In-Class Assignments

9/8: Discuss reading from HW and share writing exercises. Read chapter on Synesthesia from Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses. Complete the following writing exercise:

Only about one in every 500,000 people can experience synesthesia. Have you ever experienced synesthesia? For this exercise, we are going to pretend that we are synesthetes. For about 10 minutes, try to describe one of the following five sensory experiences without using the sense listed next to it:

1) Describe the taste of ice cream without referring to the sense of taste.
2) Describe the feeling of the wind blowing during a hurricane without referring to the sense of touch.
3) Describe the sound of birds chirping on a spring morning without referring to the sense of hearing.
4) Describe the way a loved one looks without referring to the sense of sight.
5) Describe the scent of cinnamon (or whatever spice/herb you enjoy) without referring to the sense of smell.

Read Sashimi Cashmere by Carolyn Forde. Complete the following writing exercise:

Think about the most memorable meal you ever had. Write a scene that captures everything about that meal but limit your descriptions of taste. I’m interested more in the sights, sounds, feelings, and scents that accompanied the moment.

9/10: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” – Mark Twain

Discuss reading from HW and share writing exercises.

Writing exercise: According to The Huffington Post, the following are the 13 worst cliches:

1. Don’t cry over spilt milk.
2. Selling like hotcakes.
3. The rest is history.
4. Avoid like the plague.
5. Let her hair down.
6. Every cloud has a silver lining.
7. Beg the question.
8. When it rains, it pours.
9. Cat got your tongue?
10. Go climb a tree.
11. Dressed to kill.
12. Spitting image.
13. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Choose one of these 13 cliches free write for 10 minutes – your goal is to turn the cliche on its head.

Review “How to Be Specific” Handout.

Read Etgar Keret’s “Crazy Glue”. How does he challenge expectations about love and relationships?

One of my favorite short stories is Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk about When We Talk About Love”. We won’t have time to read it today, but you can read it here if you’re interested. For 10 minutes, use Carver’s title as a prompt for your own work. “Love” is a “big concept” word, but how can you personalize it for your reader?

Writing exercise #1:
PART 1: Below is a list of five animals. Choose two of the animals and anthropomorphize them. Give them human characteristics. What are the animals’ names? Make a list of personality traits for each animal.
1. Bear
2. Dog
3. Snake
4. Eagle
5. Mouse
PART 2: Let’s take the two animals you chose for the first part and put them in a situation where they need to interact. Pleas choose one of the following scenarios and write a scene that includes both the animals. How would they talk to one another? Which personality traits would be most amplified?
1. The two animals are stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean during a terrible storm.
2. The two animals are sharing an ice cream sundae in a diner.
3. The two animals are fighting over a parking space on the Rutgers College Ave campus.
4. The two animals are about the jump out of a plane for a tandem skydive.
5. One of the animals is a manager, and the other is the employee.

Writing exercise #2:
What is one story that has been passed down in your family? What do your family members talk about around the dinner table or even during holiday get-togethers? How would you tell this story in a way that might be interesting to anyone outside of your family? For 10 minutes, free write the story.

9/17: Writing exercise #1: Free write for 10 minutes by beginning with the final sentence of “The Lottery.”

Writing exercise #2: Do a structural imitation of the flash fiction story “Currents.”

9/24: Writing exercise #1: Beginning from another story’s ending. Think about how “Cathedral” ends. Freewrite a new story that begins where “Cathedral” ends. You can choose a different narrator if you like.

Writing exercise #2: Think about your favorite scene from a book, movie, or TV show. You are trying to explain to a friend how good it is. How would you begin your explanation to entice your friend? Choose an appropriate place to begin and continue describing from there.

Writing exercise #3: Think of an ending from a book, movie, or TV show that you disliked. How would you rewrite it? Jot down your notes.

9/29: Writing exercise #1 (partner exercise): The goal of this exercise is to practice writing scene. Imagine a couple who has brunch together every Sunday. In a scene, describe their usual Sunday routine. Then, switch your scene with a partner. Your partner must write a scene about the one Sunday that goes wrong for this couple. What happens?

