Fiction Exercise: Part 2

The fiction-writing exercise described in the post of February 2 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.

Step One:  Divide the class into arbitrary groups of 3-4 students each. I made the assignments alphabetically.  The beginning of the semester is a particularly propitious time to work in groups as it allows students to share humor, close cooperation, and opinions right away; otherwise the feeling of class cohesion can take weeks to establish.

Step Two:  Every story needs a location, characters, and a conflict to spark the story.  The groups were sent onto the campus for forty minutes to find a location for their story, and two characters to inhabit it. Before sending them, I reminded them of the words of Stephen King in the assigned book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: “[Building characters] boils down to two things: paying attention to how the real people around you behave and then telling the truth about what you see.” They were thus rimed for some acute observation of the human condition as they spread out on campus. The characters they discovered ranged from a 4’2″ dwarf to a life guard to a mysterious man in a trench coat.

The locations they chose ranged from the sushi bar in the dining hall to the rec hall to a parking lot.

The conflicts followed naturally after the characters and location were established.

Step Three:  They were given time to develop their story.  In a class which met twice a week, the first draft was not due until the next week, two classes forward, so they had time to organize their schedules and methods of operation in creating the story. Some met in person, some exchanged emails, some spoke on the phone.  In the last minutes of the first class, they were exchanging emails and schedules and I could see the class coming together on a human scale.

Step Four:  The students submitted their first drafts to me by email, I commented using Track Changes, and returned them by email.


This assignment will be continued in the next post.


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