English 3430 Syllabus
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.
(plays are usually quick reads, so this is much less reading than you think)
Downs, William and Robin Russin. Naked Playwriting: The Art, the Craft, and the Life, Laid Bare. Silman-James, 2005.
You can choose one more for extra credit:
Or a Play
Frayn, Michael. Copenhagen. Anchor, 2000.
Optional for Screenwriters:
Dancyger, Ken and Jeff Rush. Alternative Scriptwriting 4th ed.: Breaking the Rules. Focal Press, 2006.
Software like Final Draft (if you're really serious--it can cost up to $249), a free MS Word template like Scriptsmart Gold (MS Word does have a downloadable screeplay template, but it's very minimalist), or the freeware Celtx that allow you to format for stage or screen (there are also template "instructions" for MS Word in Naked Playwriting, but...).
Internet and Computer Access--We will have readings and lectures available as links from the course calendar and on Canvas that you must be able to access. A computer with the Internet and E.mail, 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 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/
Writing Lab LI 208: Tutors are available to help with grammar--what John Gardner calls The Basics--though creative writing often breaks grammar rules as well. You can also use their http://www.uvu.edu/owl/. Lab personnel will not fix or edit every error. 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.
A good dictionary (of course; I have a large one by my computer at home).
A writer's journal (a Playbook) of some kind for daily observations and other writing exercises (your choice: smaller travels better, but larger is easier to write in).
A jumpdisk or cloud space on Dropbox to back up your work!
Handouts may be given to supplement our readings and our understanding of play and screenwriting craft, or may be provided in the library's Electronic Reserve at http://www.uvu.edu/library/ where you will also find plays to watch for this class.
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.
GRADINGEvery "Point" (or move toward favorability) Counts, though points are subject to change!
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
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
(click here for a list of local theaters)
3 other/outside plays or movies ( movies that have original screenplays and a character focus) attended and a 600 word Outside Reading Reaction for each-- 30 pts for each
A writerly reaction for each of the plays/screenplays you read (600 words, uploaded to Canvas Assignments) 30 pts each
Submission of one of your works for Touchstones or the Short Attention Span Theater, or some other venue 30 pts
We sometimes also have a performance night for the best (or everyone's) work from the class, voted on by the class. This will give at least one of you hands-on experience (if you aren't selected for the above events) with that initial public reading of a new play.
Possible Extra Credit:
Up to two plays or movies seen, then a 600 word writerly reaction for each - up to 20pts each
Work Submitted and accepted for local, regional, or national publications or contests or readings like UVU's Short Attention Span Theater (other than Touchstones/My Word) 30 pts
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.EVALUATION OF WRITTEN WORK
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?
A ready for production or pitching aka publishable play or screenplay 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 well-honed characters and interesting conflict (or absurdity, pastiche, poetry etc. if one is going for the avant-garde/pomo effect). 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 play or screenplay must be reinterpreted--the ending leaves room for more possibilities, but it suggests a true change has occurred. Can the characters avoid clichéd or make them new (Napoleon Dynamite)? If major plots are 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 (but if that's the scene you are writing, how will you make it fresh--see Tarantino). It will not have any words that do not contribute to some overall, evolving meaning (even if a postmodern meaning). It also shows an intelligence, a unique voice of it's own.
The "A" writing 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 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 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 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 (or must I?). 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.
Email Me Your definition of playwriting (or screenwriting) Now at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2016