Writing exercise #2 (partner exercise): Write a summary of a memorable day spent in Manhattan. Give your summary to a partner, who must write a scene based on the summary.

10/1: Writing Exercise #1: Imagine running into someone you haven’t seen in years. Free-write for 10 min. Include as much dialogue as possible. What would you talk about? What would you want to ask the other person? What would you want to tell him/her?

Writing Exercise #2: Give either yourself or the other person from In-Class Exercise #1 and physical detail that’s impossible to ignore. Rewrite the dialogue taking this into consideration.

Writing Exercise #3: With a partner, do the following writing exercise: One person writes one character’s dialogue, and the other person writes the other character’s dialogue. Choose from one of the following scenarios:

A priest and a female criminal in confession
A convenience store clerk and an old man looking for an item that’s no longer manufactured
A clown trying to convince a child not to be afraid
A teenage brother and teenage sister fighting over who will get the larger bedroom in their family’s new house

Read “10 Authors Who Write Great Dialogue

10/6: Editors’ Note from Flash Fiction Forward

10/13: Think of a character you’ve been working with this semester or someone new. Imagine his/her home. In the voice of a stranger entering the home (an intruder, a cleaning person, a service technician, a real estate agent, etc.) describe what the home looks like. The narrator should be making judgements about your character based on what he/she sees.


“So I like to talk about setting because I think it’s often badly taught in schools. It’s usually prescribed as sort of one of a triangle — character, plot, setting — whereas actually I think setting should be thought of more as background for plot and character and sort of entwined with both of those and then we also add sort of theme and point of view into that mix. So these are all important technical choices that a writer makes on the page when beginning or revising a work but they’re not three independent elements. They work together to enhance meaning. And without setting I just don’t think that any narrative is as fulfilled as it can be.

In other words, sometimes we talk about fiction as if it’s like an improv exercise where we, you know, throw somebody up and stage and say, here’s your setting, here’s your character, here’s a line of dialogue, go! And actually I think setting should never ever be considered that way. Setting in fiction as much more meaning than setting in real life. And that’s true of so much on the page including dialog. There’s an oft-quoted line in the John Updike story “Twin Beds in Rome” about the divorcing couple passing by the Coliseum in the back of a taxi cab thinking that the Coliseum resembles a ruined wedding cake, so that’s sort of the perfect way of thinking about setting and what it can bring to the page. It’s an image that works, it’s a setting detail that works on three levels. So it’s visually resonant, it’s thematically resonant, and it’s psychologically resonant. So it enhances… the reader can visualize it of course but it also enhances the meaning of the story and the psychology of the characters.”

Susana Daniel

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 8.45.37 PM

Text from John Updike’s “Twin Beds in Rome

WRITING EXERCISE: Think of one of the settings from the flash fiction pieces you recently wrote. Did your story have a setting at all? If so, in this exercise, describe it using all your senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, smell. If your setting was not apparent, think of a setting now that would serve as a backdrop for your characters and describe it with all your senses.

As Janet Burroway writes: “Our relation to place, time, and weather, like our relation to clothes and other objects, is charged with emotion more or less subtle, more or less profound. It is filled with judgment mellow or harsh. And it alters according to what happens to us…. Imagine experiencing a thunderstorm when in the throes of a new love: the rain might seem to glitter, the lightning to sizzle, the thunder to rumble with anticipation. The downpour would refresh and exhilarate, nourishing the newly budding violets. Then imagine how the very same storm would feel in the midst of a lousy romantic breakup: the raindrops would be thick and cold, almost greasy; the lightning would slash at the clouds; the thunder would growl. Torrents of rain would beat the delicate tulips to the ground.”

WRITING EXERCISE: In the first person, describe a traveling carnival from the perspective of someone madly in love or someone who has just gone through a devastating breakup.


According to Christopher Booker, there are seven basic plots.

Here are Booker’s seven plots (summarized by this blogger):

1. Overcoming the Monster
Hero learns of a great evil threatening the land, and sets out to destroy it.

2. Rags to Riches
Surrounded by dark forces that suppress and ridicule him, the Hero slowly blossoms into a mature figure that ultimately gets riches, a kingdom, and the perfect mate.

