EN-275.70 Introduction to Creative Writing

Fall 2010

Dr. Susan Swartwout

Office: GB 318-O; phone 651-2641, sswartwout@semo.edu, office hours: T/R 2:00 – 3:00 or at the University Press, 810 Normal, M-R, 2:00-5:00

Course Description:  Students will read, discuss, and practice writing various forms of poetry and fiction in a discussion-oriented workshop setting. Students are not required to have a background in creative writing or contemporary literature. Each student will attend classes, complete assignments, participate in discussions, and show progress in writing from the point at which that particular student starts.

• Reading: We will read and discuss “traditional” forms as well as marginalized and experimental works.

• Oral report: You will each “adopt” a contemporary poet (someone who has been writing and publishing since 1980) who writes poetry for adults (no Seuss, no Silverstein; although I love them both, they write for children), read one of her or his books, and give a brief presentation on the poet's work.  A good presentation will include a short biographical report on the poet and, most importantly, your response and critique of the poet's work based upon what we have been discussing over the semester. You can adopt your poet by searching in Kent Library, Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com (order early!), or the Swartwout lending library in my office. Browse through a few of the books to find a poet whose poems pique your interest. Or let’s talk about your interests, and I’ll make a few suggestions.  You must choose a book (not a chapbook) of poems by one poet, not an anthology of several poets.

• Writing: Writing for the course will begin with fiction writing for the first part of the semester and finish with poetry. Starting with Week 2, you will bring copies of your writing each week for members of your workshop group. A portfolio of your own work (described below) will be developed during the semester. Revisions are an essential part of any writing course. The amount of work you invest in your revisions and portfolio will be considered in your grade as well as the final draft of the work. All pieces included in the final portfolio must have been reviewed by your classmates in our workshops or discussed in conference and revised.

• Journal: You’ll also keep a journal in which you will write at least half a page at least three times a week (at least 39 half-page entries, total). Journals are a history of your unique life as well as a goldmine for story or poem ideas. Any pages that are personal may be folded over; they will not be read. You may use prompts that I will provide on request or you may create your own. Don’t make your journal a “dear diary” list of daily events. Rather, concentrate on one idea or event and explore it fully.

• Discussion: Participation in workshop discussion is crucial. We’ll develop a vocabulary of terms, identify audience(s), and help each other to address our work clearly and imaginatively to that audience.

**• Late work is not accepted for credit.  Limited extensions of work may be granted in advance of the due date. Make-up quizzes and tests are not given. I consider that this course should be treated like a job you don’t want to lose. If you must be absent, be courteous enough to call. When work is assigned, get it done by the deadline, like a working writer. And yes, I do tend to give pop quizzes. Therefore, if you fear that abundant absences may affect your quiz and assignments grade, I recommend that you drop the course early.

Required Text:  Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing. Third edition.

Portfolio:  Your final portfolio will consist of

• at least one work of short fiction, minimum of 6 pp long  

• at least four poems, each at least 14 lines in length  

• your journal, minimum of 39 entries.

The short fiction will consist of a well-developed and revised work, typed and double-spaced. The poems will be revised several times, typed, and single-spaced. Staple the first draft behind the final draft of each work.

Conferences: I’m very happy to have a conference with you at any time—about your work or writing or life in general.

Basis for Student Evaluation:  

• final portfolio with journal - 30%  

• oral presentation - 10%

• daily assignments and quizzes - 20%  

• participation & written comments - 20%

• two exams on form and vocabulary - 20%


A note about daily grades: I absolutely do not put a letter grade a draft! That would be as unfair as making you take your licensing exam on the first day of driver’s ed. If you see a +, that means you not only did the assignment, but you have added details or strategies in the writing that are above average; a means that you have fulfilled the assignment well; a - means that you haven’t put much effort into your writing and could do much better. A “0” means that you don’t receive credit because the assignment is not complete. These “daily” marks go toward your “daily” assignments, 20% of your grade. However, you may revise the writing for your portfolio and get a much better Letter Grade.

Weekly Syllabus:

Workshop format: A weekly writing assignment will be given that will be due on the next meeting day (Wednesday) of each week. Bring enough copies of your work for each member of your group—every week. Beginning the next Wednesday, we will talk about the work we exchanged the previous week. You must read each work and make comments, both short comments in the margins and a longer comment at the end that expresses your reaction overall. I'll check your written comments from time to time. These will be handed back to the author at the end of workshop. Be sure to put your name on the final page to acknowledge your comments.

The syllabus may be subject to revision.

Week 1: 08/25: Introduction to the course. Introduction to fiction forms and vocabulary; group assignments

Week 2: 09/01 Voice and point of view

• reading for 09/01: read “Fiction” (pp 264-274), “Voice” (47-60), and Tobias Wolff, “Powder” (284-287). Expect a surprise quiz.

