Creative Writing Course Syllabus
Course Description: This course will focus on expressive writing in many different forms. Students will have the opportunity to explore several different types of poetry and prose styles, as well as responding to literature, art mediums, quotes, and music. Originality and writing that shows thought will be emphasized. Strategies to avoid writer’s block and new ways to uncover ideas for writing will be studied. Peer reviews and sharing ideas are essential elements to this course.
Workshop and the Class Community: Think of our classroom as an artist's studio. We will write and rewrite, collaborate, discuss, and build. Much of our time and energy in this course will be spent reading and discussing each other's creative work. During workshop, we will offer mature, direct, and constructive feedback. In workshop, we'll discuss the writing, not the writer. We will workshop in both small and large groups. Students are responsible for providing copies of their work to the entire class. Because of the size of this class, we will be unable to reschedule workshops, so you must attend class the day your writing is being workshopped. If you do not attend your workshop or fail to submit your creative piece in time for your designated workshop, it will result in the lowering of your six weeks grade by a full letter grade. Please note that this can cause you to fail the course (for example, if you earn an "D" in the course but miss your short story workshop, your six weeks grade will be an "F").
Your commentary on the work should give both positive as well as negative feedback, and present any negative comments in as positive a manner as possible. I also expect criticism to be concrete and specific: anyone responding "Well, I liked it" or "I didn't like this paragraph" will immediately be asked the question: "Why?"
When you're critiqued, in turn, please remember to take any negative feedback as being intended to help you -- remember that your fellow students are critiquing your work, not you personally.
I am not going to assert dictatorial control over your life and write your poem or story for you. However, I will criticize your work. I will offer feedback by making a few textual annotations. I might say something like, “The ending doesn’t work—you probably want to fix the last four paragraphs.” Then it will be up to you, the writer, to find a way to make the fixes. I will always be happy to meet with you and discuss your writing! I can show you the many options you have as a writer, and the artistic ramifications of each option. In the end it will be up to you as a writer to seek out my advice, to choose a course of revision for your writing, and to make those revisions work. You are responsible for the quality of your work. Here are five additional things to remember about workshop and criticism:
- You can’t please everyone.
- If it does seem that you’re pleasing everyone, something is probably wrong.
- Your readers don’t know more than you do.
- You don’t have to take your classmate’s suggestions unless they fit your overall artistic intention.
- You are the boss of your writing.
Late Work Policy: I do not accept late work. Any assignments that aren't submitted by the due date and time will receive no credit and significantly lower your six weeks grade. If you fail to submit more than 4 assignments on time, your final grade will be lowered by a full letter grade. You must submit your final portfolio on time in order to do well in the course.
In-class Assignments, Participation, and Preparation: This includes any writing exercises and activities we do in the classroom. You'll keep a journal where you'll write during class and record interesting things you observe or find outside of class (conversations, images, words, ideas, tweets, quotes, pictures, postcards, slips of paper, ticket stubs, whatever). Occasionally, I'll ask you to share notes or ideas from this journal in class, so bring it with you each day. Failure to do so will result in a reduction of your daily grade. Bring this journal with you when you have conferences with me so that I may check on your progress. Participation and preparation is what you do to get ready for class and how you engage while in the classroom. For each class period, complete all writing and reading assignments before you arrive, type feedback for your classmates, print all readings, assignments, and pieces being workshopped, etc. Try not to sit there in awkward silence – take part in the conversation! But note that there are other ways to participate besides discussion (listening actively, in-class exercises, revision, peer feedback, conferences, coming to conferences with me, etc). I expect your full participation in the class when you are there, or that will also affect your grade. What is participation? I expect that each student will engage in our workshop discussions, as well as any additional lecture material. The more you have input into the class, the more we’ll all learn. I much prefer not to call on people and force them to respond -- that is not class participation. Of course, if you’re absent, you can’t participate at all. I don’t expect everyone to be “on” each and every class day -- we all have our off days -- but I do expect regular participation from each student.
