Syllabus Time

Cat on Syllabus


Syllabus time–who’s got them? Send them to us at m [dot] Salesses [at gmail etc] and we’ll post some more if we get them. In the meantime, here’s my syllabus for a fiction workshop this semester. Not perfect, but we’re getting somewhere–in 19 pages…

Fiction Workshop Syllabus (PDF)   


Course Description:

Any workshop’s one main advantage over a traditional course is the ability to look at works in progress. Therefore we will focus on process, writing for an audience, and productive feedback. Students will identify who they are writing for and why and what that means to the choices they make in their fiction. They will discuss their works with their peers inside and outside of class. They will try to understand their work in the context of the world they live in. They will write every day and record their process as they write. The class will think a lot about how fiction is constructed, what culture has to do with it, what workshop adds to that process, and how we can learn from each other and from published work. Ideally this course should help you develop the aesthetic sensibility and direction you need to continue writing far past the end of this course.




Required Texts (available at the bookstore—please purchase immediately)

The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist, by Orhan Pamuk
The Art of the Novel, by Milan Kundera
Tiger Writing, by Gish Jen

Student-chosen books


Some Possible Additional Texts (will be made available via Moodle and/or hardcopy)

“A Journey into Speech,” by Michelle Cliff

“Why I Write,” by Joan Didion

“Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” by Audre Lorde

“That’s What Dogs Do,” by Amy Hempel

“Tony’s Story,” by Leslie Marmon Silko

“Give Me Your Body,” by Catherine Chung

“Happy Endings,” by Margaret Atwood

“Escape from Spiderhead,” by George Saunders

“Girl,” by Jamaica Kincaid

“You Never Knew How the Waters Ran So Cruel, So Deep,” by Roxane Gay




Much of this course will be graded on participation. That includes attendance, student-teacher consultations, completion of projects and a public reading, and your contribution to workshops and other discussions. A more detailed breakdown is below:


Attendance & Oral Contribution—20%

You are allowed two unexcused absences. Any further absences will drop your grade by ⅓ of a letter grade, so from an A to an A- or from a B- to a C+. If you are more than 10 minutes late, that’s half an absence. Other than religious holidays, only college-sponsored activities and illness (with a doctor note) count as excused absences. Religious holidays may be excused if the student submits a notice to the instructor stating his or her intention in advance of the absence. This is strict because much of our class will depend on discussion, and you will rely on each other’s feedback.


Workshop and discussion will require some speaking in class. You must attend the final reading and read aloud from your work. Failure to do so will result in 10% off your final grade (50% off your participation grade). Failure to attend individual consultations with your instructor will also result in 10% off your final grade.



In this course, your graded writing will take five different shapes:

  1. Guided Prompt Story10% via Moodle (graded on completion)
  2. Writing Notes15% via Moodle (graded on completion)
  3. Workshop Letters to Peers15% bring to class
  4. Individual Workshop Self-Reflections10% due in consultation
  5. Portfolio30% total
  6. Completion5%
  7. Aesthetic Statement15% (due the last day of class)
  8. Revisions & Defense/Presentation of Revisions10% (due the last day of class)



Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this course should be able to…

  1. Articulate their aesthetic goals in clear and specific language
  2. Analyze published, peer, and self-composed writing from a writerly perspective
  3. Put their own writing and others’ in literary, cultural, and historical context
  4. Apply the skill of close reading to literary works
  5. Understand and employ some basic elements of fiction composition and revision

Course Methods

Our tools will be short lectures, discussion of readings, writing exercises, workshopping, and individual consultations. Explanations of each of the five kinds of writing you’ll be doing, plus how to read and comment on a story for workshop, and what we will do in workshop, follow.


  1. Guided Prompt Story (Graded on completion)

Throughout most of this course, you will be working on a story via a series of weekly writing prompts that will start in class and that you may need to finish outside of class. This is a separate story from your workshop material. Everyone in class will use the same prompts to write their version of the guided prompt story. The prompts should help guide you through building a story from nothing, into a first draft with a setting, characters, plot, etc., and through a few preliminary revision strategies. This should help you to learn the elements of fiction we will discuss in class and how to use those elements to create a story. It should also give you a sense of how a working writer crafts a story out of the thinness of an idea, for an audience greater than themselves.


The guided prompt stories will also give our class a way to see how differently each person interprets the exact same steps. How differently we solve similar problems. It will be a way for you all to serve as a knowledge-base for each other. We will discuss these prompt stories by comparing our similar and different approaches and similar and different processes. From time to time, we will “workshop” everyone’s prompt stories together and discuss what we can learn from each other’s writing and writing processes.


