Fiction Seminar Syllabus

Half the fun of doing an Accessible MFA in Creative Writing is planning it. It’s been a blast to put together this latest course, and I think it fits well with the rest of my program. So today I’m sharing my plan for this semester.

Of course, with chronic migraines, my semesters are all out of whack. But that’s also part of the point, as explained here. Accessibility looks different for everyone, and for me, it requires flexible deadlines. Each semester takes the number of weeks that it takes.

My literary theory class took a year.

This is the whole reason I’m doing this outside the accredited university system. I can ensure accessibility. No matter how bad my health gets, there’s no shame. No demand for overdue papers. No frustrated professors constrained by the ADA, yet still breathing down my neck. When will you turn this in? When will you be back in class? None of that. Whatever pace I can do is the right pace.

My next class is the fiction seminar, and I’m excited. I’ve made a controversial choice about this semester’s instructor, but that’s not what today’s post is about. Today it’s all about what I’ll be doing for the next six (or twelve, or however many) months.

Last semester was all about theory. How do we know what a text means? What lenses can we examine it through? Who or what determines what it means?

It was heady stuff. I felt like Professor Fry suited me up for NASA, shot me into space, and had me map out literature while orbiting the earth. It’s a good perspective to have. It helped me reconsider my own course through literature and writing styles, as well as my own positionality as both reader and writer. But eventually, I had to come down to earth.

This semester I’m down in the dirt. Rooted. This time, I roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. I’m already in Week 6, the first short story drafted and messy and in desperate need of revision. So I think I’m right on track.

On the course schedule, the first lecture listed each week is from Margaret Atwood’s MasterClass; the second (if any) is from the BBC’s Invisible College podcast.

And one last thing before we take a look: A lot of this comes straight from novelist Lily Hoang’s syllabus for the first MFA fiction workshop she taught. Many thanks to her for generously sharing her hard work on HTML Giant. My own MFA success is largely due to people like Ms. Hoang and Dr. Fry who share their work freely across the internet. I couldn’t do this without them.

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Photo by Katerina Holmes from Pexels

ENGL 510: Seminar in Fiction

COURSE DESCRIPTION

“This will be an intensive graduate workshop…that emphasizes both generative practices and revision. You will be required to write three new stories consecutively (during the first [18] weeks of class), which we will workshop. Then, we’ll spend the last [seven] weeks of class workshopping one revision. [We will therefore be spending a lot of] time on revision.”

To this end, we will be exploring such questions as:

  • How do you choose a style and structure for a story?
  • When should you revise?
  • How do you revise?
  • What should you change?
  • How do you know when a piece is finished?
  • How do you decide where to submit pieces for publication?
  • How can you evaluate fiction?

COURSE RESOURCES

The Art of Time in Fiction, Joan Silber

The Art of Perspective, Christopher Castellani

The Art of Death, Edwidge Danticat

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need, Jessica Brody

Excerpts from Stanley Fish, Sianne Ngai, Anne Kaplan, and other theorists of the 21st century

COURSE OUTCOMES

  • The student will be able to demonstrate evidence of extensive, structural changes between revised drafts.
  • The student will be able to provide constructive, specific feedback to peer writers based on craft rather than personal preferences.
  • The student will be able to identify the aesthetics of eight literary journals and pinpoint why or why not a venue fits their own work.
  • The student will be able to write three book reviews and four responses to cultural events that reflect understanding of not only craft and content but also a position in the larger literary and cultural landscape.
  • The student will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the submission and publication process through submission of at least one story, one book review, and one event response to multiple publications.

