Young Adult Fiction Workshop

Independent Studies:

Young Adult Fiction
Fall 2011, August 22-December 16



Jimmy O’Brien (Iowa)

Available for in-person meetings (or one-on-one chat sessions) upon request.


Ghada Abdel Aal (Egypt)


Course Description


Welcome to Independent Studies: IWP Creative Writing: Young Adult Fiction offered by the International Writing Program and funded through the US State Department.  This course will link students in Iowa and Egypt who are interested in Young Adult (YA) fiction. This exchange will be facilitated by co-instructors in both countries. This class is for YA writers who want to experience working with writers abroad, aren't afraid of skyping and emailing, and enjoy having discussions on the ICON forums. We will read fantastic YA books as well as create our own YA fiction. All the work is going to be centered on the idea of reading as a writer and generating creative work in response. This will be as much of a literature course as it is a creative writing course.


You will be graded on participation in discussions, whether you turn in work on time, and invest the appropriate amount of effort. Two or three video conferences will take place over the duration of the course via Skype or other web-based technology. 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. The following texts are required. You may purchase them via Amazon, the University of Iowa Bookstore, or any other venue. All books are available in electronic format as well, if you have a hard time locating them.


Charles Portis, True Grit

Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker

Katherine Paterson, Jacob Have I Loved

Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why

Course Interaction


Our primary means of interaction will be University of Iowa’s ICON system—a secure, online educational environment. On our course homepage you will find all the materials you need for the class—extra readings, course documents, assignment guidelines, and so on. Another integral feature of this class will be the forums, also hosted through ICON, which will be the main site of our conversations as a group. Here, we’ll post both our workshop materials (when they’re due) and our weekly reading responses.


In addition we’ll be using a real-time video chat feature hosted through UI called Elluminate. We’ll use this only two or three times throughout the semester, mainly to discuss workshop pieces. More info on when and how this will happen will follow shortly.




Assignments will take four forms. 1) Weekly academic responses to discussion questions on ICON forums. 2) Weekly creative responses to prompts to be posted on ICON forums. 3) Workshop pieces of fiction. 4) Responses to classmates for workshop.


Weekly Academic Responses

Each week one of the instructors will post a prompting question concerning the texts we’ve read. Students must write an original response of 200-250 thoughtful, well-reasoned words to that question, as well as a brief 100 word response to one of their classmate’s responses. These must be completed by Monday of the week following their posting (for example, each student will have until Monday 8/29 to respond to the first question).


Weekly Creative Responses

Each week you will be prompted to write a creative response to some element of the text, and, over the course of the weeks, extend that creative response into a story. Each response should be 200-300 words. Students will not respond to one another on the forums for these assignments. We’ll use these to explore features of stories like character, setting, plot, and so on. Ideally, you’ll be able to fuse these into your workshop hand-in, but that is optional.  These will be posted, again, to the ICON forums by Monday of the week following their posting (for example, each student will have until Monday 8/29 to respond to the first question).


Workshop Pieces

Twice during the semester each student will complete a brief 5-6 page story or chapter of a novel that he or she will post for class critique. Each piece must be “complete,” in that is must have a beginning, middle, and end, and final draft quality, meaning no grammatical errors, misspellings, and so on. Students are encouraged to use their weekly responses as launching points for these stories. If a student would rather pursue a 5-6 page academic research paper on a topic we’ve discussed, he or she may do so in consultation with the instructors.


Workshop Responses

Each student will respond to each other student’s workshop story via a letter within a week of that story being submitted. These responses should focus on elements of craft: style, character, plot, themes, and so on. They should provide insightful, detailed, and specific criticism on how to improve the story. That being said, these responses should be polite, considerate, and constructive. A student who routinely violates this policy may face a grade reduction.





For undergraduates taking this course for credit, your final letter grade will be largely determined by how extensively you participate in discussions, both via the forums and the video chat, and the quality of your feedback. Lateness of an assignment will also adversely impact your final grade. Do your work, do it well, and you’ll be fine.


For those of you enrolled as auditors or as non-credit: your fiction will not be workshopped unless you participate regularly in the forums.


Students with Disabilities


Instructors will make reasonable accommodations for students with physical, mental or learning disabilities. Students with disabilities that may require some modification of seating, testing, or other class requirements should visit their instructor during his or her office hours so that appropriate arrangements may be made. It is the student's responsibility to contact Student Disability Services, 3100 Burge Hall (335-1462), and obtain a Student Academic Accommodation Request form (SAAR). This form specifies what course accommodations are judged reasonable for a given student. An instructor who cannot provide the accommodations specified, or has concerns about the accommodations, must contact the Student Disability Services counselor who signed the request form within 48 hours of receiving the form from the student.


Academic Fraud


You are expected to be honest and honorable in your fulfillment of assignments and in test-taking situations. Academic fraud is a serious form of misconduct. A full explanation is given in the Student Academic Handbook:


An instructor who suspects a student of academic fraud must inform the student (in writing) as soon as possible after the incident has been observed or discovered. Instructors who detect cheating or plagiarism may decide, in consultation with the departmental executive officer, to reduce the student's grade on the assignment or the course, even to assign an F. In either case, the instructor will write an account of the chronology of the plagiarism or cheating incident for the departmental chair, who will send an endorsement of the written report of the case to University. A copy of the report will be sent to the student, who has the right to request a hearing within the Department and/or within the College.