  1. Writing Notes (Graded on completion)

As we work on our fiction, each student will write detailed Writing Notes that reflect on their writing decisions. These Notes should describe your thinking as you apply the exercises and as you consider the readings, discussions, and lessons. The Notes will be for both your guided prompt stories and your material for workshop—basically, you will be trying to reflect on your aesthetics as a writer, what you want to do with your writing and how and why. Updated Writing Notes will need to be turned in weekly via the course page. You will be graded on completion—one point of your final grade per week—these notes are for your own use, so they don’t need to be grammatically correct or anything, but they should reflect your writing process and help you to understand what kind of writer you are and want to be/become, by examining where you added writing or deleted writing and why, why a character does one thing and not another and what that means, what your evolving idea of your story and audience is, what you think are your strengths and weaknesses, etc. BE AS SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE. These notes will also help you to create your Aesthetic Statement for your portfolio and to formulate how you will defend your revisions of the workshop material.

To help you get a sense of what to do in your Notes, here’s an example from a past student:

In class, I had to map out the relationships of the characters in a family tree, and the names were too confusing. I want to make the story accessible to someone with a limited attention span. So the first thing I did was open a new page and write the story from scratch using a simplified list of characters but the same overall plot structure. Intro to the scenery, we’re in his/my Aunt’s house, the funeral is the same but instead of a great uncle it’s a grandfather, etc. I just wrote it straight through, pacing this second version of the story very similarly to the first. As the notes I made in class re suspense included adding dialogue and “hints,” I made an effort as I re-read the story I put together today — what I wrote in class was more like a hodgepodge of ideas, but this version was very much based on those notes with some language transferred over directly — and make my character more obviously critical, snarky, arrogant. I tried to do this by adding some internal monologue, writing in the first person, and creating the conversation with his sister, which was inspired by the above (where I was trying out names like Sly short for Sylvester and Mandy). I don’t think it’s suspenseful yet, in that it’s unclear still what the character’s motivations are. Why does it matter to him that he be a good uncle all of a sudden, when the only real revelation he’s had is that he doesn’t feel as close to or similar to his sister (Percival’s mom) as he does to his second cousins and great uncle? What helps his distain for his own nuclear family dissolve? What about his relationship with his dad? I think he wants to be the “Boppy” equivalent in Percival’s life, to help the next generation escape the buttoned-up attitudes of his own childhood in any way he can, and the only way available to him at this moment is trains. I’ll try to write that in for next time. Hopefully the trains will help give my audience something concrete to hold onto.


  1. Workshop Letters to Peers (Graded +//-)

More about this will be included in the Workshop explanation later. But basically (for the individual workshops) you will include with your comments on the author’s material a letter to the author. You should bring one copy of your letter for the author and one copy for your instructor. Letters should be 1-2 full pages double-spaced in Times New Roman 12-point font. Letters should cover some of the aesthetic elements that we discuss in class. Specifically, letters should do two things: ask questions of the author and offer possibilities for revision. Letters should be well thought out, clear, and specific, citing examples from the story. Letters should never be damaging or personal or attacking. After reading your letter, the author should be excited to revise their story. That should be our goal, to generate excitement for change. Again, more on this later.


  1. Individual Workshop Self-Reflections (Graded A-F)

After your own story is workshopped, you will write a two-page reflection on how your workshop went. You should cover:


  1. What new things you learned about your fiction/audience/aesthetics.
  2. What new things you learned about your writing style.
  3. How your classmates interpreted your story and how similar or different their interpretations were from your own. And what that tells you.
  4. What questions you still have.
  • What the most helpful part of workshop was.
  1. What the least helpful part of workshop was.
  2. What you are thinking about now that you weren’t thinking about before.
  3. What you learned from people’s letters to you.
  4. What you might write if you were to write a letter to yourself (if you were the reader of your story and not the author).


  1. Portfolio

Your final portfolio should include 3 things: revisions of 50%-100% of your workshop packet, your guided prompt story, and your Aesthetic Statement.


More about the workshop packet:

You will submit a workshop packet (not including the guided prompt story) to be workshopped in class on an agreed-upon date. Your maximum page count will be 50 pages for a novel or 30 pages for stories. Minimum 5 pages. You may have already written a draft of a story or novel, or you may have only just started a single story, or you might even be writing from scratch. Either way, track your progress on the story in your Writing Notes in addition to what you record about your prompt story. Much of your overall grade will be based on your participation in submitting your material on time, preparing it to be workshopped, and writing about it.