3. The Quest
Hero learns of a great treasure that he desperately wants to find, and sets out to find it, often with companions.

4. Voyage and Return
Hero heads off into a magic land with crazy rules, ultimately triumphs over the madness and returns home far more mature than when he set out.

5. Comedy or Romance
Hero and Heroine are destined to get together, but a dark force is preventing them from doing so; the story conspires to make the dark force repent, and suddenly the Hero and Heroine are free to get together. This is part of a cascade of effects that shows everyone for who they really are, and allows two or more other relationships to correctly form.

6. Tragedy
The flip side of the Overcoming the Monster plot. Our protagonist character is the Villain, but we get to watch him slowly spiral down into darkness before he’s finally defeated, freeing the land from his evil influence.

7. Rebirth
As with the Tragedy plot, but our protagonist manages to realize his error before it’s too late, and does a heel face turn to avoid inevitable defeat.

Think of your favorite books and/or movies. Do they fit into any of these plots?

WRITING EXERCISE: Two friends on a road trip decide to stop at an old abandoned building or landmark they notice along the way. When they arrive, strange things start happening to them. Write about the course of events as the plot propels forward.


In-class activity: Meet with your original workshop group members. Exchange the new drafts of your stories and read them. On the same sheet as the reflection paragraph, answer the following questions: What were some changes that your group member made in his/her work? In what ways have the stories improved? What do you think still could be improved?

Writing exercise: “Amahl and the Night Visitors” is written in diary narration. What would the story be like in interior monologue? Using as much as you can remember about the plot, begin to freewrite in the narrator’s voice, as if she were telling the story in interior monologue rather than diary narration. You can take her outside of the story and allow her to narrate a different situation as well.

Writing exercise: Try your hand at observed narration. Be a person people watching in the mall when the narrator of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” finds Moss and Bob coming out of the bar.


WRITING EXERCISE: Think of a character you’ve used previously in a story or writing exercise. Have that same character, many years (at least five years) later, re-narrate the story.

GROUP SHORT STORY: Each of you will begin with a sheet of notebook paper. For two minutes, you will write what you think is a great opening. Then, you will pass the paper to the person next to you and receive a new sheet of paper. For two minutes, you will try to continue writing the story. Rather than trying to be totally ridiculous (the story can still have ridiculous elements), do try to move the narrative forward. We will continue this exercise until you receive your original sheet of paper.


WRITING EXERCISE: Variation on writing exercise from HW: Your narrator is trapped in this classroom; however, for whatever reason, he or she cannot mention being trapped in the classroom. The narrator must express his or her anxiety about being trapped – how would the person communicate this?

WRITING EXERCISE: You have written a novella and are worried about pitching it to a literary agent. What’s your pitch? How would you convince the agent that your novella is relevant in today’s tough publishing market?

SMALL GROUP EXERCISE (carrying over from last week): In small groups, write a hypothetical letter to a school principal in a high school that’s cutting creative writing classes due to budget issues.


WRITING EXERCISE: Think of a character from the novel you presented in class (doesn’t necessarily have to be the protagonist). How would you adapt this character to a short story form? Freewrite for 10 minutes, exploring a short-story-appropriate moment from this character’s life.

SMALL GROUP EXERCISE: In a small group, brainstorm an idea for a nation-wide event that would motivate people to try writing and/or help current writers focus to complete a project. When would the event take place? How could people participate?


WRITING EXERCISE: Rewrite a classmate’s piece of writing. In this way, experiment with theft and plagiarism.

WRITING EXERCISE: Attempt to write a narrative about something you did this weekend using only questions.


  • Read “Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers”
  • Explore blogging dictionary
  • BRAINSTORM: If you could have a blog, what would your focus be? Brainstorm a list of ideas that you have and titles for sample blog posts
  • Read about blogs to book deals
  • BRAINSTORM: Do you think it would be possible for a fiction writer to turn a blog into a book deal? In what ways could you imagine that happening? Write your thoughts.
  • CLASS DEBATE: should a writer publishing work on a blog count as “previous publication”?

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