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ENGL2011/ESL1011: Introduction to Fiction Writing for ESL Students

Fall 2014

Instructor: Nicole Moran

Course Description:

This cross-listed English 2011 (Introduction to Fiction)/ESL 1011 (Special Topics) course will
allow international students to engage in creative writing to improve their English skills.
Placement in the course will be made on the basis of TOEFL, IELTS, or Writing Placement Test
score.

Students in English 2011/ESL 1011 will learn the basics of fiction writing by engaging with
cross-cultural folktales, fairytales, myths, urban legends, and cultural narratives. By reading a
variety of primary texts, folktale retellings, and craft books, students will learn to engage with
elements of style and utilize the story elements that have been passed down to them. And the end
of the course, students will individually produce two short stories (one revised for grammatical
correctness), and a group film project. Students will also be expected to bring one folktale to
class and share it with the other students.

Emphasis in this course will be placed on the elements of storytelling and not strictly on
correctness (although the language should be understandable the other students and instructor).
Students will be encouraged to engage with the language in a way that shows critical and
creative thought and a willingness to go outside a student’s comfort level with the language. At
the conclusion of this course, students will be more comfortable writing creatively in English.

Course Objectives:

By the end of this course, students will be able to
 Identify and discuss the basic elements of fiction;
 Evaluate and critique a variety of narrative genres;
 Understand and comment on the ethical issues involved in creative writing, including
plagiarism, and in the literary works read and discussed in class;
 Write stories in short story form, showing an understanding of plot, character, dialogue,
and setting.

Required Texts:

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Pantheon Books,
1994.
Le Guin, Ursula K. Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone
Navigator or the Mutinous Crew. Portland, OR: The Eighth Mountain Press, 1998.
Various PDFs, as distributed by the instructor

Course Grading:
The following grade breakdown illustrates that your class work and daily assignments impact
your final grade in a significant way and should be given the appropriate consideration.

 Participation & Attendance: 20%
 Written Critiques: 15%
 Student-Submitted Folk Tales & Leading Class Discussion: 15%
 Portfolio of Original Work (Work 20%, Revision 15%): 35%
 Group Film Assignment: 15%

Possible course grades include A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D, F, W (Withdrawal), and WX
(Unofficial withdrawal-No participation).

As your portfolio is the largest percentage of your grade, be mindful that an A-level portfolio
shows creativity and effort, and revision is thorough, thoughtful, and proficient in the English
language. In this class, you are expected to complete all assignments, turn them in on time, and
be actively engaged in your own writing and critiquing the writing of others. I am happy to
answer any questions you may have during the semester and keep you updated on your
performance.

Instructor Availability
Email is definitely the best way to reach me, and I will do my best to respond within 24 hours. If
you email me just before class, I will probably not be able to read it until after class. Please feel
free to contact me or come visit me during office hours if you have any questions or concerns.

Major Assignments

1. Two stories posted on Blackboard:

You will be expected to share two stories with your peers throughout the semester. Both stories
should be at least five (5) pages (double-spaced) in length. Page counts significantly higher
should be discussed with the instructor beforehand. In your first draft, pay more attention to the
elements of storytelling than on grammatical correctness; you story should be readable, but it
does not have to be perfect. At least one of the stories should be inspired by a myth/folkloric
element, either of the your own culture or as discussed in class.

On the first day of class, we will assign an order for workshop, and you will be responsible for
turning your story in one week before you are to be workshopped. You will post it via our
Blackboard discussion board. At the end of the term, you will be responsible for turning in a
thorough revision of one of the stories workshopped in class to the instructor. The revised
version of one of the stories should be thoroughly proofread for correctness.

All stories must be submitted in double-spaced manuscript format.

2. Written critiques on classmates’ stories, posted on Blackboard:

You will be expected to provide thorough in-text critiques (either using MS Word track changes
or handwriting on a paper copy) of the stories being workshopped each class.

You should also turn in a lengthy summative comments at the end of each story, at least a half
page, single-spaced, in the form of a letter to the writer. You can post your responses via
Blackboard, via email (copying the instructor), or by giving paper copies to the student and the
professor.

