English 412R: Studies in Literary Genres

On Being Influenced and/or Reading as Writers

TR 10:00-11:15 LA 115

Stephen D. Gibson

CB 407 F (1:00-2:00 & by appointment), 863-6287, stephen(dot)gibson(at)uvu(dot)edu


Texts and Materials:

Percy, Benjamin. Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction. Graywolf Press, 2016.

Access to Canvas andMetaphorByMetaphor.com


Course Description:

Examines various literary genres, with a different focus each semester. May be repeated with different topics for a maximum of 9 credits toward graduation.


Course Objectives:

Upon successful completion, students will have

  • produced a short personal essay that considers what you expect to learn about fiction writing from an example text of your choice
  • produced two fifteen double-spaced page fiction portfolios (You can use these fifteen pages to produce one or more complete fictional narrative. For example, you might write one fifteen-page story, or fifteen one-page stories, or three five-page stories, or one one-page story and a fourteen-page story, or any other combination of complete stories with a fifteen-page total.)
  • produced a second short personal essay that evaluates how influenced you were and what you learned as a result (i.e. Were your hopes as articulated in the first personal essay realized?)

By the end of the semester, you should be able to

  • read fiction as a text on fiction writing
  • analyze, apply, and evaluate the role of influence in your writing


Reaching the Objectives:

In order to successfully reach these objectives, you must take responsibility for your own learning and participate actively. One of the best ways to learn what writers do is to try doing what writers do. This course gives you the opportunity to draft two fiction portfolios, consider influence as a technique, join a community of writers engaged in the same task, and receive feedback from a range of readers. It will allow you to read, report on, and be influenced by a text of your choice.


You’ll have the chance to write in class almost each time we meet. In-class writing provides an opportunity to record ideas, reflect on your writing, try out some of the techniques we’ll discuss, demonstrate your understanding of the reading, and actually rough draft parts of your fiction portfolios. Usually, but not always, I’ll collect and grade in-class writing. 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 100 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.


One of the most important things writers do is read. Benjamin Percy’s Thrill Meprovides abstract examples of specific writing techniques and is valuable reading for that reason. On the other hand, in Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose says that she “can remember the novels and stories that seemed to me revelations: wells of beauty and pleasure that were also textbooks, private lessons in the art of fiction” (3). Specific techniques are revealed or shown to her in the novels and stories she mentions as lessons. Accessing these “private lessons” is a valuable skill for you as a writer.


In an effort to supply this access, your first assignment will be to pick a fictional text of whatever fictional prose genre you’d like. You’ll write a three double-spaced page essay that describes why you picked the text you did. How would you like the example text to influence you? For example, are you reading the text with the hope that you learn how to show the innermost lives of characters, how suspense is created, or the basic conventions of a genre? You’ll describe specifically three things you hope to learn from the influence/example text you picked. The first essay will be worth fifty points.


The second and third assignments in the class are fiction portfolios written under the influence of the book you picked. Obviously, the book won’t be the sole influence, but make it a major one. Each of them will be worth 100 points.


The fourth assignment is another brief three-page personal essay that assesses your effort to write under the influence of the text you picked. Did you learn what you thought you would? Were there unexpected lessons? How happy are you with the fiction portfolios you produced as a result of seeking to be influenced? The second essay will also be worth fifty points. Each of these assignments are presented in more detail at the end of this syllabus. We will discuss them as the semester progresses.


You’ll have the chance to workshop and be workshopped in class as the semester progresses, providing individual feedback. This feedback will be shaped by what Jane Smiley, in Diogenes and Moneyham’s Crafting Fiction, calls the “five standard elements of fiction: action, character, theme, setting, and language” (634). You’ll email a copy of your feedback to both the author and to me. Evaluations of workshopping feedback include zero points (if it’s not completed), three points (completed poorly), and five (completed well). By the end of the semester, workshopping feedback will total as many as forty-five points. Since workshopping is an event that takes place in the classroom when you exchange a partial or complete draft with another student, it can’t be made up.