• writing due 09/01: TYPE 2-3 pages expressing a personal epiphany (surprise!): a moment or event in which something that you thought you knew or something in your accepted-belief system was challenged or overturned. BUT you must use a third-person character (he or she, with an actual name) other than yourself in this story. This is your experience happening to someone else, who has a different personality from yours. You will have to invent parts of the story. Bring enough copies for each person in your group and one each for your three instructors, every writing, every week!

Examples of personal epiphany turned to story: 1) I lived in Chicago, thought street musicians were cool, got stalked by one, which made him definitely not cool. My character for this event will be Maizy, a bag lady who is slightly addled but not shy or quiet.   2)  I had a favorite poet who I thought was amazing and perfect, then I found out that she cheated when she served as a national poetry contests judge, giving her own students the first prizes. My character is Ann Watson, a literature student who believes that trust is greater than love and will blindly, vehemently defend her ideals.

Week 3: 09/08 Characterization and dialogue: sketches, names, formats, methods of revelation

• First workshop: have comments written on the work of everyone in your group & put your name on the last page;

• Reading: section on “Character” (87-100) and handout Michael Chabon’s “Werewolves in Their Youth”             

• Writing (2-3 pp) due 09/08: Writing in dialogue, create a character that we learn about only through the dialogue between that character and his or her friend(s).  They should be discussing a problem or situation that involves your character; your character's response can tell much about his or her personality. [Note: Create character sketches, decide on an event, then let your characters deal with it. Listen to them; don’t force them.]  Review pp 94 and see http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/punctuate-dialogue.html for how to punctuate dialogue, and PUNCTUATE CORRECTLY. Yes, bring copies.

Week 4: 09/15: Hooks, plot construction, and closure—or building a house and leaving the door invitingly ajar

• workshop

• read section on “Story” (167-176) and Alice Munro’s “Prue” (111-114).

• 3-4 pp. due: Decide on an event with which you wish to create a story. Using your character that you’ve already begun to delineate or a character you’ve been thinking about, develop further the situation that character is in and write a short beginning draft of your story. You may continue with elements of one of your previous writings or you may start a new story. Bring copies.

Week 5: 09/22 Fantasy, magical realism, and the suspension of disbelief.

• workshop

read section on “Image” (13-25) and read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” (114-118). In small groups, we'll create magical-realism stories (the Pez Championships)

•  writing due: Add to the story an internal monologue (thoughts “spoken” to self that are usually printed in italics, but no quotation marks) that your character has concerning the situation, her- or himself, or another character. It might be something that has concerned the character in the past, as a child. It might be a wish that is triggered when the character is in a particular place or situation. NO DEUS-EX-MACHINA, SUCH AS “OH, GOLLY GEE, I WAS ONLY DREAMING” SEQUENCES. YOUR CHARACTER IS AWAKE AND THINKING. You may intersperse the internal monologue throughout the story in several short paragraphs or use it in one scene. Bring copies.

Week 6: 09/29

• workshop

• read section on “Setting” (132-144), Donald Barthelmae’s story “The School” (151-153), and Angela Carter’s short-short story “The Werewolf” (154-155)   

• writing: Bring your finished story (and copies for your group) .

Week 7: 10/06

• workshop sharing of final revisions   

•  fiction exam

Week 8: 10/13

• Intro to poetic forms and devices. Read “Poetry” (294-310) and read “Snow Day” (38), “Facing It” (39), “Kong Looks Back…” (80), and “Tattoo”(122).   

•  Discussion of poetry “problems.” In-class writing.

Week 9: 10/20  Pop cult and politics

• read "Ode to American English" (82-83), “American History looks for light…” (36-38), “At Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School” (155-156), “Columbine High School/Littleton, CO” (185), and “Woodchucks” (187). 

• In-class writing.

• (Start looking for a political or popular culture poem you like that you can bring next week.)

Week 10:  10/27

• read “Fistful” (81), “The Pathos of Charles Schultz” (81), “I Knew a Woman” (119), and “Nude Interrogation,” a prose poem (158).

• Practice reading poetry aloud: Bring a political poem to class to read aloud. It may be the work of a published author. If you write your own, it does not count as this week’s workshop poem.      

• first draft of poem #1 is due. Bring copies for your group and instructors.

Week 11: 11/03

• workshop. Make sure that you have written comments on every poem, every week. Poem #2 is due (and copies).

•  read “Stonecarver” (119), “Nobody Dies in the Spring” (157), and “The Hammock” (188). Quiz on poetry problems.

Week 12: 11/10

• workshop. Poem #3 is due.

• read sonnet handout.

Week 13: 11/17  

• workshop. In-class writing, the “I Love to Hate _____” poem, first draft.

• Sonnet is due (poem #4).

• Read poetry handout.

Week 14: Thanksgiving Break

Week 15: 12/01

• short workshop of sonnets.

• Presentations of Adopted Poets begins.

• Poem #5 is due, a revision of the “I Love to Hate _____” poem.

Week 16: 12/08

• workshop

• Presentations of Adopted Poets

• poetry exam

Finals week: Portfolios are due by Wednesday 12/15 at 4:00 p.m. (or earlier).