More on Participation: I actively encourage students to ask questions during the lecture portion of class and to start discussion of any point that is raised. The more you ask questions, the better you’ll shape the class, and the more you’ll learn. Please don't simply sit there and take notes -- be an active part of your education! And again, we will be workshopping our work during class, and thus it's essential that your input be given on other students' work. It's important to your own work that you get diverse viewpoints and opinions, and your learning depends on your engagement. Expect to speak every time we gather, but also remember that participation also involves active listening and encouraging others to add their voices to the conversation.
Conferences: I would like the chance to meet with each of you individually and discuss your work, and encourage you to take advantage of that. However, conferences should be scheduled in advance, though if I’m in my classroom and have the time (without you falling behind in other classes), I’m happy to discuss things with you on an impromptu basis.
Conduct in class: Respect is the key. When you’re talking, you should expect that the other students will listen to what you say without talking among themselves, or making non-constructive remarks -- you should do the same when others are talking.
Your attitude is an important component of participation. Your attitude should not be confrontational, nor should you put down other students' work or opinions, whether through too-aggressive argument or through use of humor at other students' expense. Like any critical conversation where participants bring different experiences to their understanding of the issues, ours will undoubtedly generate strong emotions, reactions, questions, affirmations, and disagreements. Healthy dialogue requires careful listening, respect for other people's perspectives, and a willingness to examine our own assumptions. We must feel free to disagree--but disagreement needn't imply dismissal of other perspectives. I encourage you to keep an open and inquisitive mind, and realize that intellectual discomfort is not always a negative thing. Our goal is not agreement, but understanding. Understanding is a process that may first require some unlearning of old habits and ways of seeing the world.
Cell phones: Should be turned off or on vibrate mode: unless a call is an emergency, I expect you to answer it after class or during break. Do not text during class. If I see you checking your messages or texting on your phone during a lecture or during the workshops, then you will be docked a letter grade on your assignment.
Laptops: I don’t mind laptops being used to take notes or to reference a workshop critique that you wrote. However, if you’re using the laptop to access social media sites, or if you’re checking your e-mail or surfing the web randomly, I will mark you down as a 0 for that class.
During workshops, I expect laptops to be closed -- you should have your written critique to look at, and there should be no reason to be on your computer.
General Comments: Please do not bring in work that you have published or written in the past (If it is new chapters to a book, then that is fine). Our focus is on new work and making it the best it can be. Keep a positive attitude. Please let me know if you need help; I am willing and happy to help you with any assignment that is giving you trouble. Be respectful to your classmates and teacher. Raise your hand to add a comment to the class discussion, and don’t interrupt. Please don’t roam around the classroom; find something to work on if you finish early. Students who do not respect classroom rules will receive consequences that fit the infraction and may result in parent contact and/or referral to the principal.
Taboos and Admonitions:
Given that my own stories have contained pretty much everything, I'm open to nearly anything in the way of content or subject matter or genre. But… given that the focus for this class is on writing good, publishable poems, nonfiction, journalism, and fiction, here are some exceptions and guidelines:
- Remember, we want to make your stories school appropriate. Let’s keep it in the PG-13 realm in all areas. (More about certain topics below.) Make sure all content is integral to your story; if not, you haven’t done your job as a writer. Who gets to decide if you’re overstepping the bounds here? I do…
- Avoid gratuitous violence. A certain amount of physical confrontation is fine in a story, but again it must be integral to the plot and not glorified for its own sake or the sake of shocking the audience. If your story needs copious amounts of violence to make someone read your story, you haven't done your job as a writer. Who gets to decide if the violence is gratuitous? I do…
- Avoid gratuitous profanity. I have no personal taboo against 'bad language' in your work, and I've certainly used coarse and frank language in my own writing when appropriate. If characterization and plot require such, fine, but as with other things, keep it PG-13. If you're using profanity because it's the only way you can shock the audience, you're not doing your job as a writer. Who gets to decide if there’s too much foul language? Yes, you’re right… I do.
