4420 “Designing Suspense,” “Modulation,” and “Home Improvement”

From Benjamin Percy’s outstanding collection of essays, Thrill Me, here are “Designing Suspense” and “Modulation.” Read them carefully. We will talk about them in class.

In addition, here is “Home Improvement.”

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Found poem

Let’s workshop this poem together before we look at each other’s work.


Snow came down February 15th feeling bad

I’d slept on the couch the night before

and suddenly the next morning cold

was thick on the ground, white, heavy with water

My wife asked me if we have two shovels I’d

thought of them one light plastic the other heavier,

a hefty blade of ragged tin splintered wood

We shoveled together the cold grew less bitter

Back in the house, our children threw soft sticks

of butter at each other, probably

shared plates of leftover greasy, cold chicken

with the dog I hate so much often, we

divide tasks my wife and I as our breath

fogged the air we worked side by side forging warmth.

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2250 Final exam Spr 2019

The final exam is worth fifteen points. The late paper policy as described by the syllabus applies to the final exam. Turn the exam in by emailing it to me before it is due. It is due by the end of the final exam period.

For the final exam, submit a set of poems and two short stories for publication and document those submissions. As you are researching venues for publication, be sure to select venues that are likely to publish your work. Pick a publication that will email you an acknowledgment of your submission. Most will do so automatically, but receiving an acknowledgement is your responsibility. For the final, email a copy of that acknowledgment to me following the guidelines above. Newpages.com can help you find venues for publication. Submittable.com is often a part of the submission process, as I demonstrated in class.

If you have questions about this final, please contact me.

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2250 Fiction criteria 2.0

  1. Give a general reaction to what you’ve read.
  2. Which scenes are interesting? Why? Is there a character that wants something? How do you know? What action does the character take to get what they want?
  3. Describe one of the characters in the story. What is his or her personality like? Quote the words in the story that suggest this personality.
  4. What does the dialogue in the story accomplish? Is it usually doing more than one thing? Quote an example.
  5. Describe the setting. What does the setting suggest about the people in it?
  6. Where is the story confusing? Quote clichés so they can be revised. Quote a memorable image.
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I am too sick to teach.

Classes will not meet today, but none of our due dates will change.

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Characterization and the 36 questions

Answer these questions as a way to help create a character or characters. When the questions mention “you” think of the character. If they mention “we” or a partner, either think of another character or yourself. The questions are the result of Arthur Aron’s research into creating emotional intimacy between individuals. They are best asked and answered in the order below. After you have answered them, consider which answers might be expanded into engaging scenes for readers.

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
  4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
  5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
  7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
  8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
  9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
  1. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
  2. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  3. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
  4. What do you value most in a friendship?
  5. What is your most treasured memory?
  6. What is your most terrible memory?
  7. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
  8. What does friendship mean to you?
  9. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
  10. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
  11. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
  12. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
  1. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “
  2. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “
  3. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  4. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
  5. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
  6. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
  7. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
  8. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  9. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
  10. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
  11. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
  12. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
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Using summary effectively

Kij Johnson’s excellent The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe starts with the main character’s efforts to help one person, a former student, then the program where the main character works, then the university (Ulthar, in the quotation below), and the valley of towns around it. A summary of the journey through a land eventually increases what is at stake if the character is not successful. Notice how concisely this is done. The characters and details mentioned in the summary  allow readers to remember earlier events in the book, so they are more likely to feel urgency about the fate of the main character and her world. 

“Then Ulthar cannot be saved?” She thought of it: Ulthar; but also Nir and Hatheg and all the little inns and farmhouses; the shepherds and the ox-drivers; Gnesa Petso and the Bursar and Derysk Oure; the toll-taker at the bridge with her practiced tale of human sacrifice; the man renting punts on the Aëdl, the Eb-Taqar Fellows with their elaborate Flittide parties; the girl in the Woolmarket who had taught her monkey to curtsey for coins—so many men and women and children. And everyone gone. She took a breath. “There must be alternatives.” They talked on.

― from The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

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