English 225H: Creative Writing

TR, 11:30-12:45, LA 027

Stephen D. Gibson

CB 407 F (12:00-1:00 & by appointment), 863-6287, stephen(dot)gibson(at)uvu(dot)edu


Texts and Materials:

Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. 6thEdition. Longman. 2003. ISBN 0321117956

Hass, Robert. A Little Book on Form. Ecco. 2017. ISBN 9780062332431.

Access to Canvas and MetaphorByMetaphor.com


Course Description: Introduces students to the basic literary elements of writing short fiction, drama, creative non-fiction, poetry, or combinations of these. Uses readings from a wide range of contemporary authors, guest speakers, workshops, and student writing to enhance the techniques and aesthetics of creative writing.


Course Objectives:

A Story About the Body

Robert Hass

The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.” The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity—like music—withered very quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I could.” He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl—she must have swept them from the corners of her studio—was full of dead bees.


What techniques allow these words to hold our attention? What did Hass do to make this prose poem engaging? What choices did he make? Is it possible for us to do similar things in our own work?


By the end of the semester, students should be able to:

  • Write interesting new short fiction and poetry
  • Describe the basic strategies of creative writing and demonstrate the application of these techniques in their own writing
  • Provide helpful and specific feedback on the writing of others and revise their own work well
  • Prepare and submit a manuscript for publication
  • Demonstrate the discipline to write consistently


Reaching the Objectives: In order to successfully reach these goals/objectives, you must take responsibility for your own learning and participate as an active learner. The best way to learn what writers do is to try doing what writers do. This course gives you the opportunity to draft and revise new short fiction and poetry, to join a community of writers engaged in similar tasks, and to receive feedback from a range of readers. You will learn the most from the class by beginning and finishing new work during it.


One of the most important things writers do is learn from other genres. They also actually finish (after revising) stories and poems they start. You’ll have the chance to do these things by completing two portfolios, one devoted to fiction, the other to poems. It’s possible to earn as much as one hundred points from each. Complete portfolios include the following:

  • Poetry portfolios: Complete portfolios will include five rough drafts of poems. Additionally, three of these poems will have been revised to final drafts. Rough and final drafts will be clearly labelled. At least one of these final drafts will be a sonnet, which will indicate the ways traditional forms can be useful and even inspiring. The nature of the other two final poems is up to you, but might include more sonnets, free verse, or other types of poems we’ll talk about in class.
  • Fiction portfolios: Complete portfolios will include two rough drafts of any length. Additionally, one of these drafts will have been revised into one complete final story which ends on its seventh double-spaced page. A page limit will help you learn to gauge the importance of each part of the story. Rough and final drafts will be clearly labelled.
  • Both portfolios: Remember, rough drafts let you demonstrate the revision involved in your writing. Significant revision involves major rewriting. Changes to words, small percentages of your work, and the correction of grammatical and mechanical errors are not examples of significant revision. Removing and/or adding new paragraphs, stanzas, lines and sentences, characters and images, just to mention a few possibilities, are examples of some forms significant revision might take. Remember, final drafts should be excellent. They should be drafts you are prepared to submit for publication.

Detailed descriptions of the portfolio requirements are attached to this syllabus.


You’ll also have the chance to write during class almost each time we meet. In-class writing provides an opportunity to record ideas, try out some of the techniques we’ll discuss, and actually rough draft parts of your short fiction and poetry. Usually I’ll collect in-class writing by email. Subject lines of the emails should include the name of the student, the name and section number of the class, and the name of the assignment. Evaluations of in-class writing include zero points (if it’s not completed), three points (completed poorly), and five (completed well). By the end of the semester, in-class writing will total approximately one hundred points. Since in-class writing will often grow out of in-class events, it can’t be made up. It will be collected in the classroom as we meet. The in-class writing you’ve completed also documents your punctuality, participation, and attendance.


Workshopping will happen most Thursdays, but there may be exceptions. Workshopping will allow you to receive feedback on recently revised work in preparation for your portfolios. In order for it to be most useful, you should not present the same work repeatedly without making drastic revisions between reviews. You should consistently present new work.


The final exam can earn you as many as fifteen points. You’ll submit two short stories and one set of at least two poems for publication and document those submissions. The final is due by email to stephen(dot)gibson(at)uvu(dot)edu at the end of our final exam period.


Approximately three hundred and fifteen points are possible in the class. Earning more than 93% of the total points possible in the class will result in an “A” grade, 90%-92.9% an A-, 86%-89.9% a “B+,” and so on. As the UVU Catalog indicates, “The letter grade ‘A’ is an honor grade indicating superior achievement; ‘B’ is a grade indicating commendable mastery; ‘C’ indicates satisfactory mastery and is considered an average grade; ‘D’ indicates substandard progress and insufficient evidence of ability to succeed in sequential courses; ‘E’ (failing) indicates inadequate mastery of pertinent skills or repeated absences from class.”


If you prefer to use a name other than the name the University officially uses, please let me know. Likewise, if you have a preferred personal pronoun, please let me know.


In order to protect their privacy, students must come to see me privately in my office if they wish to discuss a grade on an assignment or for the course. It is your responsibility to periodically check your grades on Canvas. The grade book function is the only part of Canvas I use.


Late Work Policy: If for some good reason you won’t be able to turn something in, contact me (preferably in advance). In order to discourage procrastination, I’ll take ten points away from the total points earned each day (not class period) an assignment is late. For example, one due on Friday but not turned in until Monday would have thirty points deducted from the total points it earns. An assignment is turned in on the day when I feel I have personally received it, not when it is left in my box, office, or in the English department. I don’t plan on grading assignments faxed to me, and I encourage you to always make and keep a copy of all the work you turn in. You can, of course, turn things in early.


