English 2250: Creative Writing
TR, 10:00-11:15, LA 027
Stephen D. Gibson
CB 407 F (1:00-2:00 & by appointment), 863-6287, stephen(dot)gibson(at)uvu(dot)edu
Texts and Materials:
Starkey, David. Creative Writing: An Introduction to Poetry and Fiction. Boston: Bedford, 2014. ISBN 9781457661679
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. Lab access fee of $7 for computers applies.
A Story About the Body
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 successful? 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 effective 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 in department’s creative writing journal
- 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 do what writers do. This course gives you the opportunity to draft and revise short fiction and poetry, to join a community of writers engaged in similar tasks, and to receive feedback from a range of readers.
Most Thursdays you’ll have the opportunity to present your work in progress to at least one peer. Peer review will allow you to receive feedback on recently revised work. In order for it to be most useful, you should not present the same work repeatedly without making drastic revisions between reviews.
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. One of these final drafts will be a formal poem, which will indicate the ways traditional forms can be useful and even inspiring. Rough and final drafts will be clearly labelled.
- Fiction portfolios: Complete portfolios will include three rough drafts. Additionally, two of these drafts will have been revised into two final stories each no longer than five double-spaced pages. 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.
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. 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.
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 twenty-five points. You’ll demonstrate your awareness of both fiction and poetry writing techniques.
Approximately three 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.”
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.
If you are taking this class as part of UVU’s Honors Program, add an additional rough and final draft to both your poetry and fiction portfolios.
Late Work Policy: If for some good reason you won’t be able to turn something in, contact me (preferably in advance). You’ll be able to develop the habit of meeting deadlines by turning in assignments at the beginning of 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, 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.”
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 through the online system. Instructors cannot add students. Department administrative staff and academic advisors cannot add students.
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. While we will do some in class, consider doing the exercises in the book.
Aug 22 Introduction to the class, 71-73
Aug 24 1-13
Aug 29 14-29
Aug 31 74-82, Workshop
Sep 5 30-41
Sep 7 82-88, Workshop
Sep 12 41-53
Sep 14 88-94, Workshop
Sep 19 Student conferences
Sep 21 Student conferences
Sep 26 53-64
Sep 28 95-103, Workshop
Oct 3 64-73
Oct 5 Poetry Portfolio due
Oct 10 153-155, 104-116
Oct 12 156-165, Workshop
Oct 17 117-125
Oct 19 Fall Break
Oct 24 165-175, Workshop
Oct 26 125-133
Oct 31 175-186, Workshop
Nov 2 134-144
Nov 7 186-197, Workshop
Nov 9 144-155
Nov 14 Student conferences
Nov 16 Student conferences
Nov 21 Thanksgiving Break
Nov 23 Thanksgiving Break
Nov 28 213-227
Nov 30 Fiction Portfolio due
Dec 5 Submitting work
Dec 7 Final exam preparation
Final: 2250: 12 Dec 9-10:50am
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 formal poem?
- 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 poems avoid editorializing or moralizing that distracts from the images?
- 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?
- With the questions above in mind, are the poems creative? Are they innovative and likely to engage readers?
Fiction (100 points):
When grading fiction, I ask myself the following questions:
Does the portfolio include three rough drafts, two of which have been revised into final drafts?
Structure and Design
- Do dangers to the fulfillment of a character’s desire and the character’s actions in response to those dangers lead to drama? Can I identify images—examples of particular sensory details? Are scene and summary used strategically?
- How successfully does characterization create the illusion of a person?
- Does dialogue reveal characters and move the plot forward?
- Does the story happen in a setting readers can imagine? Is the setting used to help characterize and maintain the reader’s interest?
Point of View and Style
- Does the use of point of view add to the story? Does the confusion-free language of the story hold my attention? Does the language of the story avoid cliché? Is figurative language used strategically?
- With the questions above in mind, are the stories creative? Are they innovative and likely to engage readers?