3) Check out some of Aesop’s Fables by visiting this website. Choose three of your favorites and be prepared to tell me the beginning, middle, and end of each fable. What is the moral or the point of each story?

For 9/17 (1) Read “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. In a 300-word blog post, answer the following: What role does structure play in Jackson’s story? Describe the structure of the story using your own terms. What technique would you like to try in your own writing? (2) Freewrite for 20 minutes with the following prompt from Brian Kiteley: “Backwards. Write a story backwards. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold works this way, more or less. Murder mysteries are told backwards, in a sense. Most stories we tell orally we tell from the middle forward until someone tells us we’ve left out important details, then we double back. You might try taking one of your own short pieces—or someone else’s—and simply reversing the sentences. What then? Unless you’re very lucky, you’ll have to do a good deal to make this reversed piece of prose make sense. Make sure this does not become simply a device. The structure should be inherently useful to the material, which is good advice for any fiction.”

For 9/22: (1) Read excerpt from the novel Endless Love by Scott Spencer. FYI this novel is almost 500 pages long. In a 300-word blog post, answer the following: What has Spencer set up in this excerpt from the first chapter? Where the heck does a writer go from here? Do you feel compelled to keep reading? How can he maintain this kind of momentum for 500 pages? (2) For 20 minutes, do the following freewrite: Your character is waiting for a train to New York City at New Brunswick station but has found out some catastrophic news. In the first or third person, write about the moment right after the character has received the news. Don’t reveal the news to the reader.

For 9/24: (1) Read “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver. On the course blog, respond to the following in 300 words: In what ways is the narrator “unreliable”? How would the story have been different if it had been told from the wife’s perspective or the blind man’s perspective? Or even a third person narrator? Would it still be the same story? Would the story still be compelling? Do you think the current narrator is the best choice for the story? (2) Writing exercises: Facebook as narrative. Spend 20 minutes free-writing a story told in Facebook (or even Twitter) status updates. I’m leaving it intentionally vague so that you can take the exercise in your own direction.

For 9/29: (1) Read Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to FindOR Jhumpa Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter“. If you choose the O’Connor story, blog (300 words) about how the beginning sets the tone for the story. If you choose the Lahiri story, blog about whether you think the ending is or isn’t satisfying. How do you feel about “quiet” endings? For either story, think about what technique you would or wouldn’t like to attempt in your own writing. (2) Visit IMDB and read a plot summary for a film or television show episode that you haven’t seen. Using that summary, try to write a scene (working backwards because usually a summary is written to encapsulate a scene). Use specific detail and fully flesh out what’s happening with the characters.

For 10/1: (1) Read “Open Me” by Lee Stoops, a dialogue-only story that won Bartleby Snopes 4th Annual Dialogue Contest. In a 300-word blog post, address as much of the following as you would like to address: Do you think the story is successful or unsuccessful? Made entirely of dialogue, what, if anything, is the story missing? How does the dialogue move the narrative forward? What technique would you like to try or avoid in your own writing? (2) Think of an interesting conversation you’ve had recently. In a freewrite, begin to write the dialogue as best as you remember it, but as you continue to move forward, think less about capturing the dialogue exactly and more about telling a story. What’s revealed about the two characters so that we can get to know the relevant details about them? What is the story you are beginning to create?

For 10/6: (1) Read the following flash fiction: “Jumper Down” by Don Shea, “Life on the Moon” by Douglas Watson, “Snow” by Julia Alvarez, “Love and Other Catastrophes: A Mix Tape” by Amanda Holzer, and “How Difficult” by Lydia Davis. In a 300-word blog post, answer the following: How have these writers managed to create fully realized stories in so few words? If you think any of the stories haven’t been fully realized, feel free to state that also. And why. What technique would you like to try in your own writing? Remember, you’ll have to write two original (500 word max.) flash fiction stories for workshop next Wednesday. View guidelines for Workshop #1 here. (2) Begin flash fiction.