Peer Review: “The purpose of a writing workshop is to give and receive constructive feedback . . . This is not a time to show off your polished work; it is a time to test out material you’re working on, a time to receive suggestions on how it might be improved, a time to ask a receptive audience specific questions about your work. The spirit of these workshops must be cordial and helpful. As the writer, you are not there to defend or explain your work; you merely need to find out, from others’ viewpoints, what works and what doesn’t. As a reader, you are there to help a fellow writer improve a specific piece of writing.”

–Chris Crowe


Classroom Behavior and Grievance Criteria: The “Student Rights and Responsibilities Code,” section VI A-X is the guide for your classroom behavior, and section XVI C is the guide for registering a formal grievance or requesting a grade change. The “Student Rights and Responsibilities Code” is available online at uvu.edu.


Students with Disabilities: If you have any disability that may impair your ability to successfully complete this course, please contact the Accessibility Services Department (LC 312; 863-8747; http://www.uvu.edu/asd/). Academic accommodations are granted for all students who have qualified disabilities. Services are coordinated with the student and instructor by the Accessibility Services Department.


Academic Honesty:

“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 University. 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.”

–Utah Valley University English and Literature Department Homepage


Waitlist and Add Policy

It is against the policy of Utah Valley University for students who are not registered and enrolled in a class to attend it. Students who are on a class waitlist, even if they are the first on the list, are not enrolled. There is absolutely no guarantee any student on the waitlist will ever be enrolled. Students on a waitlist must wait for and respond appropriately to email notifications that allow registration and enrollment in the course. All adds and enrollments into a course off a waitlist are made through the online system. Instructors cannot add students. Department administrative staff and academic advisors cannot add students.


Tentative Schedule

Complete the reading assignments listed below before coming to class on the specified dates. It is certainly possible to be offended by some of the language or images of some of the materials assigned in this class. I encourage you to read each work in its entirety before evaluating it. I also encourage you to evaluate materials for yourself, rather than for your peers or for me. If you are ever offended, and feel so inclined, please speak (or write) to me about it. I’m happy to discuss the issue during office hours. Finally, your books are yours. Explore them by reading beyond the syllabus.


Jan 8 Introduction to the class

Jan 10 “Introduction” 1-8, Images


Jan 15 “One” 9-25, Lines

Jan 17 “Two” 27-51, Workshop


Jan 22 “Three” 53-63, Figurative language

Jan 24 “Three” continued 64-83, Workshop


Jan 29 “Four” 85-107, Sound

Jan 31 “A Note on Numbers” 109-114, “A Note on Stress” 393-398, “How to Scan a Poem” 399- 412, Workshop


Feb 5 “Sonnet” 121-132

Feb 7 “Reading the Sonnet” 133-161, Workshop


Feb 12 “Reading the Sonnet” continued 161-186

Feb 14 “Victorian Medievalism: Sestina and Villanelle” 187-195, “Prose Poem” 385-392, Workshop


Feb 19 Student Conferences

Feb 21 “How Free Verse Works” 413-430, Workshop


Feb 26 Poetry portfolio due

Feb 28 “Whatever Works: The Writing Process” 1-17


Mar 5 “Building Character: Characterization, Part 1” 118-130, “Yours” 130-132

Mar 7 “The Flesh Made Word: Characterization, Part II” 157-167, Workshop


Mar 12 “The Flesh Made Word: Characterization, Part II” continued 167-180,

Mar 14 “Seeing is Believing: Showing and Telling” 74-89, Workshop


Mar 19 Spring Break

Mar 21 Spring Break


Mar 26 “The Things They Carried” 90-102

Mar 28 “The Tower and the Net: Story Form and Structure” 30-40, Workshop


Apr 2 “The Tower and the Net: Story Form and Structure” continued, 40-48

Apr 4 “The Use of Force,” 48-51; “Girl,” 67; “No One’s a Mystery,” 68-70; “20/20,” 71, Workshop


Apr 9 “Long Ago and Far Away: Fictional Place and Time,” 198- 209

Apr 11 “Long Ago and Far Away: Fictional Place and Time” continued, 209-216, Workshop


Apr 16 Student Conferences

Apr 18 “Call Me Ishmael: Point of View, Part I” 254-267, Workshop


Apr 23 “Play it Again, Sam: Revision” 395-409

Apr 25 Fiction portfolio due, Preparation for the final


Final exams are due: May 2 by 12:50pm





Poetry (100 points):

When grading poems, I ask myself the following set of questions:

  • Does the portfolio include five rough drafts, three of which have been revised into final drafts? Is one of the final drafts a sonnet?
  • Has the language of the poems been condensed and shaped? Are line and stanza breaks used with premeditation?
  • Do efforts to achieve rhyme or rhythm avoid stilted, unnatural language? Do efforts to achieve rhyme or rhythm add to the poems?
  • Can I identify images—examples of particular sensory details? Do the images stand alone?
  • Do the poems avoid obvious clichés? Do they include thoughtful examples of figurative language?
  • Does the confusion-free language of the poems avoid hiding information or riddling? Does punctuation aid the poems?


Fiction (100 points):

When grading fiction, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Does the portfolio include two rough drafts, one of which has been revised into a final draft? Does each draft have a title? Does the final draft end on the seventh double-spaced page?
  • Do dangers to the fulfillment of a character’s desire and the character’s actions in response to those dangers lead to drama? Are scene and summary used strategically?
  • How successfully does characterization create the illusion of a person? Does the use of point of view add to the story?
  • Does dialogue reveal characters?
  • Does the story happen in a setting readers can imagine? Is the setting used to help characterize and maintain the reader’s interest?
  • Does the confusion-free language of the story hold my attention? Does the language of the story avoid cliché? Can I identify images—examples of particular sensory details?