More about the Aesthetic Statement.

Your Aesthetic Statement should be at least 6 pages double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman (and maybe closer to 8-10 pages) and should resemble the kind of close reading and analysis of craft and culture/audience that is found in the three required aesthetic texts. For help, you might consider some or all of the elements of fiction found at the back of this syllabus. Put your work into context, both personal and social/cultural. What are you trying to do with your fiction? How do you go about doing that? Why does it matter? Perhaps why does it matter is a good place to start. What are your personal stakes in fiction? Why write it at all? In other words: why write fiction for anyone else to read; why not write in a diary; what are you trying to get across to your audience (and who is that)?


Remember to use specific examples from your portfolio as “evidence” or examples. USE QUOTES. I.e. do a reading of your own work. Your Writing Notes should help. You will be graded on your understanding of your own intentions, audience, and craft—you will not be graded on some outside sense (such as your instructor’s) of what the “correct” intentions, audience, and craft are. In other words, you will be graded on your analysis (which is more objective), not on the subjective pleasure taken from your fiction.


More about the Defense/Presentation of your revisions

Your Aesthetic Statement should include some discussion of what you tried to do in revision, of course. But in addition to this, you will be asked to make an in-class defense/presentation of your revisions. There are three reasons we are doing this: 1. To learn from each other’s revision strategies; 2. To be able to articulate our own process; and 3. To give you a chance for you and your work to lead the class. You should note that youwill be graded on how specific you are. No vaguespeak. What did you do to revise and why? You will project your revisions on the board and will defend them one by one, talking us through your process. The other students and your instructor will ask questions about your revision and you should be prepared to answer any question about why you made any writing decision you made. You won’t be graded on whether your ideas for revision do or don’t match the workshop’s ideas or your instructor’s. You will only be graded on whether or not you have defended the specific choices you made in revision. As always, the material—and its revision—is yours.



Course caveats

  1. Writing, of course, is a big time commitment! Not only for the act of sitting down and putting words on the page. Reading is crucial. An understanding of your place in the world is crucial. As Milan Kundera will tell us, fiction is about “being in the world.” You should attempt, if at all possible, to read and to work on your writing every day during this term and to think about what it means to you and what you mean to it. Even a half hour of writing per day is worthwhile, though I find that an hour or two (or more), if you can find the time, is best.
  2. Your instructor will talk a lot about what fiction is or does, and what it should do. So will your readings. Together these views will present multiple and often conflicting takes. Take all this with a grain of salt. By which I mean an analytical and skeptical mind. But also remember that the most important thing you can get out of workshop is the ability to articulate your thoughts about fiction in this way—to develop personal theories about what makes fiction effective and affective to your audience; that is: a personal aesthetics. The readings’ viewpoints and your instructor’s viewpoint should help as a starting point or as a sounding
  3. Another goal: We will focus heavily on how readers get and stay engaged with fiction. To that end we will spend some time questioning who those readers are for each piece, so that we can attempt to critique from that position and to see how that question is always a concern of the author. We will keep the INTENDED reader in mind at all times. Workshop, like writing, is an act of the imagination—we are trying to imagine ourselves into the author’s position and into the position of the author’s readers simultaneously, and to do so is to create an imagined version of what a finished story might look like. That causes all sorts of problems, but is also rich with possibilities. Workshop is a way for the writer to see first-hand what a group of close readers think of the work and for all of us to learn from process. It’s on the workshop group as readers to do our best to read the work for the writer’s aesthetics. This will be a main goal of the course. It will help that your Writing Notes should address who you believe your audience to be as well as why and how that understanding factors into the material.
  4. Race, religion, gender, sexuality, ableness, etc. are an important aspect of who people and characters are, since we all live in a society that gives power and normativity to some groups and not to others. Maybe especially in literature, as literature is a reflection and product of culture. No character is without a race/nationality/so forth. Equally, no writer is without a race/nationality/so forth. Neutrality does not exist. If you do not mention your characters’ races, what does that mean about your aesthetic purpose or even, dare we say, morality? Again, we must always think about who the writer is writing for and why. Our classroom will be a place where neutrality and normativity are questioned, and power and marginalization become part of our lens as writers who try to write truly about the world.



