English 3420 Syllabus
Intermediate Fiction Writing - lLast Updated August 22, 2017
I'm Lee Ann Mortensen and I have a MFA terminal degree in Creative Writing from the University of Utah. Though I have written in a variety of genres, I primarily focus on neo-postmodern, sort of minimalist prose/fiction that focuses on marginalized voices in the West. Click here to read my sometimes upsetting, angry, funny, four-letter-word work (that means it isn't everything for everyone). I've been published in journals like Ploughshares, River Styx and Prism International.
OFFICE: Liberal Arts room CB410d--E.mail is the best way to get ahold of me during the school year.
HOURS: I'm usually in my office CB410d MW 4-5pm, 8:30pm-9:30pm, or by appointment; often I'm in our classroom CB413 M & W from 1pm to 3:50pm, and 5pm to to 8:25pm where you can catch me between classes. Be sure to also take advantage of consultation days--see the Web Calendar.
PHONE: 801-863-8785 (currently isn't working)
REQUIRED TEXTS--see Amazon for Kindle versions
The Best American Short Stories: 1999. Ed. Amy Tan. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Busch, Frederick. Letters to a Fiction Writer. New York: Norton, 2000.
Wallace, David Foster. Girl With Curious Hair. New York, Norton, 1996.
Xeroxes of your stories for class workshops as needed.
The Internet, email, and a word processor: We will have readings and lectures available as links from Canvas and the course web calendar that you MUST be able to access. You must also be able to convert all your homework files into PDF's for submission to Canvas. A computer with the Internet, E.mail, and MS Word (or the equivalent) either at home or on campus, is thus required (all of you can use the Open Lab computers in PS101, SC215, and on the first floor of the library--you can also scan and print from these locations). Go to the Center for Student Computing Web site for more information at http://www.uvu.edu/studentcomputing/openlabs/
A good dictionary (of course; I have a large one by my computer at home).
Some authors are obsessed their whole lives with a single subject, like their father never giving them love, or their clashing sexualities, or their love of the west. What are your obsessions? Of course even if you can figure out what you really want to write about, you need to be aware that only time and practice, as John Gardner (one of the gurus of traditional fiction) says, can really make us better writers.
In Best American Short Stories, Amy Tan tells us a number of stories about her past in order to explain her choices in the collection. What are fictional tastes based on? Your father reading fairy tales to you? Your need to collect green paper? Your inability to get over a broken, 16-year-old heart? Your subjectivities, or what I like to call your fetish-obsessions, are the very places you need to look into to find your deepest, best, most original work.
One of Lee's (and everyone else's) rules: Reading makes you a better writer.
Amy Tan's advice to read a story a day is something every writer should take to heart. In this class, you will learn more about the art of fiction by not only consuming the work of Tan's best short story writers of 1999 (they're really good), but you will also be exposed to another amazing contemporary author, David Foster Wallace. You will also read about the writing craft from some of the best authors in Letters to a Fiction Writer--advice that can keep you going when writing seems too hard.
One of Lee's (and everyone else's) rules: Writing practice makes you a better writer.
Though you may be the type that doesn't need "practice", we will play with a number of writing exercises that will help you stretch yourselves, learn more about elements of writing stories, learn more about language-based and experimental writing, and also help you find story ideas, a big problem for some writers. These exercises, along with other observations, ideas, and reactions, will be kept in your Writerly Journal (a thing most writers have).
One of Lee's (and everyone else's) rules: Critiquing others and being critiqued makes you a better writer.
How do people learn to write? In all kinds of ways, but often writers pay good money to have other people read and comment on their work. These peer and professional comments can really help accelerate your ability to see your work through different eyes, eyes that are not in love with every word on your page. It will be scary for those of you who have never done it, but we will be respectful, and we will hope that you always try to learn from the comments, whether you use them or not, whether you like them or not. Giving critiques to others also hones your ability to see your own work more clearly--some of you have never given critiques, so you will find yourselves really stretching in this class, and that's very good for you as a writer.
One of Lee's (and everyone else's) rules: Incubation makes you a better writer.
