The Craft of Fiction: A Short Story Writing Intensive Winter 2024

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Class Details

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott advises aspiring authors to approach writing in gradual steps (or, in her words, “bird by bird,”) rather than being “immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.” In this course, we too will move “bird by bird,” through writing exercises that tackle the essentials of fiction. We will read the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Octavia Butler, Anton Chekhov, Stuart Dybek, Adam Johnson, Denis Johnson, Herman Melville, Lorrie Moore, Tim O’Brien, and Zadie Smith to parse and then practice the techniques these authors employ to create plot, structure conflict, establish characters, and make them talk. By studying an array of voices, students will find which cadences best fit their own work. We’ll visit Arrowhead, Melville’s Pittsfield house, to see where he wrote Moby Dick, as well as spend time in local museums, engaging closely with works of art there to further inspire and deepen our fiction. Beginning in Week Two, students will present their own works-in-progress, which we will discuss in a supportive workshop environment. At course’s end, students will have polished a piece of short fiction, explored the beginnings of several new projects, and learned numerous techniques to keep them writing in the future. Evaluation will be based on workshop participation and classroom discussion, brief writing exercises, and a ten-page short story. Students are expected to spend an hour daily on their own fiction writing, in addition to the time required to complete each meeting’s reading and writing exercises. We will typically meet twice a week for three hours, though occasionally the class may extend slightly beyond this timeframe given travel to and from field trip destinations.
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 12
Expected: NA
Class#: 1155
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: Creative project(s)
Prerequisites: None
Enrollment Preferences: Selection by letter to instructor, detailing interest in the course and past creative writing experience (if any), and 1-3 paragraph writing sample.
Unit Notes: Sara Houghteling is the author of Pictures at an Exhibition. A former lecturer in English at Stanford, she currently works in the Research and Academic Program at the Clark Art Institute.
Materials/Lab Fee: $55
Attributes: EXPE Experiential Education Courses
SLFX Winter Study Self-Expression
STUX Winter Study Student Exploration

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