English 4420

Advanced Fiction Writing I

MWF 11:00-11:50 LA027

Stephen D. Gibson

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


Texts and Necessities

  • Livesey, Margot. The Hidden Machinery. Tin House Books, 2017. (9781941040683)
  • A willingness to pre-write, write, and revise about twenty thousand new words
  • Access to MetaphorByMetaphor.com and Canvas
  • I’ll provide you with other readings during the semester.


Course Goal

By the end of the semester, you will have written a novella.


“Basically, the Novella is a fictional narrative of indeterminate length . . . restricted to a single event, situation or conflict, which produces an element of suspense and leads to an unexpected turning point . . . so that the conclusion surprises even while it is a logical outcome. Many contain a concrete symbol which is the steady point, as it were, at the heart of the narrative. . . .”

–Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory


“A work of prose fiction of intermediate length, longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. In general [it] displays the compact structure of the short story with the greater development of character, theme, and action of the novel.”

–A Handbook of Literature


“The British author Gabriel Josipovici once startled me by observing that the first draft of a novel could be written in a month: ‘Ten pages a day for thirty days gives you three hundred—and then you rewrite it seventeen times.’”

–Janet Burroway


Reaching the Goal

In order to successfully reach the course goal, 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 your novella, to join a community of writers engaged in similar tasks, and to receive feedback from a range of readers.Since this class is intended to teach you to create new characters and settings, you’ll write your own fiction, not fanfiction.


You’ll have the chance to write in class almost each time we meet. In-class writing provides an opportunity to report word counts, record ideas, try out some of the techniques we’ll discuss, and actually rough draft parts of your fiction. Usually I’ll collect in-class writing. 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. The in-class writing you’ve completed also documents your attendance, punctuality, and participation.


One of the most important things writers do is actually finish (after revising) texts they start. You’ll have the chance to do this by completing three assignments, one a pre-writing or planning document, then a rough draft, and then a revised draft. It’s possible to earn as much as one hundred points from each. We will talk more about each of these assignments in greater detail during class, but here is some basic information:

  • The pre-writing assignment will consist of some of the work necessary for writing at length. Your pre-writing needs to work for you, so it could include a “back of the paperback” description of your novella, an outline, character sketches, a suspense-o-meter, an idea map, a list, a catalog of desires and dangers, a synopsis, a daily writing-task calendar, drafts of the first and last pages of your novella, and/or combinations of all the preceding. Whatever form it takes, your pre-writing needs to indicate a healthy degree of premeditation. At the same time, as you write, your pre-writing and draft may become very different from each other.
  • Rough drafts need to be both tentative and complete. In other words, they should have both a tentative beginning and tentative ending. Because the goal of the class is to draft a novella, your rough draft should reach the word count conventionally associated with short novella-length manuscripts (20,000 words or about 83 double spaced pages). We will devote some class time to writing, but you should expect to work outside of class as well. Finally, and most importantly, rough drafts can be rough. They may include poorly plotted events, flat main characters, boring and rambling and meaningless paragraphs, clichés, numerous misspellings, and generic locations. Rereading or sentence-by-sentence revision is not a part of the rough draft assignment in this class.
  • A structurally revised draft moves a text dramatically closer toward (but not yet to) publishable form as the result of obvious decisions by its author. New material is written in and old material is cut (20 to 30 percent of the text is removed, for example). Summaries may be expanded into scenes and scenes may be summarized, or cut, or rewritten to increase stress on characters, drawing them towards some sort of crisis. Characterization improves, plot events are reordered to increase drama, themes and settings come into focus. A structurally revised draft isn’t final, but it is radically different from the rough draft. When compared side-by-side in their entirety, the two drafts should be obviously different on most pages.

After completing the pre-writing, rough draft, and structurally revised draft assignments you should not wait for my feedback to begin the next assignment or draft. Waiting will cost you valuable time.


Students should attend each class prepared to write. This means, at least, having access to your pre-writing and/or earlier drafts (through a flash drive, or email, or Google Docs, for example). We will peer review portions of the pre-writing assignment and the structurally revised draft assignment.


This semester, students will join a Dropbox group to workshop. Before midnight on dates on the course schedule with the phrase “new peer review material due,” students will add texts to the appropriate Dropbox folder (i.e. rough drafts of the plan assignment or, eventually, rough drafts themselves). Adding this text on time earns workshopping points, thirty-five of which are possible during the semester. Before class on dates with the phrase “peer review new material,” student will have read and commented on the work that has been added to their Dropbox group folder. Time will also be spent in class discussing each other’s work on these days. Once rough drafts are completed, the nature of the workshopping will change:it should take about two hours to read 20k words. Groups will read each other’s rough drafts (one group member each week) while writing the structural revision. As the semester ends, you will collect the written feedback you gave your peers and turn it in to me. This “Collected feedback to peers” is worth 100 points. Criteria for it and possible prompts to aid meeting those criteria will be included in each Dropbox folder.