The last way you’ll show how well you understand the techniques the course identifies will be the final exam. The final exam consists of you documenting the submission of your work for publication. It can earn you as many as fifteen points.


Approximately 460 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.”


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 grade 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 when it is due, try to 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, an assignment 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 personally receive it, when I feel I have a copy, not when it is left in my box, office, or in the English department. I don’t plan on grading papers faxed to me, and I encourage you to always make and keep a copy of all the work you turn in.


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 http:www.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 from a waitlist take place 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 in some of the materials assigned in this class. I encourage you to read the work in its entirety before evaluating it. Please make evaluations 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.


Jan 8 Introduction to the class and each other, beginning to pick an influence

Jan 10 “Thrill Me”


Jan 15 “Urgency”

Jan 17 “Set Pieces”


Jan 22 Student conferences

Jan 24 Student conferences


Jan 29“There Will Be Blood,” First influence essay (expectations) due

Jan 31“Making the Extraordinary Ordinary”


Feb 5 Workshop

Feb 7 “Designing Suspense”


Feb 12 Workshop

Feb 14 “Don’t Look Back”


Feb 19 “Modulation”

Feb 21 “Sounds Like Writing”


Feb 26 Workshop

Feb 28 Workshop


Mar 5 Fiction portfolio due

Mar 7 “Move Mountains”


Mar 12 Workshop

Mar 14 “Feckless Pondering”


Mar19 Spring Break

Mar 21 Spring Break


Mar 26 Student conferences

Mar 28 Student conferences


Apr 2 Workshop

Apr 4 Workshop


Apr 9 Fiction portfolio due

Apr 11 “Get a Job”


Apr 16 “Consider the Orange”

Apr 18 “Home Improvement”


Apr 23 “Go the Distance,” Second influence essay (evaluation) due

Apr 25 Preparing for the final exam


Final due: Apr 30, 10:50am



Questions I’ll ask as I evaluate your essays:

First essay:

  1. Does the essay meet the three-page length requirement?
  2. Does it clearly describe why the example text was selected? (In other words, how do you expect the example text to influence you?)
  3. Does the essay clearly describe three fiction writing techniques to be studied? Does the essay describe how those three techniques might be useful in drafting the portfolio?
  4. Does it clearly describe what makes the example text a good source for understanding the useful fiction writing techniques you’ve identified? (For example, have other works by the same author convinced you they use the techniques you want to understand effectively? Have other authors, word of mouth, your own history with the text, or reviews lead you to think you’ll find good models?)
  5. Is the essay free from distracting errors?

Second essay:

  1. Does the essay meet the three-page length requirement?
  2. Does it clearly describe general results of reading with the expectation of being influenced by a text?
  3. Does the essay clearly describe the results of efforts to be influenced by the three fiction writing techniques identified in the first essay? Is it a clear evaluation of your own learning from the example text? If there were no noticeable results, does the essay carefully explain why? (In other words, did you learn what you thought you would? Were there unexpected lessons?)
  4. Does the essay use summary, quotation, and/or paraphrase to support its assertions about the text and the portfolios?
  5. Is the essay free from distracting errors?


Workshopping prompts:

These prompts are intended to be broad and evocative. Strive to be helpful in your responses to them. You might suggest texts (while explaining your suggestions) that would be useful or instructive for the author. Support your assertions about workshopped texts with quotations from them.

  1. Give a general reaction to what you’ve read.
  2. What suggestions do you have for the action or plot of what you’ve read?
  3. Which character most resembles a person? Why? Which character is most important to the story? Why?
  4. What is at the heart of the story? What does it seem to be about?
  5. Is the setting obvious? How is it important to the rest of the story?
  6. Is the language of the story interesting?Where were you most interested? Where did your mind wander?


I’ll use variations on these same questions to evaluate your portfolio.