Friday, August 14, 2009

English 640/Form and Technique in Prose/ Fall 2009

Professor Diana Joseph Office Hours: M&W 2-4
English 640 E-Hours: T&F 9-12
Email: Office: Armstrong 201L Phone: 389-5144

Form and Technique in Prose
This course examines the technical underpinnings of fiction and nonfiction genres. Through lectures, readings, class discussions, imitation exercises, and workshops, we will study the relationship between form and content. Specifically, we’ll pay attention to issues of craft including point of view, characterization, setting/place, tone, style, imagery, structure, plot and theme.

Required Texts
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principals of Screenwriting. Robert McKee
The Help. Kathryn Stockett
Mrs. Bridge. Evan S. Connell
The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction. Ed. Michael Martone
The River Teeth Reader, Volume 10, Numbers 1 & 2, Winter 2008. Ed. Joe Mackall
Candy Freak. Steve Almond
Spook. Mary Roach

1. McKee Worksheet=25% Due on Assigned Day
See Assignment Sheet.

2. Craft Analysis Papers=25% Due on Assigned Day
See Assignment Sheet.

3. Participation=25%
Participation in not merely showing up for class—that’s called attendance. I define participation as your active engagement with the class demonstrated through thoughtful contributions to class discussion and evidence of preparedness.

4. Form project=25% Due on Finals Day
What are all the forms a piece of writing can take? There are books and magazines, of course, and broadsides and chapbooks, but there are also take-out menus and checkbook ledgers, classified ads and vanity license plates. Your assignment is to experiment with form, by creating a text whose form reinforces its content in artistic and interesting ways. My only limitation is the text itself must be something I can hold in my hand. Make a copy for each member of our class.

Class Policies
Do the work. Missing more than one class results in dropping a full letter grade. Show up on time. If you’re not here, you can’t participate. All coursework must be completed to pass this class. Late work will not be accepted. Assignments are tentative and subject to change.

Due Dates

Tuesday, September 1
1. Read The Help. Your first time through this book should be about experiencing the story.
2. Read chapters 1-7 of McKee. Begin preparing worksheet.

Tuesday, September 8
1. Reread The Help. Your second time through should be about beginning to recognize McKee’s principals of story-telling.
2. Read chapters 8-19 of McKee. Take detailed notes on your reading; continue compiling your notes into a worksheet.

Tuesday, September 15 The Help Worksheets for Chapters 1-13
Tuesday, September 22 The Help Worksheets for Chapters 14-25
Tuesday, September 29 The Help Worksheets for Chapters 26-34

Tuesday, October 6 Mrs. Bridge Craft Analysis

Tuesday, October 13 Scribner Craft Analysis
“White Angel” and “Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story”

Tuesday, October 20 Scribner Craft Analysis
“Brokeback Mountain”

Tuesday, October 27 Scribner Craft Analysis
“Fiesta, 1980” and “First, Body”

Tuesday, November 3 River Teeth
“When You Weren’t There: How Reporters Recreate Scenes for Narrative” and “The Writer’s Choice”

Tuesday, November 10 River Teeth Craft Analysis
` “The Exorcist in Love” and “The Fourth State of Matter”

Tuesday, November 17 River Teeth Craft Analysis
“The Speed of Memory” and “The American Man at Age Ten”

Tuesday, November 24 Candy Freak Craft Analysis

Tuesday, December 1 Spook Craft Analysis

Finals Day Forms Project Due

McKee Worksheet
While reading McKee, take detailed notes. Organize those notes into a worksheet that lists McKee’s terms and definitions: plot points, story values, conflicts, scenes and exposition, character vs. characterization, protagonists and antagonists, setting, the inciting incident, complications, subplots, turning points, the nature of choice, climax, crisis, resolution, ETC. In short, this worksheet will allow you to map/outline McKee’s principals of story-telling so the more detailed you are, the better. There’s more than one way to organize this material; figure out what works best for you. Here’s an excerpt from mine:




Conscious desires

Unconscious desires

Object of Desire

Chances to attain his/her Object of Desire

Will/capacity to pursue Object of Desire to the end of the line

Risk character is willing to take to achieve Object of Desire



Inner conflicts

Personal conflicts

Extrapersonal conflicts

What is revealed by choices he/she makes?

Characterization/sum of all observation qualities

Character Arc




Level of conflict

Rules of the World
How do characters make a living?

What are the politics/who has power?

What are the rituals?

What are the values?

What is the genres/combination of genres?

What are the biographies of the characters?

What is the backstory?

What is the cast design?

Define Conflict
Who drives the scene, motivates it, makes it happen?

What does he/she want?

What forces of antagonism block him/her?

What do the forces of antagonism want?

Note Opening Value/identify value at stake.

Break scene into beats.

Note Closing Value.

Locate Turning Points.

And so on…
You’ll be assigned a point of view character. Follow that character through her chapters. Fill out your worksheet for EACH chapter; include page numbers that locate where you found the information. Bring these worksheets to class—we’ll be using them to guide our discussion of Stockett’s novel.

A Reminder: This assignment is NOT about workshopping, reviewing or book-clubbing the novel. It’s not about whether you like the book or don’t like the book. It is about studying, recognizing, and articulating how McKee’s principals of story-telling are at work.


Note: This assignment uses the same language as the instructions for writing the Comprehensive Exam Essays. The only difference is the comps require that you compare and contrast two works while in this class you’ll focus on one at a time.

For FICTION You’ll write 2 craft analysis papers for fiction.
Listed below are eight of the primary elements of fiction. Choose one of these elements, then write an essay in which you first define the element and then discuss and analyze the element as
it functions in the assigned work of fiction.

Structure (you will probably want to include but distinguish between structure and such
related elements as pacing, plot, and storyline)
Tone (an aspect of voice, related to but distinguished from mood and/or atmosphere)
Thematic development

For NONFICTION You’ll write 2 craft analysis papers for nonfiction
Listed below are seven of the primary elements of creative nonfiction. Choose one of these elements, then write an essay in which your first define the element and then discuss and analyze the element as it functions in the assigned work of nonfiction.

Voice and/or the role of the “I” in the narrative
Characterization and/or the writer’s responsibility to subjects
Research, Reporting, and/or “Immersion” in the subject
Thematic development

You’ll be assigned the readings for your craft analysis, due on the day we discuss the work. Bring TWO copies to class. Be prepared to present your analysis to the class.

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