English 4420 Syllabus


Advanved Fiction Writing



I'm Lee Ann Mortensen and I have a BS in Psychology, and an MFA 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 (the metrosexual)--E.mail is the best way to get ahold of me during the school year.
HOURS: I'm usually in my office CB410d TTH 2:30-3:30 or TTH 7:15-8:15PM by appointment in my classroom CB413, or in my office CB410d. Be sure to also take advantage of consultation days.
PHONE: 801-863-8785
E.MAIL: mortenle@uvu.edu.



In this class I want you to forget what you think you know about fiction because in your forgetting you will be more willing to try new ways of putting prose on the page.

I want you to forget what you think you know about fiction because too much knowing often leads you to think genres cannot be crossed, that poetry and fiction and non-fiction and art and design and high and low art cannot come together, that action/narrative is the only thing a story is about, and that your words are a recreation of some absolute, non-chaotic reality, or a regurgitation of narrative formulas.

I want you to forget these things.

I want you to forget what you know because fiction is often "true" and "the truth" is often a fiction.  Post-structuralist theory can help writers understand the constructedness, the fictionality, of everything, which does not make it any less "true."  Truth is a construct for poststructuralist, postmodern people like me, in that "truth" is created by words, by language, and language is always shifting and fluid.  Language never means just one thing because meaning is usually negotiated between people.  If language and "truth" are the same thing, and if "truth" is negotiated by people immersed in a web of shifting language, "truth" then also shifts in a playful way.  "Truth" can be seen as a construct created by a bunch of talking people who can change their minds, re-define words, and create new words in the context of our current living space.  As far as my writing is concerned, I don't fixate on truth or not-truth.  I don't try to re-create "reality."  I don't try to create something completely new (that's impossible).  I play with language and mood, and I'm often surprised by what I see myself create.

I want you to forget absolutes and be willing to play with words on the page.

I want you to forget what you think you know about fiction because stories, for poststructuralists like me, often come one word at a time, one constructed meaning at a time, and in this comes surprise (and some level of surprise is necessary for good writing, or at least that's what Robert Frost says).  I want you to forget what you know so you can learn that writing sentences is always an experiment, and that writing experimental, interesting sentences is the main thing many of us do when we write fiction in this postmodern age.  I want you to forget so you can experiment with language in terms of image, voice, tension, grammar, and identity and thus more often surprise and be surprised.

I want you to forget what you think you know about fiction because postmodern, wild, freaky, honest, constructed writing isn't often dainty, sweet, respectful, coherent, or nice.  It can be excessive, chaotic, mean, funny, erotic, fragmented, human, and inhuman.  Ntozake Shange says writing, the impulse to depict, often "sketches what we hold to be sacred," but that her work also gives "voice to the Other, to those who have been marginalized, at times demonized publicly or privately ignored" (Best American Short Stories 1999 xi).  I want you to forget the easy things you know about writing and tap into your more sacred margins, the places that aren't just nice and easy.  As Jeanettte Winterson, a wonderful neo-postmodernist novelist, says in Art Objects, experimental fiction can also offer us "an invitation to believe" (71).  I want you to forget so you can remember that writing experimental stories asks a reader (and a writer) to wake up and be transformed.


1. Attendance is vital! Creative writing courses are very difficult to grade because most of the students are barely beginning to learn to write.  So Lee tries to have mercy and give a big portion of your grade to attendance.  If you miss more than 5 classes, you will not pass.

--If you do miss a class, please consult with another responsible student to find out what was missed. Exchange email addresses as soon as possible (this can also help later if you wish to form an outside workshop). If you miss more than 2 workshops, you will start losing 5 points for each subsequently missed workshop.

2. Arrive on time and prepared for class.   Your active participation with readings, in class discussions, workshops, Internet exchanges, and in-class writing is the way this class is graded.  Excellent participation can get you you some extra points at the end of the semester.

3. Writing Assignments must be turned in on the due dates listed on the Web Calendar (and usually Canvas tells you the time) the day they are due or you will have 5 points deducted from your course grade. Always keep a backup for yourself. Endorse assignments using publication format or something close to it if you don't want to reveal your address.  For short stories, double space everything except your information in the top right corner.

Your Name
Your Full Address (or a fictional address for this class)
Your Phone Number (or a fictional phone number for this class)
Word Count: 0000

Here is a link that discusses publication format for novels (though much of it applies to short pieces as well).

4.I cannot give anyone an Incomplete unless you have a life and death situation come up.

5.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.

6. 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 or techno distraction, I will automatically deduct 5 points for each time I see you with it/them. This Salon article about not tweeting during Breaking Bad might give insight into multitasking problems.

7. If you have not had College Writing I, English 2250 or 225H, or English 3420 please see me!

8.Remember, no children are allowed in classrooms at UVU. See the Wee Care Center.

9.You are expected (allowed) to word process your creative work (except for journaling, though some of that will need to be scanned or typed for Canvas). Don't write fiction on your phone or IPad because it usually creates many errors.

10.Students with Disabilities - If you have any disability which may impair your ability to successfully complete this course, please contact the Accessibility Services Department (LC 312; 801-863-8747). 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.


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.

Writerly Assignments:

  • 4-6 stories, exercises, and/or guided journaling.

  • You will likely workshop 2-3 stories or novel chapters with the whole group. 2-4 complete story workshops of you work--mandatory--if you miss your own or other's workshops, you will lose 5 pts per time.

  • You will also do revisions of these works worth 50 points.

  • Journal--your own--containing in-class exercises, out of class exercises from our book or the web, observations/descriptions, drafts, story ideas--the usual writerly stuff that can help you avoid writer's block.

  • Thoughtful and extensive peer review critiques given to others--you will be graded by your peers with high and low numbers being thrown out. Missing more than 2 workshops will drop your grade by 5 points for each missed workshop.

Other Assignments:

Possible Extra Credit:


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 www.uvsc.edu/courseinfo/engl/plagiarism_policy.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 (or when a DJ samples work), a postmodern writing technique, but not everyone knows about this.


I make A LOT of comments on your work.  These comments are based on my bias toward clean, cliche-free language, 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.  I tend not to grade your written work on the first draft because it seems stifling.  It is very difficult to get 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.

However, your final grade does have to reflect your writing ability.   Having pretty good drafts, attending class each day, participating, and completing all the other assignments will probably assure you of at least a B.

So, what is the best writing?

Email Me Your quick definition of fiction Now at mortenle@uvu.edu


Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen, 2015