- No game/media fan fiction (Buffy, Harry Potter, Star Trek, Star Wars, D&D, etc) or fan fiction of any popular book/TV/movie series. Why? 1) there's a very limited market for this type of fiction, and in fact it can be construed as violating the copyright of another person; 2) it assumes a knowledge from its readers that the general audience doesn't possess; 3) part of learning to become a writer is the process of creating unique characters, worlds, and settings -- this aspect is lost (or at the very least, much diminished) in writing fan fiction.
- As they say in every book, all characters are fictional -- please do not use the names of your classmates, friends, family, etc. unless you have 1) very good reasons and 2) have obtained their permission to do so, and please get these permissions when we discuss memoirs and autobiographies.
Plots I prefer not to see at all because they are clichés:
- “…And it was all just a dream…” -- and thus the entire story was entirely pointless.
- The re-telling of a Shakespearean plot in the present time, the future, the past, or an alternate universe. These can be done well as a movie or screenplay, but check with me first!
- Re-telling of the movie you just saw with the names and sundry details changed.
- The historical character transplanted into another time (as in, the serial killer turns out to be Jack the Ripper or Adolf Hitler).
- 'Surprise' endings and 'joke' endings -- these can work, but are hard to pull off even for sophisticated writers.
If you think you have something like this that nobody has ever seen before, ask me first.
Plots you CAN use but must be very careful with (especially since many of them require a much longer form than the short story to work well. If you want us to read chapters from a book, this is fine, but remember we won’t be seeing the whole picture.):
- The ‘plot-less’ literary story (there’s a difference between an exploration of character and just moving your characters around randomly…).
- Time travel (the paradoxes will eat you up… and the basic plots have already been used to death).
- Alternate histories (you'd better have done your research, it had better be something people actually know, and you'd must be able to make it interesting. Please leave Hitler and Caesar alone.)
- The “Civil War” story, or any other popular time period (again, you'd better have done your research, and you must find a period that people will be interested in)
- Police Procedural mysteries (these can be interesting when well done, but you'd better know the real procedures… and have some interesting characters to boot.)
- The “It’s all a Big Conspiracy” story (not everyone is as paranoid as you think, and again you'll need a fresh, interesting conspiracy).
- Terrorists from the Middle East -- there absolutely are terrorists from the Middle East, as we know all too well... but everyone's writing about them. Again, you need a new twist.
- Spy stories. These can be fun, but try to have a new twist on this genre.
- The ‘Haunted House’ or ghost story (a familiar subject for horror writers, but it can be difficult to come up with new and interesting angles here.)
- Dragons, elves, wizards, dinosaurs, mutants, cute and cuddly aliens or familiars: this is a fun genre, but these have been used so many times that you're advised to avoid them unless you have some absolutely new twist and you really know the genre inside and out.
Format for Writing Assignments and Stories:
- Please submit your work in Google Docs.
- Assignments system, which time-stamps and dates all submissions. IMPORTANT: Exercises, drafts, stories and revisions assigned in one week, are due in the next week, at midnight, after class. Please do not pass in work prior to the due dates and times in question.
- Use Times New Roman 12-point font or equivalent.
- Double-space your text and use reasonable (one-inch) margins on all sides.
- Please choose your title carefully, and list it on the first page (centered on the page and italicized; DO NOT BOLD; there is no need for a cover page.
- In the upper right-hand corner of the first page, put your name, course title, my name, the date, and a generic description of the work submitted (e.g. Story #1 – First Draft or In Class Writing Exercise #3).
- Number your pages starting on the second page and make sure your last name is on every page. (e.g. Fisher 2 on the right hand side of the header.)
- As mentioned, you must PROOF-READ ALL YOUR WORK, by printing hardcopies, reading them out loud, and revising them by hand prior to doing so on the screen.
