Writing fiction to study literature

The fiction-writing exercise described in this series of posts was the first assignment of a class in which the students would later write essays on assigned subjects, using works of fiction and poetry as sources.  The goal was to provide the students with some insight into what it takes to write fiction. (Poetry writing was addressed in another exercise). The greater goal was to engender a keener appreciation of fiction.

The next few posts will explore in depth a recent assignment in my freshman writing class. Previous to the level at which this exercise was introduced, students wrote simple essays. The format was:

STUDENT     →    ISSUE  (a right and a wrong, good and bad)

In this more advanced class the format was:


When viewing moral or weighty issues through literature, judgments become more nuanced.  Choices gray when they involve “real” fictional characters rather than abstract theories.  Before delving into the literature, I thought they should get a taste of what authors go through to produce a work of fiction.

There were several steps to this exercise, taking four classes to complete. The first step was to read Steven King’s classic, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Then we got to work on the stories themselves, using the following techniques.

1.  The groups created three drafts of their story.

2.  The premise was that every story needs a location, characters, and a conflict.

3.  The students were divided into groups of three or four, and sent onto the campus to establish the location and the characters (limited to two), drawing on things and people that they saw.

4.  Each group created a storyboard.

5.  Students wrote a description, following a template.

6.  The groups created a backstory for their characters.

7.   We did semantics exercises.

8.  We had several peer review opportunities, during which students read others’ papers and helped them clarify and hone their work.

9.  We acted out some of the scenes in class.

The next post or two will report on the success of these steps, the pitfalls, and the unexpected benefits of each.


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