For 10/8: (1) Be prepared to bring in two original (500 words max.) flash fiction stories to class. You will need THREE printed copies. Review guidelines here. Email Word doc to lawirstiuk@gmail.com or share Google Doc to same e-mail address by Tuesday night. (2) Read Flash Fiction Sample, written by a former student. (3) Use the questions under “Sharing Insight” on my General Workshop Guidelines to workshop the sample story. (4) Write a 300 word blog post critiquing the story.

For 10/13: (1) On Monday, we will be discussing short stories that are overwhelmingly character driven. Elizabeth Tallent’s “Prowler” is a good example of a character-driven story. Please read “Prowler” and respond to the following questions in a 300-word blog post: Why is this story character driven as opposed to being driven by plot, point of view, setting, etc.? How does Tallent develop her characters and the relationships between them? What role does dialogue play in character development? What technique would you consider using in your own writing? (2) Think of a character (could already exist or one you make up) that intrigues you. For 20 minutes, write one of the following: Explain his/her FIRST LOVE AFFAIR, Recall his/her experience of DISCOVERING A DEAD BODY, Describe the BIRTH OF HIS/HER FIRST CHILD. (3) Don’t worry about looking at your flash fiction until Monday – I will discuss next steps in class, but you can expect comments from me within the next couple of days.

For 10/15: (1) Read “In September the Light Changes” by Andrew Holleran. (2) On the course blog, respond: How is this a setting-driven story? In what ways is the setting a character? How would the story be different set anywhere else? What technique would you like to try or avoid in your own writing? (3) Think of two places that inspire strong memories (either fond or negative). Recall the people who live there and think of how they speak and behave. Do they have a special accent or special words and phrases they use? Do they use unique gestures? For 20 minutes, write a scene using characters and a setting that borrow from both places. Does this create an entirely new sense of setting? Or give you two different perspectives on one place?

For 10/20: (1) Read “The Swimmer” by John Cheever. (2) On the course blog, respond: How is this a plot-driven story? In the introduction to 12 Short Stories and Their Making, Editor Paul Mandelbaum writes: “Plot presents special challenges to the writer of literary fiction. Should plot overpower character, a story could end up in the realms of high-concept or so-called genre fiction.” What do you think Mandelbaum means, and does Cheever effectively balance character and plot? If you could put the story in terms of 1. get your character up a tree, 2. throw rocks at your character, and 3. get your character down, what would those parts be in Cheever’s story? What technique would you like to try or avoid in your own writing? (3) Writing exercise adapted from Ronald B. Tobias: The pursuit plot is the literary version of hide-and-seek. The basic premise of the plot is simple: One person chases another. All you need is a cast of two: the pursuer and the pursued. Since this is a physical plot, the chase is more important than the people who take part in it.

First phase: establish the situation, who is running and who is
chasing, and why? Stakes? Motivating incident?
Second phase: the thrill of the chase! twists, turns, reversals,
death-defying plunges, narrow squeaks, and that’s just the beginning!
Third phase: the resolution. Are they caught? Or do they escape?

For 10/22: (1) Read “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Lorrie Moore. In a 300-word blog post, respond to the following questions: In what ways is this story driven by point-of-view? If you could describe the point-of-view, how would you describe it? How is the structure affected by point-of-view? What techniques would you like to try or avoid in your own writing? (3) Writing exercise: Write an internal monologue of the thoughts of a person who is waiting outside his/her boss’s office, worried that he/she’s about to be fired. Then write an internal monologue from the POV of the boss sitting in his office getting ready to fire the person waiting outside. (from Writer’s Digest) (4) Flash fiction due (5) You might want to start preparing for/thinking about Workshop #2 (10/29): a five-page short story (double-spaced) that’s driven by character, setting, plot, or point-of-view.

FINAL DRAFTS FLASH FICTION DUE 10/22: I’m giving you a little extra time to revise your flash fiction so that you can put some space between you and your stories. Please take my and your classmates’ comments into consideration. If you have any questions, please e-mail me, or, if you come to my office hours, I’d be happy to discuss your work. You will need to bring the following (secured with a paperclip) to class:

  • Your two revised stories, printed on separate sheets of paper. Format stories as follows: Times New Roman Size 12, double spaced, with paragraphs and dialogue indented correctly. Title should be centered and bolded. Only your name should appear in the top left header.
  • Your first drafts
  • The notes you took during workshop
  • A reflection paragraph (approx. 6 sentences) that answers the following questions: What did you find most/least helpful about this particular workshop? What were the major changes you made in the story? What questions do you still have about your story?