- Please note, per the policy below, I will be reading all of your work out loud, and if you have not proof read it, I will not comment upon, nor grade, your work.
Proof-Reading Your Work Prior to Submission:
- Although proof reading and careful revision should be a given in a writing course, I have noticed a pattern of carelessness in submissions, which tend to suffer from work being revised hastily on the screen, rather than in hardcopy form. Thus, I am implementing a policy about proof reading and basic coherence in first drafts.
- IMPORTANT TO NOTE: In addition to the fact that I am allocating 5% of your grade to proper proof reading, if I find more than ten (10) basic errors such as typos, misspelling, or errors in basic coherence (unless in keeping with artistic experimentation), I will not accept, critique, nor award credit to the draft. You will have a chance to fix these, but corrections will be due the next day.
Points Assigned for Writing:
- Work is cliché or not original and does not reflect thoughtful, informed engagement with its genre.
- Work is not original, but attempts, unsuccessfully, thoughtful, informed engagement with its genre.
- Work is a mixture of cliché and original work, and attempts, with mixed success, thoughtful, informed engagement with its genre.
- Work is largely original and largely successful at thoughtful, informed engagement with its genre.
- Work is highly original and highly successful at thoughtful, informed engagement with its genre.
Course Content: Students in Creative Writing will write poems, short stories, plays, news stories, comic strips, children’s books, an autobiography and other types of writing that express creativity. Students will also study writing samples from professional writers as well as student writers to guide student progress.
What We Hope to Cover and Focus On:
- Characteristics of Good Writing
- Figurative Language
- Sensory Details
- Point of View
- Short Story
- Word Choice
- Precise Language
- Poetic Forms
- Adventure Story
- Character, Setting, Plot
- Using Structure to Reflect Theme
- Art, Music as Inspiration for Poetry
- Descriptive Writing
- Persuasive Writing
- News Story
- Reflective Writing
- Children’s Books
- Action in Story
- Fable/Fairy Tale
Assignments to Begin Thinking About:
- Write: A 250 word introduction. Consider discussing why you write, how you write, and what you hope to gain from this course. This is due by Tuesday! And you will present it to the class. You do not have to stand at the front of the room (unless you want to). You can just read it from the comfort of your desk.
- Oral discussions of at leasttwo stories, poems, essays or plays (must be different for each discussion. In other words, not two stories, but rather a story and a play, or a poem and an essay). Essentially, you’ll lead the discussion of the work you’ve chosen to critique. Assume we’ve all read the piece and that we don’t need a plot summary. Instead of saying you liked or disliked a piece or why (critical evaluation), focus on some matter of craft (critical analysis), citing, two or three examples from the text to support your observations. For example, you could start the discussion by saying,
The setting of this poem suggests the speaker’s inner landscape of depression and grief over the loss of her lover and hoped-for husband. For example, the image of the willow, “its branches drooping and swaying/like the hair of drowning children,” suggests the speaker’s feeling of drowning in grief and her lost hope of having children” with a man who never wanted them.
If you have any questions or concerns during this class, you can see me after class, before or after school, or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
I am looking forward to a great semester with this class!!
Please sign on the appropriate line and return to me by Friday. (This is your first assignment worth 100 points.) After getting the form signed, keep the syllabus part in your binder to use as a reference. Turn in the signature page to me. I have read the course syllabus for Creative Writing and I understand all the policies and expectations of this class.
Student’s Printed Name_______________________________________________
Student’s Signature ___________________________________________________
Parent’s Printed Name________________________________________________
Parent’s Signature ____________________________________________________
Parent Phone Numbers (Home)_______________ (Cell/Work)______________
Parent E-mail ________________________________________
The syllabus page shows a table-oriented view of the course schedule, and the basics of course grading. You can add any other comments, notes, or thoughts you have about the course structure, course policies or anything else.
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