After writing a story, I like to let it sit for at least a day or so (longer if I've been revising the story a lot). I don't look at it, don't look at comments about it, but I often think about it. Sometimes I dream about it, and then find that crucial idea I couldn't see a few days before. When I come back to the story, it is also much clearer to me. I can begin to really notice where the pacing is off, where the description is too heady, where a character's motivation isn't sound, where the voice and language lag. In this class, you will automatically be forced to incubate as you write new stories and leave the first ones in a drawer for a while. You may have a month from the time you write your first story to the time when you need to turn a revision in to me, so use the time between drafting to avoid looking at the piece you most want me to see.
One of Lee's (and everyone else's) rules: Revision makes you a much better writer.
Some people draft and revise in their heads, then begin writing something that seems perfect and as if it popped onto the page without pain. Most authors, however, go through the heartache, fun, and intensity of multiple revisions before they feel a piece is finished. My first drafts almost always suck, though I often like them anyway. My real awareness of the piece comes after I have revised it so many times I lose count (15, 20, 30 times, who knows). Be aware that I'm not talking about editing grammar here. Deep revision often seems to come from questions like: What is this character's real weakness? What subtle problem with this scene is stopping the narrative? This dialogue is an easy out--what are they really trying to talk about? The language is overtly and simplistically poetic--how can I tone it down and yet retain my style?
One of Lee's rules: Passion and attention and courage make you a better writer.
These things are hard, but I have to say them. No hot writer I know can be lackadaisical. Paying attention to the world, to all the subtleties in your work, is essential, but these are not things I can teach. Having the courage to write no matter what is also a must especially when we are not in love with the piece we are currently working on. I can't teach you this either. You just have to plug along and do the work no matter how bad it might seem (I have to do this too).
GRADING What appears below is a possibility--the Web Calendar and Canvas will lay out your assignments and points in detail under Grades (subject to change as needed). Grades are partially based on a percentage of the work completed, though in my experience everything completed on time usually results in a B or higher. A's are not dependent on effort but on your ability to write creatitively and think critically at a more intense literary level on all your assignments and in your participation. If you turn in a lot of late work, or if you are missing more than a few assignments, you may not be able to pass the class. If you miss too much class (5 classes) you may not be able to pass the class.
1. Attendance is, of course, essential: Your voice adds greatly to our community of writers in a workshop, and when you are not here, our class, and our learning, are hugely, and obviously, diminished. You can miss 3 class periods without penalty. After that, your grade will go down. If you miss more than 5 classes, you will not pass this class. If you arrive late 3 times, this will also count as one of your absences. You are allowed to make up a maximum of 2 absences with extra credit assignments (see below).
If you do arrive late, or miss a class, please do not interrupt class to give me excuses or ask me what's going on. Consult with a responsible class mate afterward to see what you missed. Exchange phone numbers (this can also help later if you wish to form an outside workshop after class).
- Missing workshops can mean you have -10 pts per day deducted from your grade total.
- Simply not missing classes doesn't raise your grade. You have to listen, and apply what you're learning.
2. Your active participation with readings, in-class discussions, workshops, Internet exchanges, and in-class writing is the best way for you to learn more about writing. Intelligent discussion helps to expand your mind, and your mind is your most important creative writing tool. Do not be shy. Please think and speak actively in this class.
3. Respect and Maturity are absolutely necessary, especially when we will be looking at diverse writing by those who accept criticism as if it were a dagger in the spine. I will assume you are all mature adults and treat you accordingly until you show me otherwise. You dictate the level of respect.
4. NO CELL PHONES or other distracting devices or apps or ear buds etc. If I allow you to have laptops, and I tell you put away them away and face me, please close them. If I see or hear you on your phone, I will automatically deduct 5 points for each time I see you with it. This Salon article about not tweeting during Breaking Bad might give insight into multitasking problems.
5. LATE WORK: Writing Assignments must be turned in the day they are due or you will lose 5 points.
Always keep a photo copy and disk backup for yourself. Always keep your work saved on multiple diskettes. Endorse assignments in using publication submission format. For fiction, double space everything except your personal information (unless you are experimenting). Place this information in the top left corner like this:
Last Name 1
Your Full Address
Your Phone Number
Word Count: XXX
Title of Story
This is the beginning of your story. Please double space so that we
can write a lot of comments in the margins and between lines. This is
standard publication format. If, however, you actually want to play
with your formatting, line breaks, paragraph styles, etc., after you put
in the usual page info at the top, you may format as you like.