The last way you’ll show how well you understand the techniques the course identifies will be the final exam. Your work on it can earn you as many as fifteen points. It is due by email to stephen(dot)gibson(at)uvu(dot)edu at the end of our final exam period.


Approximately five hundred and fifty 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+,” 83%-85.9% 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 grade on Canvas.


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


Late Work Policy

If for some good reason you won’t be able to turn something in, try to contact me (preferably in advance). You’ll be able to develop the habit of meeting deadlines by emailing assignments in class on their due dates. 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 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 papers 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.


Students with Disabilities

If you have any disability which may impair your ability to successfully complete this course, please contact the Accessibility Services Department (room LC 312). Academic accommodations are granted for all students who have qualified disabilities. Services are coordinated with the student and instructor by the Accessibility Services Department.


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 through the online system. Instructors cannot add students. Department administrative staff and academic advisors cannot add students


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


Tentative Course 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. Your books are yours. Explore them by reading beyond the syllabus.



Aug 19 Introduction to the class, students, and instructor

Aug 21 New peer review material due, 3-14

Aug 23 14-22


Aug 26 Peer review new material (i.e. a draft of the plan), 23-33

Aug 28 New peer review material due, 35-49

Aug 30 49-58


Sep 2 Holiday

Sep 4 Student conferences

Sep 6 Student conferences


Sep 9 Peer review new material (i.e. a draft of the plan)58-65, 93-112

Sep 11 New peer review material due, “Designing Suspense,” “Modulation”

Sep 13 112-122


Sep 16 Peer review new material (i.e. a draft of the plan), 67-79

Sep 18 80-92

Sep 20 “Gimme a Map, Please”


Sep 23 Plan due

Sep 25 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)

Sep 27 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)


Sep 30 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)

Oct 2 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)

Oct 4 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)


Oct 7 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)

Oct 9 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)

Oct 11 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)


Oct 14 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)

Oct 16 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)

Oct 18 Holiday


Oct 21Rough draft due,Getting to know your draft

Oct 23 New peer review material due,Getting to know your draft, “Home Improvement”

Oct 25 251-261


Oct 28 Peer review new material, 262-277

Oct 30 New peer review material due, 123-134,

Nov 1 135-150


Nov 4 Peer review new material,219-230

Nov 6 New peer review material due, 230-241

Nov 8 241-248


Nov 11 Peer review new material, 281-289

Nov 13 New peer review material due, 289-297

Nov 15 185-198


Nov 18 Peer review new material, 198-217

Nov 20 Student conferences

Nov 22 Student conferences


Nov 25 Holiday

Nov 27 Holiday

Nov 29 Holiday


Dec 2 Collected feedback to peers due

Dec 4 Structural revision due, preparing for the final



The final is due on Wednesday, the 11th of December, at 12:50 pm.




Grading and Feedback

These are the questions I’ll ask as I look at your work. These questions are intentionally very similar to the workshop prompts.



  1. Does the plan seem to act as a resource, a pool of ideas, a springboard for writing the text?
  2. Have direct methods of characterization like appearance, speech, and thoughts/desires /motivations been considered? Have indirect methods of characterization like relationships with other characters and immediate setting been considered?
  3. Is the importance of the main conflict to the character clear? Is how conflicts and characters might shape the plot of the novella obvious?
  4. Which actions will be summarized and which will be shown in scenes? Does the plan include efforts to control tension? Does the plan suggest a beginning and end of the novella?
  5. Have decisions about language (particularly point of view) been thoughtfully made? What themes may develop? What is the broader setting and how might it shape the story?


Rough Draft

  1. Is the rough draft twenty thousand words?
  2. While the rough draft still needs global revision, does it have both a tentative beginning and tentative ending?
  3. Do the words of the rough draft begin to create the illusion of at least one character?
  4. Is the plot of the draft clearly the result of at least one character’s motivated actions or reactions?
  5. While further work is required, is attention to setting obvious? Is a point of view, however loosely controlled, clear? Is a theme developing?



Revised Draft

  1. When compared side-by-side in their entirety, is the structurally revised draft obviously different structurally than the rough draft?
  2. Has new material been written? Old material cut?
  3. Has characterization improved?
  4. Does the structurally revised draft increase the tension in the narrative?