Workshop Guidelines (for individual workshops)


Workshop will be one of our main methods of instruction. There will be short lectures and much discussion of outside readings, but about half of the course will primarily be devoted to workshopping in some manner/form. One learning objective in any undergraduate workshop is to show how a writing group can work and how to read each other’s work as a writer would, as a first step to better writing and revising beyond this class.


Every story is in progress/in process. So workshop will be a space in which to talk about the story in process. Still it would be remiss not to note that, ideally, for you the writer and for us, you will have taken the material as far as (you think) you can take it before seeking our feedback. Workshop will be less helpful to you if you already know why you are dissatisfied with your story and only hear confirmation. It’s more helpful if you do not know what to do next, and the workshop can help you learn new things about your story and how to make it better than you could have on your own. Either way, though, the workshop is a space uniquely situated to talk about an unfinished story. That is its one major benefit, what it offers that reading published stories cannot.


As a note: This course will have a “literary” bent. I say this to put my cards on the table. “Literary fiction” is your instructor’s expertise, though other genres are welcome and beloved and, in general, require similar skills: plot, characterization, setting, etc. However you may notice that lectures, readings, and discussion will favor “literary” techniques.


Reading and making comments


Please read each manuscript twice. The first reading (do NOT mark up the text during this round) should be for pleasure and for general reaction. In fact, recording your first reaction might end up being just as important to the writer as the more detailed suggestions you should make upon second read.


After your first quick read, you should have some brief Writing Notes from the author. Please read those and then record your first reaction by writing a simple plus/minus list at the top of the first page of the packet, in the space left by the author. This should be very basic, not complete sentences: for example,


plotcharacter arc








(More examples of what to mention can be found in the “Elements of Fiction,” attached to this syllabus, though a lot is left out and you should feel free to mention whatever else.)



The author’s comments in her Writing Notes should situate you in the material as a draft in a long process. During your second read, please think about where the work is in that process. This is a good time to mark up the pages themselves, writing smaller comments in the margins or in the space between lines when something doesn’t sound right or feel right or could sound better or have greater effect on the reader. This is where you can suggest line-edits or point out spots of confusion or make specific micro-level suggestions. BUT remember that this material will undergo plenty of revision, and so most importantly, ask questions of the author here, ask why the author uses this word or the character acts in that way.


We will try to focus our comments on observations and questions. Observations will help us discuss and describe the author’s particular aesthetics and how they apply to the material at hand. Questions will help us utilize the Writing Notes and learn from each other’s processes and zero in on what the author still has left to understand about her story, which should lead the writer into revision. Suggestions, if included, should focus on process—things to try in revision, such as reordering events in chronological order, or shuffling them to represent the narrator’s addled mindest.


When you have reread the story, write a letter for the author (one full page or longer). Type it up, since you will bring a copy for your instructor, too. Here is where you will address the larger issues. Again, please do the macro work in the critique and the micro work in the margins. In your letter, you should ask macro questions and give macro suggestions. For example, you might state your understanding (or not) of the story, list observations that lead you to think the author’s aesthetic is such-and-such, ask questions about what certain actions or images mean, ask questions about specific characters, give suggestions for how to approach revision (as mentioned above), etc. Don’t skimp on the questions in favor of suggestions. Making observations and asking questions are more about the author; suggestions are more about the workshopper. We’re trying to find a happy medium. Half your letter (at least) should be questions—this will factor into grading.


Note: You will return your annotated copy of the manuscript to the author at the end of the workshop, including one copy of the letter, and you will turn the other copy of your letter to the author in to your instructor.





Formatting Your Workshop Packets:


  • Drafts should be double-spaced, 12-point font, Times New Roman, with 1-inch margins, and with only 1 space after a period. Each paragraph should start indented—the only exceptions can be the first paragraph of the story and the first paragraph following a space break (an extra large break between paragraphs that indicates a change in time, tone, POV, etc.). Other than those paragraphs following space breaks, paragraphs should not have extra line spacing before or after. This (rigid/ anal) formatting is required. Why? Doing so puts all workshop stories on a common starting plane. Also this is standard manuscript format for submitting to literary magazines, though font can sometimes vary (just not in workshop, please). E.g.:


The beginning of the story went like blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

And then blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah


Twenty years later blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

She blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah


  • Start each story or chapter at least halfway down on the first page. This will give the workshop room to jot down a quick chart of plus/minuses on the front and also is pretty standard submission style.
  • Single-side or make sure the last side of the last page is blank, so that comments can be written at the end.
  • Number your pages. Please don’t forget to do this; it’s difficult to refer to specific passages in your work during class without page numbers.
  • Important: include Writing at the end of your packet. Do not put your Writing Notes at the beginning. Writing Notes can be especially helpful to us as we think about the direction you’re taking the story, who your audience may be, and what your intentions are. Please try to include these things—this will greatly improve your workshop experience.
  • Email your submissions on time!