3. Student-Submitted Folktales, posted on Blackboard:

You will pick one folktale that you heard growing up or you consider part of your cultural
heritage, find a digital text of it, and submit it via Blackboard discussion board for the class to
read. If you are unable to find a digital text but have a paper copy, you may submit it to the
instructor in advance who will scan it and upload it for the rest of the class. You will lead the
discussion on the folktale the day it is assigned. Discussion elements can include: why you
picked that folktale, what value that folktale has in society, what we can learn from the folktale
in terms of storytelling, etc.

Important Note: Students are not expected to rewrite the folktales, and folktales should not
overlap with ones already discussed in class. Students will sign up for folktales in advance as to
avoid overlap between students. Because this may be challenging for students to procure, the
folktales are not due until Week Six, which should give students plenty of time to find
appropriate texts.

4. Group film project, to be presented in class:

In a group, you will be responsible for brainstorming a story (you will be given criteria by the
instructor) and writing a script that you will practice and film for the class. The finished video
will be 5-10 minutes in length and you will present it in the form of a class film-festival.

Extended Assignment Description (for instructor use):

Students will be placed in groups of four to create a one-act play utilizing lessons learned
throughout the creative writing course. As a group, students will draw slips of paper out of
several hats. One hat will have a character (fireman, teacher, doctor, etc.), another will have a
setting (a city, the desert, etc.), and another will have a prop (which the instructor will provide,
such as a toy or flag). The instructor will also write and distribute a few lines of required
dialogue, which should be different for every group. Students will be given two class periods (or
the equivalent of a week of class time) to work together to create a coherent narrative with the
provided criteria (adding more dialogue of their own), and will have a weekend to practice and
rehearse/film the play outside school.

If the students have access to appropriate technology (such as the Student Technology Research
Center at UC), students will be expected to film and edit the finished project (should be 5-10
minutes in length) and present it to the class in the form of an instructor-organized film festival.
Music and editing effects should be used, if at all possible. If technology is not available,
students will act out the play in front of the class and turn in a script to the instructor.

The instructor will grade the assignment on usage of all the necessary criteria (character, setting,
prop, and dialogue), storytelling, creativity, and overall effort. Students will be encouraged but
not required to create narratives with folkloric or multicultural themes. Less emphasis will be
placed on language correctness as to allow the students to engage with the story without
worrying overmuch about grammar and syntax.

Assignment Goals

1. Students will work together to form an English narrative with traditional storytelling
elements, such as conflict, climax, and resolution.
2. Students will take on roles within the group to accomplish the assignment, such as
serving as actors, directors, or editors. All students should appear in the play.
3. Students will be able to produce original and meaningful work in a group, allowing for
weaker students to contribute even if they are not as confident in the language as their
peers.
4. Students will practice their English skills in a creative atmosphere that encourages
experimentation and imagination.

Workshop Protocol

You are expected to come to class fully prepared to discuss the work that has been submitted,
meaning you should have the work in front of you and with your comments (whether paper copy
or via laptop/tablet). We will begin the workshop by having the writer read the first paragraph of
their work. As a class, we will discuss what is the writer is doing successfully for the first half of
the time, and then spend the second half talking about what questions we have/what needs to be
improved.

Comments that only consist of phrases like “I like this” or “I don’t like this” are not appropriate
in a workshop setting; you should be able to point to specific places in the text and explain why
you feel that way. On the first day of class, we will work to develop a class vocabulary you will
be expected to use when critiquing others’ work. In the workshop, we will focus on ideas and
creativity and not on grammar or correctness.

During the workshop, the author is allowed to ask a question at the beginning to help guide the
conversation and then should listen to the critique of the story, only speaking during the critique
if the author needs clarification or doesn’t understand a peer’s comment. At the end of his/her
critique, he/she will thank the class and collect the paper responses, and offer a short explanation
if desired. Students being critiqued should pay attention to the feedback of peers and not feel it
necessary to make excuses for their work—e.g. explaining what he/she meant by an image is
welcome at the end of the critique, but telling the class he/she felt that the story was bad is not
appropriate.

