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 educational program where the main character works, then the university (Ulthar, in the quotation below), and the valley of towns around it. Later, a summary of the journey 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 (almost all of the proper nouns in the quotation will remind readers of previous scenes), 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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Revising toward style

Here is a found paragraph.

The garage door had been up all day. The neighborhood was quiet. I came out to run to the store and saw a rattlesnake crawl behind a paper bag. Trash in the cooler garage. I’ve a wife, three kids. I am far too young for death. It must have fled the heat. Past my driveway, trees swayed against a blue sky. It was hot, even for June. I could just go back inside the house, get in the car, be someplace else. But who would come out the door next? My mom? I took a shovel and rake, pushed the bag away, and as it twisted toward sunlight, I pinned it with the rake. Soon they would be done with lunch. How much sound will it make, I wondered for a moment, then chopped with the shovel.

In a group of three, consider the content. Talk about what kinds of stylistic choices could add to it. Which of Thrill Me’s suggestions might be most helpful? Are there poetic strategies that might help? Where would additional sensory language make the paragraph more engaging? What changes to sentences could make the paragraph more interesting? Is this the best sentence order? What is the paragraph like as one long sentence? A pattern of fragments? Agree on a plan to revise the paragraph dramatically without changing the content. Then, revise it so the content and style match more completely. As you make changes, remember the textbook’s warning against styles that call too much attention to themselves, distracting from the content.

Here are two examples:

The rattlesnake must have been fleeing the heat. In my garage, it slithered into the shadows behind a paper bag. Hot, even for June, the garage door had been up all day. I’d come out to run to the store. I’m too young for dying. My wife, three kids. I could just go back inside the house, or just get in the car, be someplace else. But who would come out the door next? My little daughter? Soon they would be done with lunch. I took a shovel and rake, pushed the bag away, and as it twisted toward sunlight, I pinned it with the rake. The neighborhood was quiet. Past my driveway, trees swayed against a blue sky. How much sound will this make, I wondered for a moment, then chopped at it with the shovel.

Fleeing June heat, the rattlesnake slithered into the shadows behind a paper sack in my garage, but snakebite wasn’t how I’d die, not with a spouse, three sons, and a few short steps back inside the house to call the city, the snake handlers, or close enough, that work there. Of course, my littlest son could come out the door next because soon they’d finish their snack, so I took a shovel and rake, pushed the sack away, and as the snake twisted toward sunlight, I pinned it with the rake. Now, the neighborhood was still, and past my driveway trees swayed against a blue sky; how much sound will this make, I wondered for a second, then clanged and sparked the snake into pieces with the shovel.

Once you’ve finished as a group, take a double-spaced page of a story you’re writing. Repeat the process you just finished as a group of three as an individual with your page.

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Modulating suspense

Consider these example stories.

In a small group, rate the suspense of each section of Boyle’s story on a scale from one to ten.

  • Discuss you’ve noticed about the modulation of suspense.

As an individual, chart the suspense in William’s story, then Kemper’s, then Woodman’s.

  • In a pair, compare your charts. Account for differences and similarities.

Finally, in a small group chart the suspense in Bender’s story.

What techniques or strategies does this suggest for modulating suspense in your own work?


Remember Percy’s suspense-o-meters can be part of planning/pre-writing, but they can also be useful when revising.

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2010 Negative example

This is a negative example of an annotated bibliography. Which of the criteria does it fail to meet? What problems does it have? How can you be sure your annotation meets more of the criteria than this one?


By: Blackmon, Wayne D. American Journal of Psychotherapy.  Fall1994, Vol. 48 Issue 4, p624-632. 9p. DOI: 10.1176/appi.psychotherapy.1994.48.4.624.

Wayne talks about three patients he had who benefited from playing the game. One patient played for five hours each week, another played for three, and the third only got to play for one hour! I like this source. They played a game called Savage Word. Wayne says that he tried to create situations in the game that would let the patients practice experiencing things that gave them stress in the real world. This stressful things were just in the game, so the patients knew they were not in the real world. So, they could consider the stressful thing from an emotional distance and think about it without it being too personal. Then, when they did encounter the stressful thing in the real world they were ready for it because they had already thought about it as part of the game that they had played with Wayne. It is wonderful that Wayne thought of this. The thing about this is that I don’t know if the game mechanics of most games are flexible for most doctors in Wayne’s position to do this. Also, a big part of most games is randomness, from either like dice or sometimes shuffled cards. Its not really the game without randomness, but what if the randomness happens in a way that freaks the patient out? That’s not good. How to do patients really make the switch from games to IRL. Maybe if patients are afraid of spiders IRL they could beat some giant spiders in the game, but if patients are afraid to talk to their boss about vacation days, how would that work in the fame? It’s not like dragons sit on piles of vacation days.


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2250 Poetry criteria 2.0

  1. Give a general reaction to what you’ve read.
  2. How might the language of the poem be condensed? Which line or stanza break is most significant? Why?
  3. How do rhyme or rhythm add to the poem? Which phrases seem stilted or unnatural?
  4. Identify images by quoting at least two. What is the object in at least one image? In the same image, which senses are appealed to with which words?
  5. How does punctuation add to the poem? What examples of figurative language are present in the poem?
  6. What is the most confusing part of the poem? Quote any obvious clichés.
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Crime fiction

Consider this description of mystery fiction from John Lanchester’s “The Case of Agatha Christie” in the London Review of Books.

Her career amounts to a systematic exploration of formal devices and narrative structures, all through a genre with strictly defined rules and a specified character list: a murder must happen, it must be solved by a detective, there must be a murderer, a victim, a set of characters who might be the murderer but turn out not to be, a number of possible motives, most of which turn out to be misleading; the setting must be circumscribed, the list of suspects finite, the motive and crucial evidence something disclosed to the reader but preferably not shown to be significant. And it must come in at around 50,000 words – that’s not a genre rule, it’s just how long Christie thought a murder story should be. . . . The elements of Christie’s fiction are all already in place: a country house, a finite list of suspects, the outsider detective intruding into a place of order and hierarchy that has been disrupted by a crime. . . . She isn’t much interested in the ethics or metaphysics of why people do the bad things they do. But she is unflinchingly willing to look directly at the truth that they do them. . . . Her sense of the world was that people do terrible things and suffer terrible consequences, and she took just enough of the truth of this to ground her fiction in a sense of reality, but never enough to unsettle the reader or disturb the genre frame. . . . In essence, that is what detective fiction is: a mystery about which of a particular cast of characters isn’t who they say they are. And that, I suggest, is a, perhaps even the, core reason for Christie’s appeal to so many readers in so many different times and places. Just as her work is formalist without being modernist, her preoccupation with identity, with the constructed nature of character and society, is a modernist preoccupation, expressed through a deliberately popular and accessible medium. Her work is a cocktail of orderly settings and deep malignity, of comfiness and coldness, and at its heart it asks one of the most basic questions of all, modernity’s recurring preoccupation: who are you?

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2250 Tercets

Here are some examples of tercets.

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3420 Final exam Fall 2018

This take-home 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. When you email the exam, include “English 3420,” the phrase “final exam,” and your name in the subject line.

For the final exam, submit a short story for publication and document that submission.

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. For the final, email a copy of that acknowledgment to me following the guidelines above.

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

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