6. I advise you to word process your creative work (duh). All of you can use the Open Lab computers in SC 116; SB101; AD007; SC215. Go to the Center for Student Computing Web site for more information at http://www.uvu.edu/studentcomputing/openlabs/. Don't write fiction on your phones or Ipads--this often creates huge amounts of errors.
7. Be sure to pay attention to your course Calendar or Assignments on Canvas. There is also a backup web Calendar to up you keep up with the work, and review Lee's lecture notes. Also watch your Canvas Announcements or E. Mail for news, clarifications, assignments, and updates. Your on-campus UVLink E. Mail system can be set to forward messages to your most used email address (so please set this up). You can send me E. Mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
8.Students with Disabilities - If you have any disability which may impair your ability to successfully complete this course, please contact the Accessibility Services Department (WB 146; 863-8747). Academic accommodations are granted for all students who have qualified disabilities. Services are coordinated with the student and instructor by the Accessibility Services Department. I must have a letter from their office to give you accomodations. I have to do this same thing to receive accomodations.
9. If you have not had a College Writing I course yet or its equivalent, or if you have not had 2250 or 225H, please see me.
10. Remember, no children are allowed in classrooms at UVU--please visit the Wee Care Center.
11. Final exams cannot be taken early.
Every "Point" (or move toward favorability) Counts (subject to change)! YOU WILL LIKELY BE GRADED ON A PERCENTAGE OF THE WORK YOU COMPLETE, AS WELL AS THE QUALITY OF YOUR WORK, and your attentance/participation. These estimates are subject to change--see Canvas.
4-8 story exercises - 40-80pts+
2-3 complete story workshops of you work - 10pts--mandatory--if you miss your own or other's workshops, you will lose -10 pts per time.
Final story revision - 50pts
5-8 Reading Reactions (600 word critical reactions to the authors we are reading) - 30 pts each
- Writerly Journal (in-class exercises, out of class exercises, observations, drafts, story ideas, eavesdroppings) - 10pts per submission
- 600 word, double-spaced Touchstones Journal review - 30pts
3 creative writing readings, plays, or other events attended or watched with a thoughtful, 600 word writerly reaction for each (see Canvas Assignments or the backup web Calendar for some dates) - 30 pts each
Active In-Class Workshop Participation (I will have you grade each other's quantity/quality of commenting)- 50pts
1 or more stories submitted for publication to UVU's Touchstones magazine or Warp n Weave - 20
Discussion Participation (discussing our topics out loud) - 50 pts
- If you miss workshop, you may miss -10 points each day.
- Avoid late work since you lose 5 points for each assignment per week.
Extra Credit (to make up for a maximum of 2 absences you will need to complete 2 extra credit assignments):
1 reading, play, or literary video seen - 30pts (some literary videos include the wonderful Voices and Visions videos in our library; the Lannan Series videos in our library--check out Sandra Cisneros! There are also movies written by authors like The Sweet Hereafter [Russell Banks], The Ice Storm [Rick Moody], Short Cuts [Raymond Carver], or interesting independent movies like Run Lola Run or Amelie that I would accept). Also see Youtube.com for all our authors' reading their work themselves.
1 outside reading or performance given - 20pts
A special writing award or publication - 20pts
A writing conference attended - 20pts
Points and assignments are subject to change. Grade is based on a percentage of the total points and other negotiations. See below and see Canvas for details.OTHER REQUIREMENTS AND HELP
Computer Labs: The CSC computer openlabs (SC116; SB101; AD007; CS215) are open for you to do your work.
Writing Lab: (LI 208) Tutors are available to help you learn more about grammar--though creative writing often breaks grammar rules as well. You can also use their on-line Writing Center though most tutors will focus on genres other than creative writing. Lab personnel will not fix or edit errors. They will mark some spelling, grammar or punctuation errors, but they will not correct these errors. They will make general suggestions about how you can learn to fix the problems on your own. If I have to send editors perfect work, you have to "send" me perfect work as well for your final drafts.