Some other notes:


First: you should think about audience as you write and read, as you draft, as you do your Writing Notes, and as a workshopper (and in writing your letters to the author). Whom we are writing for is the main factor in the decisions we make in the text. Here’s an example that includes my own blind spots: A science fiction story written for science fiction fans will vary greatly from a science fiction story written for “literary” fans, and the decisions the writer will need to make will then need to vary greatly as well. Literary sci-fi often has a lot less science and perhaps less fact-based science. It only gets more complicated when these concerns and questions of audience have to do with, say, writing about and/or for marginalized groups.


Second, your regular workshop advice: Both in class and in your written comments, oversimplified statements such as “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” are really not helpful. These aren’t observations, they are opinions without analysis. Neither is “I agree” or “I disagree” helpful. Workshops of course operate on the golden rule policy: do for others as you want done for you. Your fellow classmates will see from your comments what kind of feedback to give—this always happens, no matter how much of a push the instructor gives to present the fullest amount of feedback to everyone. Another way to think about questions and suggestions is that it’s about why and how. Instead of saying you liked this or didn’t like that, make an observation about the style or conflict or plot, etc., and ask the author what she meant.


Be precise, and try to ask questions you don’t know how to answer and give suggestions that come from reading the story for what the author wants it to be, not what you want it to be.


In class, it helps to direct the workshop toward specific places in the text—e.g., “Is the image in the second paragraph of page three supposed to get across Soo Yong’s emotional distress?” or “I noticed on page three that Alex is unusually reserved. What action might Soo Yong do there to express his emotional distress?” Be honest and tactful and generous, and above all, be respectful of the writer’s artistic effort as well as his/her feelings; critique should never be personal or damaging.


We are all trying to encourage each other to keep writing, and to keep improving, and again, revision is a continual process. We don’t want to stop anyone in their tracks. This can’t be stressed enough: workshop shouldn’t be about how the workshopper would have written the story. The Notes should help immensely. The best workshoppers read a story for what it wants to be, ask questions to help the writer clarify it, and offer possibilities for how it might get there.







What Will the Workshop Look Like in Class?


At the beginning of your workshop, you will read the first one or two paragraphs of your manuscript. (Good practice reading—read slowly.) This will help to get us back under the spell of your story.


Second, someone in class will describe the material. This description may include who the target audience might be, what the pages seem to be trying to accomplish, what kind of story the story is and/or wants to be, what the individual stories or the novel is “about,” what the author says the story is “about” in her Notes, other texts you were reminded of, where a story like this might be published, etc. This introduction is a good way to see what stands out in your draft and what might be less memorable, and to hear how other people read your work and interpreted your Writing Notes.


Third, after listening to this description and what other writers in the room can add to it, the author should respond to the description and then pose a question or questions. That will kickstart the discussion, and we’ll proceed from there with a more open conversation that should include asking the author direct questions, asking each other questions, and offering suggestions—with the author’s feedback.


Finally, we will flip through the pages and talk about some specific places where we had observations, questions, or saw other possibilities.


If at any time the author feels like the workshop is moving too far away from her own concerns, she should feel free to say she wants to “redirect” the workshop. She can then ask another question of us. At any time, the author should feel free to (and should!) ask questions. Explanations are a little different: It might be best for the author to put her explanations in the Writing Notes and, in class, in direct answers to the workshop’s questions. The workshop should try to ask questions that are not answered in the manuscript or the Notes.


We will run these workshops according to what might be most useful to the material and author at the center. This means that in some workshops, the author might listen more and in others the author might speak more, clarify more, ask more questions. In some workshops, we may do other things, demonstrating some methods of revision or straying far from the above format. The author will likely want to take notes. Personally I have found it helpful to write quick notes as well as who said what and questions I might have about those comments, in case the discussion is going well and you want to wait and bring up those questions later. Of course you should figure out a system of note-taking that works for you.