For 10/27: (1) Read “Smorgasbord” by Tobias Wolff. (2) The story is told by a narrator years after a night of adolescent selfishness. Of the story, Wolff writes, “The simultaneity of these two different periods in this narrator’s life is part of what makes the story…It does make the story. I don’t think you really have a story without that older narrator. You have an anecdote.” On the course blog, consider how this is a structure-driven story. In what ways is it driven by structure? What does Wolff mean that the difference in narrators means the difference between a story and an anecdote? What technique would you like to try or avoid in your own writing? (3) Work on developing your story for workshop 10/29.

For 10/29: (1) Prepare your short story for Workshop #2. Please carefully read these guidelines. Bring your General Guidelines for Workshop handout to class and PLEASE come on time.

For 11/3: (1) Read chapter 1 of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. (2) The Metamorphosis is considered a novella, neither a novel nor a short story but something in between, for its length. The version I asked you to read was 96 pages long. What makes this work different from short stories that we’ve read? How is the development in the first chapter different from the exposition of a typical short story? Why does this story work in this particular form? What is introduced in the first chapter, and how long do you think an author would need to explore those things? Answer on the course blog. (3) Writing exercise by Brian Kiteley:

Home. “Some women marry houses,” says the poet Anne Sexton, meaning presumably that these women marry not men but the ideal of house and home. The different etymologies of these two words are instructive. Home originally referred to village or hometown. House has in its earlier meanings the notion of hiding, of enclosing oneself. Now house indicates any house, and home is the place that is central to our notions of ourselves. Use a home in a story fragment (500 words). Think about the power of rooms (kitchens, basements, unfinished attics, walk-in closets) on psychology and conversation. In this fragment, make the house a unique participant (though a passive one) in the unfolding events. The room need not be in a typical house. Think about all the other rooms we become familiar with—classrooms, office cubicles, public toilets. What are their personalities? How do the more public spaces we inhabit affect our behaviors? You might consider keeping several characters permanently stuck in different rooms in a house, communicating by shouts, cell phones, intercoms, Dixie cups, or telepathy.

For 11/5: (1) In the next class, we’ll be discussing the novel form. Since we don’t have time to read a complete novel (wish we could!), I would like you to simply read this essay “Short Story & Novel.” It’s a bit more cerebral than most of the things I ask you to read, so please be patient with it. (2) Think of a novel that impacted you (in a positive or negative way), something that still sticks with you today. (3) In a course blog post of about 300 words, please answer the following questions: Do you agree with Bautman’s call for writers to “Write long novels, pointless novels”? Why or why not? What makes the novel you’ve thought of memorable? What is the luxury of reading and completing a novel? In what ways is it frustrating and/or rewarding? Besides the obvious length, what makes a novel different from a short story or novella? WRITING EXERCISE: If you were forced to write a novel (say your life depended on it in some way), what would you write? Make a brief outline.

For 11/10: (1) Read at least five graphic stories from this list. (2) On a 300-word blog post, please answer the following questions: What do the graphic stories that you chose have in common with other stories that we’ve read this semester? What techniques of fiction writing do these graphic story writers borrow? What can we learn about writing from these stories? What insight does looking at these stories give you into your own writing? (3) Try to turn one of your flash fiction pieces into a graphic story (this has nothing to do with your ability to draw and can be a simple pencil sketch). It’s simply an exercise in trying to convey a story visually, with minimum narrative.

FINAL DRAFT SHORT STORY DUE 11/10 Please include the following:

  • Your revised story. Format stories as follows: Times New Roman Size 12, double spaced, with paragraphs and dialogue indented correctly. Title should be centered and bolded. Only your name should appear in the top left header.
  • Your first drafts
  • The notes you took during workshop
  • A reflection paragraph (approx. 6 sentences) that answers the following questions: What did you find most/least helpful about this particular workshop? What were the major changes you made in the story? What questions do you still have about your story?

