English 4420/4425

Advanced Fiction Writing

Stephen D. Gibson

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


Texts and Materials:

George, Elizabeth. Write Away. New York: Perennial Currents, 2004. (0-06-056044-4)

A willingness to pre-write, write, and revise about twenty thousand new words

Access to MetaphorByMetaphor.com and Canvas


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 these goals, 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.


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, 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. I’ll encourage you to pre-write using Jane Smiley’s five criteria: character, action, theme, setting, and language.
  • 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 novella-length manuscripts. 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 should 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. 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.


The last way you’ll show how well you understand the techniques the course identifies will be the final exam. I can’t give it to you early. Your work on it can earn you as many as fifteen points.


Approximately four hundred and twenty-five 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 grade on Canvas.


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.


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 Schedule

Complete the reading assignments listed below before coming to class on the specified dates. If you are taking the class as a 4425 student, you need to remind me of that fact during each student conference.


Jan 9 Introduction to the class, students, and instructor

Jan 11 “Baby Steps,” “Tidbits from Q& A,” “The Value of Bum Glue”


Jan 16 Student conferences

Jan 18 Student conferences


Jan 23 Characterization, “Story Is Character,” “All About Character,” “Yes, There’s More About Plot. But First . . .”

Jan 25 Characterization, “Dialogue: Speak the Speech, If You Will,” “Tricks of the Dialogue Trade”


Jan 30 Action, “Onward from Idea,” “Plotting: ‘It Is the Cause, My Soul,’” “The Start: Decisions, Decisions,” Peer review new material (i.e. a draft of the plan)

Feb 1 Setting, “Setting Is Story,” “Nothing Without Landscape,” Peer review new material (i.e. a draft of the plan)


Feb 6 Setting, “Gimme a Map, Please,” “The Scene: Okay, So It Is Rocket Science,” Peer review new material (i.e. a draft of the plan)

Feb 8 Theme, “Knowledge Is Power, Technique Is Glory”; Language, “As There Is Viewpoint, So Is There Voice,” “Voice: You Gotta Have ‘Tude,” “Loose Ends” Prewriting due


Feb 13 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)

Feb 15 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)


Feb 20 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)

Feb 22 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)


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

Mar 1 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)


Mar 6 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)

Mar 8 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)


Mar 13 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)

Mar 15 Compose rough draft (i.e. write at least 2000 words)


Mar 20 Spring Break

Mar 22 Spring Break


Mar 27 Rough draft due, Getting to know your draft

Mar 29 Getting to know your draft


Apr 3 Toward global revision (expansion)

Apr 5 Toward global revision (expansion), Peer review new material (i.e. bring a portion of the rough draft, revised and rough)


Apr 10 Toward global revision (concision), Peer review new material (i.e. bring a portion of the rough draft, revised and rough)

Apr 12 Toward global revision (concision), Peer review new material (i.e. bring a portion of the rough draft, revised and rough)


Apr 17 Student conferences

Apr 19 Student conferences


Apr 24 Preparing for the final

Apr 26 Structural revision due


Final Exam

4420/4425 1 May 9:00-10:50