Academic Honesty/Plagiarism Statement: Plagiarism, or the use of others’ words or ideas without proper attribution, is an impediment to your education and to the educational mission of Utah Valley University. Under the policy of the English and Literature Department of UVU, work that has been plagiarized must receive a failing grade. A distinction is made between unintentionally plagiarized work, which must be corrected in order to be considered for a passing grade, and intentional plagiarism, which will be forwarded to the Office of the Dean of Student Life as a disciplinary matter in accordance with UVU’s statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities. Evidence of intentional plagiarism will cause you to fail this course. Please refer to http://www.uvu.edu/english/student/plagiarism.html to read the department’s full statement on plagiarism, and speak to your instructor if you have any questions about avoiding plagiarism. Please also be aware that there is a difference between plagiarism and pastiche (like a DJ sampling other's work), a postmodern writing technique, but not everyone knows about this.EVALUATION OF WRITTEN WORK
Ok, so either I make A LOT of comments on your work, or give your work a grade, and you feel bad, or I don't make very many comments or don't give you a grade and you feel cheated. Usually I prefer to make a lot of comments and not give you grades (grades on works-in-progress seem punishing and silly). Sometimes I do give grades, but they seem false.
I make A LOT of comments on your work. These comments are based on my bias toward tightly revised, cliché-free language, consistently interesting voices, playful experimentation, believability, strangeness, as well as comments focused on the writing elements we discuss in class. These comments do not reflect the kind of grade you will get in my class. It is very difficult to finish an outstanding, perfect piece of writing in one semester. Most of us will continue to revise the pieces we create in here for many years to come. Often I will only give you my grade estimate for your overall performance at the midterm and then at the end of the course. You can always ask me for a grade estimate as we go through the course.
However, your final grade does have to reflect your writing ability. Attending class each day, participating, being a thoughtful critic, reading well, doing your write-ups, having a lot of generated work (that also takes some risks), and making good, brave revisions can certainly put you in a higher grade category, so do not feel like there is no hope even if your writing is still inexperienced (or boring). The fewer late assignments, the better, obviously.
So, what might be the best writing?
A publishable writing is outstanding, and the good ones (for not all published work is good) the good ones are amazing, smashingly so. It is unique, clear, full of descriptive, but not flowery prose. It's beginning is eye catching. It's ending is close to being perfect, which means it will close in such a way that the whole story or poem or essay or play must be reinterpreted--the ending leaves room for more possibilities, but it suggests a true change has occurred (a popular example of this in seen in Northern Exposure on television). Its characters are fully developed and avoid the clichéd for the most part. If narrative is in use, it pulls me through the piece, makes me want to turn the pages, yet it does not hit me over the head with something horribly dramatic like the kind of film where you know the child is going to be run over, and it does not manipulate me into emotion. If it is poetry, or fiction, it will not have any words that do not contribute to some overall, evolving meaning. It also shows an intelligence, which means it does not try to mimic other styles of writing in wrong-headed way, but it
The "A" writing (A = 95-100%; A- = 90-94%) assignment may or may not be publishable, but it will probably have some of the elements a publishable piece would have. It will have to be super but may still need work on an element or two. Revision is the key to a better grade!
The "B" writing (B+ = 87-89%; B = 84-86%; B- = 80-83%) assignment is good, or above average. It too will have some of the good elements from above, but it might need more revisions, or have one major weakness that still needs more work.
- The "C" writing (B+ = 77-79%; B = 74-76%; B- = 70-73%) assignment is not horrible, but probably still needs quite a lot of work. I might give C's when you don't turn in a full draft (a beginning, middle, and end).
- The "D" writing (D+ = 67-69%; D = 64-66%; D- = 60-63%) assignment is below average, and probably means you put so little work into your piece that it really is hardly worth looking at, but look at it I must. Most people who really work at it seriously will not get this grade. There are those who may have enough trouble with grammar that they get a low grade like this, but they will need to work to get beyond those kinds of problems and into the C or B or A range where they belong.
- E and UW's fall under the above percentages, in the 59% and lower range.
Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2017