At the end of the workshop, the author should say one or two things, following our discussion, that they would like to try out in revision. For example, someone might have said something about mother character holding the possibility for more conflict, and the author might say she has decided to re-examine the mother character and ask what it is in the mother’s past that makes her so permissive. This is so that the author walks out of class with some concrete direction to take the story, a direction that she herself states.


As a last note of empathy: it is natural to feel defensive during workshop. Sometimes it is hard to know when to listen and when to redirect. During the description, listen and absorb the readings of your story. Later you can help guide the discussion toward your biggest concerns. Please do jump in if you feel as if the workshop is misinterpreting, but maybe first hear why, or ask why. One of the most helpful things about a workshop—maybe the most helpful, besides the comments you yourself will make (since commenting means putting together your own theories about how fiction works)—is hearing how other people have read your story, what they focus on or ignore, versus how you originally intended it. You will never have a more engaged audience than people who must read and comment on your work.


When you are workshopped, it is important to remember that you will not connect with everything that is said. You shouldn’t! Don’t listen to everything; don’t take every suggestion—trust your instincts. Think hard, though, about all of the questions asked of you. Are you making your decisions consciously enough? Are there decisions you made subconsciously that turned out to be even better (or worse) than you expected? Don’t ever try to make your story into someone else’s story, or especially the group’s story. That will ruin what you love about your story and so will ruin your story. Part of being in a writing community is learning who is a good reader for your work, and how to incorporate suggestions into your own intentions and process. Also remember that while you might not like a suggestion, the most important thing about a critique might be simply its existence. The point remains that that part of your story might have tripped up this group of test readers, and if they are reading carefully, you can use that knowledge to find your own solution to the problem. Also remember that sometimes making a certain part of a story work isn’t about that part of the story, but about an earlier part, or a later part, or the whole thing or the basic foundation. What is most important, though, is to know that there’s still more work to do and to be inspired to do it.


Being workshopped can be emotionally exhausting, but know that the feeling will pass. Be empathetic toward others. They are feeling the same way or maybe even worse than you did. Remember always that the workshop is meant to spur an author to improve their story, not abandon it. Encouraging further writing should always be our goal.


It can be best to take a week or longer, after your workshop, before reading through and evaluating the comments on your story. Sometimes it takes quite a while to be able to “listen” to what you’ve heard.


Some encouragement (hopefully)! The bulk of successful writing is in the fact that you have an endless number of tries. Persistence is key. You can get wherever you want to be if you try hard enough and long enough to get there. Ask questions of the work and of yourself as a writer.


More revision resources here:




Additional Course Policies and Procedures


The following information is designed to help the class run smoothly. The instructor reserves the right to make additions and adjustments to the syllabus as necessary.


Statement on Course Materials: Some of the writings, lectures, films, or presentations in this course may include material that conflicts with the core beliefs of some students. Please review the syllabus carefully to see if the course is one that you are committed to taking. If you have a concern, please discuss it with me at your earliest convenience.


Grades of Incomplete: In general, students will not be allowed to take an Incomplete in this course. If you find you do have a legitimate reason for needing to take an Incomplete, please talk with me as soon as possible.


Academic Integrity

At Coe College, we expect academic integrity of all members of our community. Academic integrity assumes honesty about the nature of one’s work in all situations. Such honesty is at the heart of the educational enterprise and is a pre-condition for intellectual growth. Academic dishonesty is the willful attempt to misrepresent one’s work, cheat, plagiarize, or impede other students’ academic progress. Academic dishonesty interferes with the mission of the College and will be treated with the utmost seriousness as a violation of community standards.

Please refer to the Coe College Academic Catalog for complete information regarding Academic Integrity:


Students should be aware of their rights regarding the privacy of their educational records. Detailed information about your rights can be found under the FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974) section in the Academic Catalog and online here:

In line with FERPA restrictions, students should be aware that their instructor cannot publicly post grades by student name, institutional student identification number, or social security number without first having obtained students’ written permission.

Students with Disabilities:

If you have a hidden or visible disability which may require classroom or test accommodations I encourage you to visit my office during Office Hours or email to schedule an appointment at a mutually suitable time so we can discuss ways to support your learning.


Coe College, in compliance with equal access laws, will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Students are required to meet with Kim Pierson, the Accessibility Services Coordinator to verify disability. The Accessibility Services Office is located in the Learning Commons on the lower level of Stewart Memorial Library. This office is responsible for coordinating accommodations and services for students with disabilities. Please call 319-399-8844 or x8844 to schedule an appointment.


