English 3012Advanced Fiction Workshop:

Theory & Fiction

Brian KiteleySpring 2010

Email: bkiteley@du.edu   Classroom:  SH 496  Office:  SH 487C    Class hrs:  MW 2-3:50  ▪  Office hrs:  M 4-5:30, W 4-5  ▪  303-871-2898

PREREQUISITES:  English 1000 (the introductory creative writing workshop) or CREX 1110 (The Writer's Voice) AND at least one English 2000 workshop (fiction, nonfiction, or poetry)NO EXCEPTIONS.  This course is open only to undergraduates and MA students.




COURSE DESCRIPTION:  Former baseball player Yogi Berra said, You can’t think and hit at the same time.”  But can you think and write at the same time?  Writers should practice hard, work on repetitions, and think through the process as much as they can, whatever the process is.  But when it comes to actual competition—writing the fiction itself, like playing tennis or golf—writers should trust that they have trained their instincts well and not think at all.  Practice makes for better instincts.  The fiction exercises you do in this class (and really all of the writing you do is training) are one part of a very particular sort of practice to build better instincts.  The Marines have a saying, “Adapt, improvise, and overcome.”  Writing fiction is not like going into battle, but you do test yourself the way a soldier tests herself.  The first two commands—adapt and improvise—are crucial.  Writing fiction is somewhat like living reality—it is unpredictable, but you can train yourself to react gracefully to life’s surprises.  Prepare for fiction the way soldiers train for battle.  The filmmaker Orson Welles said, “The director’s job is to preside over accidents.”  Daniel Dennett, in Consciousness Explained, theorized that the task of the human brain “is to guide the body it controls through a world of shifting conditions and sudden surprises, [to] … gather information from that world and use it swiftly to ‘produce future’—to extract anticipations in order to stay one step ahead of disaster.”  We read fiction to see how characters improvise their lives moment by moment to survive.  In order to write fiction, we need to train to build up and stretch certain muscles and practice a variety of plans for retreat or attack.  We practice our skills at improvisation, which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it isn’t.  Actors who specialize in improvisation do not do typical rehearsal, by reading lines.  They practice by responding to phrases, props, or new costumes thrown at them.  They have to react without any preparation or even thinking.  This is what we’ll be doing in this workshop.


You will do half a dozen six-sentence stories during the term perhaps independent of your own fiction submissions, which we’ll all look at outside of the sequence of the fiction you workshop (and we’ll vote on the six best six-sentence stories before the end of the term).  Take a look at this blog, Six sentences for ideas and inspiration (there are dozens of six-sentence stories here).  You will also hand in four pieces of fiction during the term.  For the second group of fictions you do, I want you to write any four exercises from The 3 AM Epiphany.  You’re welcome to do exercises more than this one time during the term.  Since you’re doing four sets of fictions, you might want to pace yourself, handing in 5 to 10 pages per submission.  If you want to do longer pieces, that’s fine, but I like it when we can concentrate on fiction the way poets concentrate on poetry.  I also want you to write two formal 400-word critiques of your classmates’ work during the term.  Bring The 3 A.M. Epiphany to every class.


TEXTS: Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories; David Shields, Reality Hunger; Brian Kiteley, The 3 A.M. Epiphany.


BASIC RULES:  Participation in this class is crucial to your success.  I expect you to attend regularly and fully participate in class activities (especially in reviewing the work of your classmates).  This class depends on everyone being present, thoughtful, and talkative.  If you must miss class, it is your responsibility to track down the material that was handed out from your classmates, and, if you were due to hand out a story, it is also your responsibility to make sure everyone in the class receives copies of your fiction.   Hand in hard copies of your exercises and stories the class before we are to discuss the work.   If you do not bring your copies to class that day your fiction may not be discussed in class the next class.  I expect paper copies of every story and exercise.   Do not email attachments of your fiction to us.


GRADES:  You will be graded equally on: Your class participation (and therefore your attendance); the effort you appear to have put into your exercises and fiction; and the critiques of your classmates.  I do not grade on talent.  If you participate in discussion, make a good-faith effort to do creative work and inventively listen to advice, read and write about your classmates' work with earnest attention, and appear at nearly all of the class sessions, you'll get a very good grade in the class.




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