Cancelled: Flu-Like Symptoms Absence Policy


Based on recommendations from the CDC and the Johnson County Public Health Department, the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education has announced that The University of Iowa will return to standard policies for students who miss class due to flu-like symptoms. 


The College will return immediately to its standard absence policy:

“University policy requires that students be permitted to make up examinations missed because of illness, mandatory religious obligations, certain University activities, or unavoidable circumstances. All instructors must comply with this policy. The attendance policy should provide options for making up work missed due to an excused absence. Instructors may request that students provide documentation for any absence before the student is allowed to make up missed work.”

NOTE: We reserve the right to request documentation from you if you miss a substantial number of assignments due to illness.




Reading Schedule


Week One: What is YA Literature?

Read: The articles posted under “Week One” on the ICON homepage, and view the “welcome” video.

Respond: After reading the articles and considering them go to the forum and write a response to the weekly question.

Write: Begin writing a character or scene that you’d like to explore in a later story.


Week Two: True Grit, part one.

            Read: Pages 1-112 (approximately—stop around page 112)

            Respond: How would you define Mattie’s character? What makes her voice distinctive?   What defines her tone? What traits define the setting of True Grit?

            Write: Rewrite your previous scene or character in Mattie’s voice. Extend the piece.


Week Three: True Grit, part two.

            Read: Pages 112-End

Respond: How does tension arise between Mattie and Rooster? Mattie and La Boeuf? What elements of their character types make them compatible or incompatible? How could you replicate this tension in a piece of your own? What internal or external changes occur to Mattie by the end of True Grit? How do those signify character development?

Write: Either place your previous character in conflict with another, or make him or her undergo an experience that changes him or her.


Week Four: Ship Breaker, part one.

Read: Pages 1-170 (approximately—stop around page 170)

Respond: What defines the environment in Ship Breaker? How does Bacigalupi establish both the setting and the atmosphere? Highlight a passage that encapsulates this sense of environment and explain how the author creates an atmosphere through word choice, pacing, and tone.

Write: Take the character(s) you’ve been working on and put him or her or them in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable environment. Describe this environment extensively and make your character fear, hate, or be disturbed by some feature of that environment. Begin to explore the result of that fear or disturbance by evidencing some form of internal or external change on part of the character.


Week Five: Ship Breaker, part two.

Read: Pages 170-End.

Respond: What complicates Nailer’s situation, both internally and externally, in the later half of the book? How does he react differently to pressures in the second half of the book than he has previously? How does the author create changes within the character that we believe as readers?

Write: Unify the writing exercises you’ve been working on the past few weeks into a coherent story. Turn this in by Monday of next week. OR, turn in something totally new.


Week Six: Workshop One, pt. 1

Group One hands in a workshop piece of 5-6 pages. Both group one and group two write a 1 page response to each story handed in.


Week Seven: Workshop One, pt 2.

Group Two hands in a workshop piece of 5-6 pages. Both group one and group two write a 1 page response to each story handed in.


Week Eight: Elluminate Session One

We’ll meet at a time (TBD) via Elluminate and spend about 15 minutes discussing each workshop piece in real-time. We’ll also compare and contrast the books we’ve read thus far. The session will last approximately 1.75 hours.



Week 9: Book 1 (13 reasons why)


Read: the first half of the book in this book.


Respond: the author has chosen a dual narration format, not just switching from character to character as but also from present to flashback, did this format help the story or was it confusing?


Write: using a dual narration format, try to re-write your piece to explore two point views of two characters living the same events.



Week 10: Book 1 (13 reasons why)


Read: the second half of the book.


Respond: finishing the book & finding out the whole 13 reasons why Hannah had killed herself, how do you define Hannah's character? , did the author succeed in making you sympathize with her as the main character? or wasn't she the main character after all ?


Write: take your previous piece & try adding a usually not so sympathetic character & try to write about it so that your reader may feel sympathy toward it.



Week 11: Book 2 (Jacob have I loved)


Read: the first half of the book


Respond: how universal is the main theme of the book & its characters? Have you read about the same theme in other international young adult books? , & how unique is the Setting of the story? Does where and when the story take place affects the plot & its development?


Write: try using a historical event as a background to your story, imagining if & how this event will affect the course of your story.



Week 12: Book 2 (Jacob have I loved)


Read: the second half of the book


Respond: there is a strong presence of religion in the novel, how well do you think the author have used it? , was the religious background of any significance regarding the main character's internal & external conflicts & its development?


Write: collect the writing exercises you’ve been working into one story, post it on the forum by Monday of next week. OR, post something totally new.

Week Six: Workshop One, pt. 1


Group One hands in a workshop piece of 5-6 pages. Both group one and group two write a 1 page response to each story handed in.

Week Seven: Workshop One, pt 2.


Group Two hands in a workshop piece of 5-6 pages. Both group one and group two write a 1 page response to each story handed in.

Week Eight: Elluminate Session two


Our second online meeting via Elluminate , we will spend another 15 minutes discussing each workshop piece in real-time. We’ll also compare and contrast the books we’ve read thus far. The session will last approximately 1.75 hours.



Week Sixteen (finals week):


Revise one story/workshop piece and submit to instructors via email by Friday, December 16th.



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