Seven Week Fiction Workshop Course Syllabus

International Writing Program: Fiction Seminar

February 18-April 6th 2012

Instructors

James O’Brien james-obrien@uiowa.edu

Ghada Abdel Aal ghada.abedelaal@yahoo.com

Course Description

Welcome to the IWP’s Fiction Seminar offered by the International Writing Program and funded through the US State Department.  This course will link students in the US with international writers, especially those in the Middle East, who are interested in writing and reading contemporary fiction. Over the next seven weeks, we will read extraordinary works of fiction from some of the most exciting examples of web-based American literary journals while working to become better writers. All work will center on the idea of reading as a writer and generating creative work in response. In other words, this will be as much of a literature course as it is a creative writing course. Students are expected to maintain an active presence on the discussion boards and in videoconference sessions. At the end of the semester creative work will be collected into a podcast anthology or e-book.  All course activities will be conducted in English.

Course Materials

As this is a web-based class, students will need a high-speed internet connection for reliable connection and video chat sessions. Further, students must have access to a webcam and microphone to take part in video chat sessions. Texts will be sourced from online literary journals—no purchase is necessary.

Course Interaction

Our primary means of interaction will be CourseKit—a secure, online educational environment. On our course homepage, you will find all the materials you need for class—extra readings, course documents, assignment guidelines, and so on. CourseKit will additionally act as the main site of our conversations as a group. Here, we’ll post both our workshop contributions and our weekly written responses. In addition we’ll be using a real-time video chat feature hosted through UI called Elluminate. We’ll use this weekly for sessions of between one and two hours.

Assignments

Assignments will include:

1) Academic responses to discussion questions;

2) Creative responses to prompts;

3) Workshop pieces of fiction;

4) Responses to classmates for workshop.

 

Workshop Pieces

One during the seminar, each student will compose an 8-10 page story for class critique. Each piece must be “complete” in that it must have a beginning, middle, and end, and final draft quality, meaning no grammatical errors, misspellings, and so on.

Workshop Responses

Every student will respond to each workshop contribution via a letter of critique within a week of the story’s submission. These critiques should focus on elements of craft—style, character, voice, dialogue, and so on—and should provide insightful, detailed, and specific criticism on how to improve the piece. All responses should be polite, considerate, and constructive.

Schedule

Week One

Two participants will post their pieces by Tuesday.

  1. Write: A 250 word introduction. Consider discussing why you write, how you write, and what you hope to gain from this course.
  2. Read: How to Write… by Jennifer Egan. How is your writing process different or similar? Respond.
  3. Read: The Rifle by Benjamin Percy. This story is a good example of concision in writing. Consider how Percy condenses information and distills it down to its core. Respond in about 250 words.
  4. Read: Two participant’s stories. Respond in about 350 words.
  5. Elluminate Live! workshop on Saturday from GMT/UTC 15:00 to 16:30

Week Two

One participant will post his or her piece by Tuesday.

  1. Read: Mario’s Three Lives by Matt Bell. This story is an example of how one might take contemporary archetypes or figures (like Mario from Super Mario Brothers in this case) and appropriate them. Take a look at this story, then a look around you, and try to think about stories or characters beyond the traditional. What do you think of it? How does it challenge traditional writing? Respond in about 250 words.
  2. Read: Participant’s story. Respond in about 350 words.
  3. Elluminate Live! workshop on Saturday from GMT/UTC 15:00 to 16:30

Week Three

Two participants will post their work by Tuesday.

  1. Read: Three Indignities by Brian Evenson. Evenson's piece raises intriguing questions about sensation, the body, and understanding. What effect does the format and structure achieve? To what end? How might the form of the piece reflect something about the meaning or intent? I'd also encourage you all to consider this piece as yet another example of subversion of traditional modes of storytelling. There's not much character in this piece. That's not a bad thing. How does Evenson keep us interested? What's your response to this story?  Respond in about 250 words.
  2. Read: Participants’ stories. Respond in about 350 words.
  3. Elluminate Live! workshop on Saturday from GMT/UTC 15:00 to 16:30

Week Four

Two participants will post their pieces by Tuesday.

  1. Read: Refresh, Refresh by Benjamin Percy. Consider what this piece is saying about youth and masculinity.  How does Percy illustrate Oregon? What details stick with you? Respond in about 250 words.
  2. Read A Clean, Well-Lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway. How does dialogue work to shape character? What symbols exist in this piece? How does the author use concision to his advantage? Respond.
  3. Read: Participants’. Respond in about 350 words.
  4. Elluminate Live! workshop on Saturday from GMT/UTC 15:00 to 16:30

Week Five

Two participants will post their pieces by Tuesday.

  1. Read: The Cruel Father… by Kyle Minor. Consider how style, sentence structure, and tone help connect to the purpose, meaning, and/or effect of the story. What do you think? Respond in about 250 words.
  2. Read: The Neighborhood by Aimee Bender. How does Bender make her readers empathize with her characters? How does she balance focusing on a group rather than an individual. Consider tone and pacing, and the use of symbol. Individual and collective paranoia, and ensuing attachment.
  3. Read: Participants’ stories. Respond in about 350 words.
  4. Elluminate Live! workshop on Saturday from GMT/UTC 15:00 to 16:30

Week Six

Two participants will post their pieces by Tuesday.

  1. Read: The Journey by Joyce Carol Oates. Consider how the author incorporates lyrical language in her piece. Respond in about 250 words.
  2. Read Girl by Jamaica Kincaid. How does the author use repetition and a poetic style to achieve her purpose? What does this piece say about gender roles? Respond.
  3. Read: Participants’ stories. Respond in about 350 words.
  4. Elluminate Live! workshop on Saturday from GMT/UTC 15:00 to 16:30

Week Seven

The instructors will post resources for publishing your work—the “how to” of the industry—and some tools for revision. Please read and respond with questions and thoughts.

  1. Write: A 250 word reflection. Consider how this course has changed your understanding of American and international writing, and how you’ve grown as a writer.  
  2. Ask any questions you might have about publishing.
  3. Elluminate Live! final discussion on Saturday from GMT/UTC 15:00 to 16:30.

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