COURSE SCHEDULE

Week 1Introduction; BBC: The Importance of Reading (1) Readings: Danticat pp. 3-39
Week 2Getting Started as a Writer; BBC: Sell your Heart (2)
Lit Journal Response DUE Readings: Danticat pp. 40-80
Week 3Story and Plot; BBC: Planning a Route (5)
Book Review DUE Readings: Danticat pp. 81-115
Week 4Structuring Your Novel: Layered Narratives; BBC: The Writer’s Mind (8) Cultural Response DUE Readings: Danticat pp. 116-156
Week 5Who Tells the Story: Narrative Point of View; BBC: Find Your Story (10) Lit journal response DUE Readings: Castellani pp. 3-38
Week 6Point of View Case Studies; BBC: Learning from James Baldwin (17)
First story DUE Readings: Castellani pp. 39-72
Week 7Bringing Characters to Life Through Detail; BBC: Characters (4)
Readings: Castellani pp. 73-103
Week 8Creating Compelling Characters; BBC: In Search of a Character (14)
Lit journal response DUE Readings: Castellani pp. 105-136
Week 9Writing Through Roadblocks; BBC: Writer’s Block (18)
Readings: Ngai pp. 2639-2650
Week 10Crafting Dialogue; BBC: Listen Up (11)
Cultural Response DUE Readings: Halberstam pp. 2525-2549
Week 11Revealing the World Through Sensory Input; BBC: A Note on Style (6) Book Review DUE Readings: Kaplan pp. 1853-1865
Week 12Prose Style and Texture; BBC: Getting Acquainted with Words (3)
Second story DUE Readings: Silber pp. 3-28, Fish pp. 45-97
Week 13Working with Time in Fiction; BBC: Place (13)
Lit journal response DUE Readings: Silber pp. 28-56
Week 14The Door to Your Book: The Importance of the First Line
Readings: Silber pp. 57-82, Fish pp. 99-118
Week 15Writing the Middle and Ending; BBC: Allen Ginsberg Workshop (12)
Readings: Silber pp. 83-112, Fish pp. 119-132
Week 16Revision: Seeing Your Work Anew; BBC: Write and Repeat (15)
Lit journal response DUE Readings: Herman pp. 2549-2569
Week 17The Novel and the Shifting Sands of Genre
Cultural Response DUE Readings: Brody pp. 1-40
Week 18Speculative Fiction
Third story DUE Readings: Brody pp. 40-78
Week 19Speculative Fiction: Case Study
Book Review DUE Readings: Brody pp. 79-117
Week 20Research and Historical Accuracy; BBC: Keep Human (9)
Lit journal response DUE Readings: Brody pp. 118-159
Week 21The Writer’s Path; BBC: Routines and Rituals (7)
Cultural Response DUE Readings: Brody pp. 160-198
Week 22The Business of Being a Writer; BBC: Dealing with Critics (16)
Readings: Brody pp. 198-236
Week 23Parting Words
Lit journal response DUE Readings: Brody pp. 236-274
Week 24Guest Lecture: Jess Walter on Narrative Time
Final story revision DUE Readings: Brody pp. 275-304
Week 25Portfolio DUE (3 book reviews, 8 literary journal responses [final due this week], 4 cultural event responses, 1 completed short story, 2 stories still in revision)

ASSIGNMENTS

As Lily Hoang writes, “Part of the challenge of being a successful writer is writing under deadline. As you gain recognition as a writer, journals will begin soliciting your work. Editors and agents will require that you work efficiently. This class is modeled on your future success.”

As such, you will:

  • Generate three new stories of 2,000 to 5,000 words each
  • Workshop one story
  • Make extensive, structural changes before submitting this story in the final portfolio
  • Write three book reviews of 600 to 2,000 words each. Here is a list of publications for book reviews
  • Write responses to eight literary journals (what you think about what you read, the journal’s aesthetic, representation, etc.)
  • Compose responses to four cultural events (readings, films, etc.)
  • Submit at least one story, one book review, and one event response for publication
  • Write a final reflection essay of 1-2 pages on your development as a fiction writer this semester
  • Read one short story every week

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Featured photo by Victor from Pexels

Published by M.C. Easton

Novelist and teacher.

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