Reporting of Sexual Misconduct
As an instructor, one of my responsibilities is to help create a safe learning environment on our campus. I also have a mandatory reporting responsibility related to my role as a faculty member. It is my goal that you feel able to share information related to your life experiences in classroom discussions, in your written work, and in any one-on-one meetings. I will seek to keep information you share with me private to the greatest extent possible. However, I am required to share information regarding sexual misconduct or students who may be in danger to themselves or to others. Students may speak to someone confidentially by contacting Student Development at 319-399-8843 or Safety and Security at 319-399-8888.

The Definition of a Course Credit, Expected Workload and Grade Basis:

One course credit at Coe College constitutes 150 hours’ worth of student work over the course of the term. This figure includes both the time spent in class and the time spent out of class completing course work. In other words, students are expected to devote a considerable amount of time outside of class to this course. For courses that meet in a standard M-W-F or T-Th slot, students should be expected to work seven hours a week outside of the three hours in class.

Email Communication

Generally, I will check my email several times each day during the week, but not continuously, not in the evening, and not over the weekend. Please plan accordingly.



Recordings will not be allowed without the instructor’s explicit permission. Please let me know if this is part of your accommodations.


Trigger Warnings

Please let me know if you have any particular triggers and we can discuss what texts might touch on these and what to do about it. I will not offer trigger warnings in advance, except a general warning that these texts do include violence, sex, and continuous negotiations of power. I respect your right to protect your vulnerability. This course will attempt to effect productive discomfort.





Week 1 (8/23-8/25)

R      Introductions, syllabus, workshop schedule, writing prompt


Week 2 (8/28-9/1)

T       In class: Michelle Cliff vs. Joan Didion vs. Audre Lorde

R      Prompt story activity/workshop


Week 3 (9/5-9/8)

T       The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist – Pamuk (“What Our Minds Do When…”)

R      Beginnings workshop


Week 4 (9/11-9/15)

T       The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist – Pamuk (“Literary Character…” & “The Center”)

R      Process workshop


Week 5 (9/18-9/22)

T       The Art of the Novel – Kundera (1-67)

R      Prompt story workshop


Week 6 (9/25-9/29)

T       The Art of the Novel – Kundera (71-117)

R      Individual workshop 490


Week 7 (10/2-10/6)

T       Tiger Writing – Jen (Introduction and Part 2)

R      Individual workshop 390


Week 8 (10/9-10/13)

T       Tiger Writing – Jen (Part 3)

R      Individual workshop 290


Week 9 (10/16-10/18)

T       Individual workshop 290



Week 10 (10-23-10/27)

T       Student-chosen book

R      Individual workshop 290


Week 11 (10/30-11/3)

T       Consultations

R      Student-chosen book


Week 12 (11/6-11/10)

T       Student-chosen book

R      Prompt story workshop


Week 13 (11/13-11/17)

T       Student-chosen book

R      Revision excerpts workshop




Week 15 (11/27-12/1)

T       Consultations

R      TBD


Week 16 (12/4-12/8)

T       Revision defenses

R      Revision defenses

F       (Common Hour) Readings!




Some Elements of Fiction


Here are a few items to investigate while reading your peers’ and your own work. Ask yourself these questions, then address them where appropriate. Note that this is just a cursory list, by no means exhaustive. There is much more that could and should be taken into account.


  • Action: What happens? Who causes it to happen? Does enough happen? Does what happens come out of the character’s desires and the conflict to those desires? What is the reason it happens? Is it linked causally? Is what happens satisfying? Does it work thematically? Does it reveal character? Is anything happening?


  • Agency: Who controls the action? Whose decisions move the plot? Whose desires? Does the main character have enough agency to be a main character? How does the main character show her agency? How does she use it or give it up? How can she have more agency? What does the amount of agency the characters have say about their position in society? About an aesthetic sensibility? About theme?


  • Arc: How does the protagonist change (or try hard to change and fail)? (Character arc) What is the rising action/climax/falling action? (Story arc) Are these arcs satisfying/resonate? Do they work together?
  • Audience: For whom/to whom is this piece written, ideally? How can you tell? How does it affect the writing? What expectations are being assumed? Met? Undermined? Disregarded? What kind of publication would this be published in? Is there a regional audience? Gendered? Raced? What is explicit and what is implicit? What would more focus audience-wise mean for the story?


  • Conflict: What is standing in the way of the character getting what s/he wants? Does this conflict escalate/complicate as the story progresses? Is the writer letting his/her characters off the hook? Does this conflict come from outside and inside? Do the various conflicts work together thematically?


