Advanced Fiction Writing

4:40p-6:35p M (15) 3 cr.


This is an advanced fiction writing workshop focusing on writing the short story. While self-contained novel excerpts are accepted, please bear in mind that it is difficult to critique isolated bits and pieces of a longer work. You will write 35-40 pages of original fiction over the course of the semester, which will include at least one story of length (10 pages or more). All work must be written for this class. You are strongly encouraged to start writing over the summer, but no recycled work from other classes, even if revised, will be accepted. There will also be weekly craft exercises and a short paper. Workshops will follow traditional format, and full participation by all members is crucial. Everyone will also write 1-page critiques of all the work seen in workshop, and should be willing and prepared to give and receive thoughtful constructive criticism.

We will focus on craft issues, as well as world view and ideology generated by the stories. We will also work a lot on language. If you function strictly by the intuitive model and believe that you are a vessel through which the Muses speak, this is not the class for you.

This class treats writing as the discipline it is, which requires a commitment on your part to write daily for at least one hour (this does not include exercises for class or the reading of peer manuscripts, etc.). The only way to learn to write is to write.

Outside readings will include several books with a focus on contemporary writers who provide interesting models for us, as well as readings dealing with place, voice, dialog, narrative structure, etc. We will discuss these thoroughly in class, examining particular choices the writers made and the effects of those choices. While you certainly do not need to be an English major to take the class, it is essential that you are a reader and have more than just passing familiarity with a range of writers of literary fiction. John Grisham and Danielle Steele don’t count.

I do ask students not to submit stories about chained women in dungeons being ravished by reptiles, accounts of fraternity parties, “the time I got really drunk or loaded,” “if my shoes could talk,” space aliens (particularly as a device to explain a protagonist’s strange behavior), “my worst roommate experience,” psycho killers who go around bumping off the protagonists, or anything that ends with “And then I woke up. It was all a dream.”

This is not meant as censorship--it is meant to free you from easy devices and reliance on strictly sensational material to learn to really “see” and “hear” the world around you. You can write about anything you like, but you must do it well. Writing is about discovery. Let yourself be surprised.

Pre-requisite: W103 (or equivalent) and either a W301 fiction workshop or a W203 fiction workshop, with a minimum of B in both classes. Familiarity with Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction, Madison Smartt Bell’s Narrative Design, etc..

Application process: Admission to the class is by application and instructor permission only. Application materials should be placed in a 9x12 manila envelope inside my mailbox in BH 402. Please be sure to mark the envelope for “Alyce Miller, W401 Application.” While I accept students on an ongoing basis, the class often fills within the first few weeks of registration. No one will be admitted after finals week of the spring semester.

What to include: (1) a short letter describing what writing courses you’ve already had, who your instructors were, and what grades you received, as well as anything you’d like me to know about your interest in writing and your background (major, interests, etc., and your expectations of the advanced workshop). (2) a 20-page writing sample of your fiction (preferably one or two stories)—choose whatever you feel happiest about having written. (3) your full name, your email address, your mailing address, and your phone number.

I will post a list of admitted students on my office door, BH 524.