For 11/12: (1) Read excerpt from Maus by Art Spiegelman. Maus is actually a graphic memoir, not a graphic novel, but I like the storytelling elements. Let’s consider it as a story and not worry so much about the designation between memoir and novel. (2) Spiegelman uses a technique we’ve seen before this semester: using anthropomorphized animals as characters (The Metamorphosis and Aesop’s Fables). In a course blog post, answer the following questions: What advantage can using animals as characters have in a graphic novel? How does Spiegelman create a story within a story? What visual elements does he use to convey emotions and tone? What technique would you want to try in your own work? (3) Think about when you want to meet with me regarding final portfolio story and e-mail me with a requested time.

For 11/17: (1) Read “Experimental Writing: It’s About More Than Looking Weird on the Page“, “Experimental Fiction: Introduction“, “The Balloon” (Barthelme), and “If at the Wedding (at the Zoo)” (Davis) (2) In a course blog post, please answer the following questions: If you could define experimental fiction in your own words, how would you define it? Can you think of any experimental fiction you’ve read on your own? Would you classify either of these two stories as “experimental”? Why or why not? Any techniques from the two stories you’d like to use in your own writing?

Start thinking about next workshop on 11/19: You will be writing a three-page piece of “experimental writing,” which can mean many different things. I would like for you to decide what that means to you after completing the readings for HW and after class lecture next week. Then, you’ll be writing a three-page (double-spaced) piece of experimental writing to be shared in workshop.

For 11/19: Prepare for Workshop #3. Guidelines are here.

For 11/24: (1) In the next class we’ll be talking about the value of blogging for writers (both writing a blog and reading blogs). Please read “What Should Fiction Writers Blog About?” and “Top 10 Blogs for Writers” and “Five Steps to Blogging Mastery for Fiction Writers“. (2) Think of yourself as a writer. How might writing a blog or reading blogs help you? Choose one of the blogs from the top 10 list and describe what you find useful or not useful about it. Are there any blogs you read regularly? Do you have a blog?

For 12/1: (1) Read “What’s So Great about Submitting to Literary Magazines?” (2) Check out my list of literary magazines that accept submissions from undergraduates. Take your time reviewing them, especially their submission guidelines and past issues, to see the style of work they publish. In a course blog post, please address the following: from the list choose five literary magazines where you could imagine your work. Why did you choose these five, and which of your pieces would you send where?

FINAL DRAFT EXPERIMENTAL STORY DUE 12/1 Please include the following:

  • Your revised story. Format stories as follows: Times New Roman Size 12, double spaced, with paragraphs and dialogue indented correctly. Title should be centered and bolded. Only your name should appear in the top left header.
  • Your first drafts
  • The notes you took during workshop
  • A reflection paragraph (approx. 6 sentences) that answers the following questions: What did you find most/least helpful about this particular workshop? What were the major changes you made in the story? What questions do you still have about your story?

For 12/3: (1) Using NewPages.com and the list I gave you last week, please find at least one piece of writing that you really love from a literary magazine. If you borrowed a magazine from me, please make sure to return it next class. In a course blog post, write about why you think this piece of writing is interesting and why other readers should consider checking it out. If possible, please link to the piece. (2) At some point before class or even the day of class, read your classmates’ posts and check out at least one of the recommendations that were made. Be prepared to discuss in class. (3) If you’ve already posted your Outside Reading Response on the course blog, please add it to the category “Outside Readings Responses” to ensure that I find it – I don’t want it to get lost among all the other blog posts! If you haven’t done your responses yet, please be sure to categorize them when you do.

For 12/8: (1) Submit a piece of writing to a literary magazine of your choice (use the my undergraduate lit mag list for suggestions). In a course blog post, please describe which magazine you chose and why. What piece of writing did you submit and why? Paste your cover letter into the blog post. (2) Bring three copies of your Wildcard Workshop story to class for workshop.

REVIEW FINAL PORTFOLIO GUIDELINES

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