Course Schedule

Week One (8/25-8/29): Introduction to the Writing Life
 Introduction and Syllabus Discussion
 Set Schedule for Workshop
 Activity: Establishing Vocabulary for Critiquing the Work of Others
 Activity: Brainstorming Ideas and Starting to Write
 Discussion: The writing life, overview of good fiction-writing habits, reviewing
expectations and the workshop process

Week Two (9/1-9/5): Cultural Significance of Folklore
Monday, September 1: Labor Day
 Readings: Lamott, “Getting Started”; “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” PDF (Russia,
original tale); East excerpt PDF (retelling)
 Free-writing Activity: Think of stories that you were told as a child by your grandparents
or older relatives. What lessons were in the stories, and what about the stories did you
find interesting or troubling?
 Discussion: Multicultural heritage and the value of folktales in fiction, examples in
literature and current writing, retelling folktales in your own writing
 Due: Workshops 1-6 on Blackboard. (Workshops will always be due a week before
workshop.)

Week Three (9/8-9/12): Characters
 Readings: Lamott, “Character”; “Bluebeard” PDF (France, original); Carter’s “The
Bloody Chamber” PDF (retelling)
 Free-writing Activity: Think of characters that are commonly seen in folktales: e.g. evil
villains, cunning animals, intrepid heroes, etc. Pick one character and write a paragraph
in which they do something surprising or unexpected.
 Discussion: Writing dynamic characters, defying expectations and tropes, writing with
empathy, how characters transform from original folktales when they are retold
 Workshop 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Week Four (9/15-9/19): Plot
 Readings: Lamott, “Plot”; “The Wild Swans” PDF (Ireland, original); Marillier’s
Daughter of the Forest excerpt PDF (retelling)
 Free-writing Activity: Think of a plot of a folktale that you enjoy. What is the most
exciting part? Write a paragraph describing the action, making it seem as dramatic as you
can.
 Discussion: Plot structures, common plot structures, story structure (exposition, rising
action, climax, falling action, denouement)
 Workshop 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Week Five (9/22-9/26): Dialogue
 Readings: Lamott, “Dialogue”; “Tasik Chini” PDF (Malaysia, original), Gaiman’s
“Instructions” PDF (retelling)
 Free-writing Activity: The instructor will play audio of people talking. Try to copy down
the conversation verbatim, and then reread what you have written. Consider: How is real
dialogue different from written dialogue? Try rewriting the conversation, cutting out
inconsistencies and making the conversation something you could use in your own
writing.
 Discussion: Crafting effective dialogue, understanding the value of what isn’t
communicated
 Workshop 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

Week Six (10/6-10/10): Setting
 Readings: Lamott, “Set Design”; Student Folktales 1, 2, 3
 Free-writing Activity: Write a paragraph about the home where you grew up, paying
special attention to the physical details that you can remember.
 Discussion: Describing settings, world-building, map-making
 Workshop 19, 20, 21, 22, 23

Week Seven (10/13-10/17): Style
 Readings: Le Guin, “The Sound of Your Writing”; Student Folktales 4, 5, 6
 Free-writing Activity: Steering p. 26, “Being Gorgeous”
 Discussion: Reading works aloud, using language to establish tone, word choice
 Workshop 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Week Eight (10/20-10/24): Punctuation
 Readings: Le Guin, “Punctuation”; Student Folktales 7, 8, 9
 Free-Writing Activity: Steering p. 34, “I Am García Márquez”
 Discussion: English grammar and its quirks—and how to deal with them
 Workshop 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Week Nine (10/27-10/31): Syntax
 Readings: Le Guin, “Sentence Length and Complex Syntax”, Student Folktales 10, 11, 12
 Free-Writing Activity: Steering p. 56, “Short and Long”
 Discussion: English grammar, breaking the rules
 Workshop 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

Week Ten (11/3-11/7): Advanced Language Tools
 Readings: Le Guin, “Adjective and Adverb”, Student Folktales 13, 14, 15
 Free-Writing Activity: Steering p. 62, “Chastity”
 Discussion: Elevating prose, confidence in the language
 Workshop 19, 20, 21, 22, 23

