English 3430 Syllabus


Play Writing for Creative Writers - Last Updated August 23, 2016



I'm Lee Ann Mortensen and I have 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. If you like, 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: CB410d--E.mail is the best way to get ahold of me during the school year.
HOURS: I'm usually in my office CB410d TTH 2:45-3:45 or TTH 7:30-8:30PM by appointment; sometimes I'm in my classroom CB413. Be sure to also take advantage of consultation days--see the Web Calendar.
PHONE: 801-863-8785
E.MAIL: mortenle@uvu.edu.


(plays are usually quick reads, so this is much less reading than you think)


Who do you think writes all those plays on Broadway (but mostly off; revivals like The Color Purple is on right now), all those television shows (Breaking Bad; Nurse Jackie; Boardwalk Empire; Orange is the New Black), all those movies (Syriana; Blue Jasmine)?  You, of course, if you find that these are the genres that let you speak in ways you can't speak with prose and poetry.  Playwriting can be a craft like our textbook states, though it's also an art. Anna Deveare Smith, an actor and playwright we'll be reading and watching this semester, talks about making "art that seeks to study and inform the human condition." Is that something that motivates you to write? Ionesco's play Rhinoceros is a commentary on fascism, as everyone in his play eventually follows the herd (of rhinoceri). But the dialogue is also funny, fussy, circular, nihilistic which for many is the opposite of entertaining. Is that something that motivates you to write? The ability to see an audience react to your work is something unique and exciting (and nerve wracking), but by the end of the semester, you should have something that is ready to try out in front of others. 

In this class we'll think in writerly ways about traditional realism as well as absurdism and postmodernism when reading other's works and creating our own. We'll think about characters wanting something badly whether it be self-determination, love, youth, logic, racial justice, other people's lives, or simply not to die. With all this I also want you to THINK OUTSIDE THE REALISM BOX and be open to the surprise of language. 



1. Attendance is vital, so if you miss more than 5 courses, you will not pass this course. If you are late 3 times, or leave early 3 times, this will count as one of your 5 absences.

2. Writing Assignments must be turned in by midnight the day they are due or you will lower your course grade (you will have less favorability). Always keep a photo copy and jumpdisk backup for yourself. Always keep your work saved on multiple digital cloud spaces.  Endorse assignments using play or screenwriting format 

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

4. Respect and Maturity are absolutely necessary, especially when we will be looking at diverse writing, "real" 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.

5. If you have not had a College Writing I course yet or its equivalent, please see me!

6. Students with Disabilities - If you have any disability that may impair your ability to successfully complete this course, please contact the UVU Accessibility Services Department (LC 312, www.uvu.edu/asd/; 863-8747). Academic accommodations are granted for all students who have qualified documented disabilities. Services are coordinated with the student and instructor by the Accessibility Services Department.

7. Remember, no children are allowed in classrooms at UVU--please visit the Wee Care Center.

8. 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 ask that you bring it to the front of the classroom, or I will simply deduct 5 points for each time I see you with it.

9. If you turn in late work 5 points will be deducted--this can add up.

10. There is a photocopying fee of $1 for each class.



Every "Point" (or move toward favorability) Counts, though points are subject to change!

Writerly Assignments:

  • Character sketches (as many as are needed) 10 points each

  • 2-4 play idea pitches 20 pts. each

  • Plays or Screenplays:

    • up to 4 ten minute plays (or screenplays; 10+ pages each) 100 points each


    • up to 3 ten minute plays (or screenplays) 100 points each, and a longer short play (50 minutes to one hour, or 50-60 pages or so) 200 pts

      or possibly

    • some may write A full-length, 3 act, play (or screenplay; if you want a 90 minute play, you'll be giving us about 90-100 pages or more) 400 points

  • Playbook or "Journal" or a place containing exercises, observations/descriptions, drafts, story and character ideas and sketches, dialogue practice, stage or screen descriptions etc.  I'll check this once for 20 points.
  • Thoughtful peer review critiques on-line or written on manuscripts--150 points for good participation

Other Assignments:

Possible Extra Credit:

Grade is based on a percentage of the total points. If you have 95% of the points or higher, you get an A. If you have 90% of the points, you get an A-. If you have 87% of the points, you get a B+, and so on.  Truthfully, however, I tend to grade based on my accumulated favorability of your work in class and your ability to rewrite your written work  Grading creative writing seems rather idiotic. To give you some examples, those who do everything, show good revision skills, and write well usually get an A.  If your writing still needs work, but you do everything, you might get an A- or a B+.  But I do reserve the right to make changes as needed.



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 State College. 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, 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 definition of playwriting (or screenwriting) Now at mortenle@uvu.edu


Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2016