  • Context: What information does the story need to present in order to make sense to its audience? Does the story present too much information? Too little? In the right places? What larger context is it engaging with? What larger context is it disregarding or assuming? Does the material give the right information for us to make sense of things where we are in the story/on the page? Do we get information too early? Too late? How does the story convey information? How could it convey information more efficiently?


  • Characterization: Do we have a clear vision of who the characters are? Do we know their physical details, age, gender, locale, socio-economic status, race, sexuality? Should we? What is left out and why? What does it say about theme, purpose, audience? Do we know their wants and fears? Their attitude? Is it clear where they work? Live? Do they have families, friends, lovers? How much do we need to know? Are the characters shown through decision and action? What is their prevailing attitude in the situation? In general?


  • Grounding: Do we know what is happening? Where we are? Who the characters are? When we are? What the premise is? When time is passing? How much time has passed?


  • Inside/Outside Story: Is there an inside and outside story going on? I.e. Is there an internal change happening versus an external plot happening? Is there action and change both outside of the protagonist and within her/him? For example, the protagonist chickens out, his wife has an affair, the protagonist faces a lion versus the protagonist feels himself come alive and change for a brief instant into the man he wants to be (“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”). The first is the outside story, the second the inside story.


  • Language: Does the language feel appropriate for the story? Syntax, diction, etc. What does it reveal about characters? Audience? Theme? Where does it seem to pick up in energy? Where does it seem to lose energy? Why?


  • Pacing: Are transitions between scenes smooth? Do we have an appropriate balance of summary and scene? Does backstory slow the story down or help deepen the stakes and make us want to read faster? Do we spend enough time with the most significant characters and actions of the story? Do we spend too much time on trivial items? What can be cut? What should be added?


  • Perspective/Point of View: Is the point of view clear and consistent through the story? What does the POV choice mean thematically? Aesthetically? Does form match content? Is the psychic distance appropriate? Too far? Too close? Not enough variety/movement? Whose story is it? Would first or third (or even second) work better? Why?


  • Raison d’etre: Why this story on this particular day, at this particular time, in this particular place? Is this the most important moment in this character’s life? Is this the right moment to tell the story? What is going on at the point of telling?


  • Setting: How does the setting affect the story? How does it factor into what happens and who people are? Why this setting and no other? Does the setting appear on the page both explicitly and implicitly? Does it affect the inside and outside story?


  • Stakes: Is it clear what stands to be gained or lost during the events of the story? Are the stakes high enough? Are they different for different characters? Does the protagonist care what happens? What are the objective stakes? What are the subjective stakes? Do the stakes rise as the story progresses?


  • Structure: Do the passages of the stories appear in the most effective order? Do early sections of the story foreshadow later parts? Are transitions effective? Are all scenes “doing something” to advance the story in the order that they are in? How is the story organized and how does that help accomplish (or not) the story’s effect? How does form represent/do justice to content? How would the story be different if it were organized differently? What does the structure say about how we make meaning?


  • Tone: What is the tone of the story? Funny? Dark? Melodramatic? Campy? Etc. What in the story gives you this feeling? How does the story convey its tone? Through what other elements? Setting? Style? Stakes? Characterization? Voice?


  • Voice: How is the story told? How much is narrative summary and what is told in narrative summary? Are there parentheticals? Italics? Where is the emphasis? Why? How old is the narrator or point-of-view character? How educated? Cultural background? Formal? Informal? What makes this voice different from any other? Why this voice and not another? What is shown and what is told? Why? What are the metaphors used and how do they create a sense of voice? How much detail comes into play? Who is telling the story?


  • Vulnerability: What does the story risk? How is the story the author’s and the author’s alone? Does the story challenge the status quo? Does it challenge its characters enough? Does it challenge its author? What is still in hiding?


  • Beginning: Does the beginning introduce us to characters and conflicts effectively? Does it set up our expectations for the rest of the story? Does it teach us the rules of the story? Is it extraneous? Does it explain too much/not enough? What promises does it make? What stakes does it establish? Does it ask us to keep reading?


  • Ending: Does the ending follow what’s been set up by the rest of the story? Are our questions answered or addressed or purposely and satisfyingly unanswered? Do we need more to happen? Less? Does the ending explain too much/not enough? How has it delivered on or subverted the promises the story made in the beginning? What does it mean to read the story teleologically/what does the ending mean to how we make meaning of the action in the whole?

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