Week Eleven (11/10-11/14): Point of View and Voice
Tuesday, November 11: Veterans Day
 Readings: Le Guin, “Point of View and Voice”, Student Folktales 16, 17, 18
 Discussion: First person, second person, third person, close narration, omniscient
narration
 Free-Writing Activity: Steering p. 76, “The Old Woman”
 Workshops (buffer, in case we get behind)

Week Twelve (11/17-11/21): Focus
 Readings: Le Guin, “Indirect Narration, or What Tells”, Student Folktales 19, 20, 21
 Free-Writing Activity: Steering p. 119, “Telling it Slant”
 Discussion: When to hold back in storytelling, “zooming” in on the most important parts
of the story
 Introduction to Group Film Project activity, assigning groups
 Workshops (buffer, in case we get behind)

Week Thirteen (11/24-11/28): Film Project Preparations
 Readings: Student Folktales 22, 23
 In-class time to work on Film Projects
 Discussion: Final questions and concerns
 Workshops (buffer, in case we get behind)

Week Fourteen (12/1-12/5): Final Words
 Final Classes, Portfolios Due
 Film Festival Presentation
 Class evaluations


Syllabus Rationale
Although I went through a phase where I was kicking myself for crafting a course that
seems so theoretical and impractical, I actually found planning the assignments, the readings, and
the layout of this class to be extremely enjoyable and much more realistic than I originally
thought. As the class is structured, I believe that this class is not too far out of the realm of
possibility; even though it’s unlikely that such a class would be taught at UC, I could easily see
myself pitching it to a foreign university and being satisfied in knowing that it fulfills the goals
of both an introductory level creative writing course and an ESL elective.
One of the main ideas behind designing this class was making sure that although it was
aimed at an ESL/international audience, it was still effective in the teaching fiction writing,
which I believe I’ve succeeded in doing. All reading assignments are relatively short and
readable, which should prove accessible to students. Because I imagine that students would have
to test into the class (based on the various ESL testing scores), I’m hopeful that the students who
would enroll would be able to handle the difficulty of the assignments as well as the reading. The
course would be challenging, I think, but not impossible, and ultimately would be a rewarding
experience. Students will leave the class not only with at least one polished story, but also with
another to work on in the future, and a completed film project.
The backbone of this course is folktales. I knew that I wanted it as an overarching
cultural element from the beginning of my planning process, but the idea to have students bring
in folktales to the class came to me much later, while I was solidifying the readings. In the first
five weeks of class, students will read an original folktale and a modern-day retelling, and as a
class we will discuss how it was adapted. While collecting material, I found myself frustrated by
the lack of diversity in my personal collection: many folktales that I can access are from Europe
or South East Asia. This, of course, skips over entire continents and countless cultures, and
seems woefully inadequate. To my knowledge, there are no extensive international anthologies
on the market, which is frustrating when structuring a class like this. It dawned on me that by
allowing students to bring in their own fairytales and using them as readings for the class,
students are establishing a kind of ownership over their cultural heritage. I worried initially that
this may be a difficult undertaking for students, but I think by giving students six weeks to
collect materials, it’s a reasonable request. It would be fascinating as an instructor to see students
bring in stories from all over the world, and I’m now acutely disappointed that I won’t get to
teach this class anytime soon.
After students finish studying the various elements of storytelling and fiction writing, the
course will culminate in the multimodal assignment, the group film project. As inspired by
various articles in my praxis report from New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice
and Theory of Creative Writing, the film project (which could be adapted into a one-act play
should the electronic resources not be available) allows for students to engage with the material
we’ve read, the elements of storytelling we’ve discussed, and their experience writing creatively
in English. Not only does the film project combine everything the students have learned
throughout the course, the film itself becomes a cultural artifact—something students can share
and enjoy.
Ultimately, the combination of craft readings, primary folklore texts, secondary folktale
retellings, student-submitted folktales, and various free-writing exercises will be a good
introduction to fiction writing and accessible to an ESL audience. While the reading will not be
overwhelming (perhaps 30 pages a week), it will be largely comprehensive in terms of what is
usually taught in an introductory fiction-writing class.