English Writing

First, you must write a creative piece of fiction that somehow connects with what we have discussed in class. It should utilize one or more of the genre techniques we have covered (magic realism, ghost story, etc.).The house of spirit/the yellow wall paper/the handmaid’s tale. It can be a complete short story, or it can be a scene (or multiple scenes) suggestive of something longer (for example, the opening to a dystopian science fiction tale or one climactic scene from an historical fiction novel). It can be whatever length seems appropriate to get the job done, but I imagine it’ll probably need to be at least 500 words. It needn’t be complete in the sense that it could be published in a magazine—i.e., it doesn’t need a full beginning, middle, and end—but it should be able to satisfyingly stand on its own as an excerpt. Second, you must attach an artistic statement addressing some of what you were trying to accomplish in your fiction. This should be about 500-1200 words, and this is where the majority of the grade will be decided. Be thoughtful and sincere about your intentions and your writing process. You may consider the following questions: How does your creative piece connect to what we’ve been discussing in class? What are you trying to say or do with the story you’ve told? What connections to “the real world” were you trying to illuminate? Did you encounter any difficulties while trying to write your story? If you had more time to expand or improve it, what might you do?
-Your creative piece must be fictional, although you’re free to incorporate as many autobiographical or nonfictional elements as is necessary (sometimes it’s impossible not to). It’s difficult for me to imagine how something like a straightforward nonfictional memoir, no matter how interesting and well-written it may be, would me the needs of this assignment, unless perhaps the piece was outwardly dealing in some meta way with the difficulties of translating a nonfictional experience into a story.
-Your final project must be narrative, even if that narrative is mysterious, ambiguous, or incomplete. In other words, you should be telling a story and that story should have characters (be they human, moth, extraterrestrial, or even inanimate objects). Like I say on the syllabus, the story needn’t be complete, but a story there nevertheless should be. If your poem is lyrical or experimental–i.e., if it’s just using words and images and sounds to evoke feelings or whatever–then it might be really interesting and powerful, but you should probably be turning it in for some other class.
-There are no minimum or maximum length requirements for the creative half of the assignment, and the story needn’t be fully complete with beginning and end and all the details fully fleshed out, but it should seem like time and effort went into crafting something with the power to stand on its own. Something that seems very rushed and not well thought out won’t make a very favorable impression.
-I’ll be grading your creative writing talent about as harshly as I’ve been grading your grammar and spelling–which is to say, not very harshly at all. If your dialogue is flat or your plot implausible, that’s okay. I’ll mostly be looking at your artistic statement to determine the grade, and what I want to see there is thoughtfulness, complexity, engagement, and a genuine attempt to grapple with some of the themes we’ve discussed in class. Most of what we’ve read and discussed in class so far has been about how authors use speculative/imaginative genres to provide food for thought about things that might matter in the present moment. How does James use a ghost story to examine anxieties about sex and preconceptions about children? How does Gilman use an unreliable narrator and a ghost story (or whatever you want to call it) to address issues of gendered approaches to mental health? How does Garcia Marquez (in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”) use a seeming impossibility within the context of an otherwise mundane setting in order to examine the many, many different ways in which people respond to the unusual and the unfamiliar? How does Kingsnorth use the social conditions of a thousand years ago to cause us to grapple with issues (nationalism, imperialism, misogyny, selfishness, etc.) that continue to be problems today? And so forth. Art for art’s sake is fine, but for this particular assignment I want some art that echoes outward.
Some suggestions:
-As in Watership Down, you might give a glimpse into the social world of some other species of animal. How would the biology and environment and instincts and so forth of, say, a grasshopper determine the kind of language, desires, social structure, political and religious beliefs, etc. that they would have?
-In the vein of Chiang’s stories, you might speculate as to how an alien language might influence an alien way of perceiving the universe. For instance, what if a language had almost no nouns at all, but only verbs and adverbs and prepositions? How would that change the way you think of yourself and the world?
-Like El-Mohtar, you might rewrite a fairy tale or repurpose familiar fairy tale tropes toward some novel meaning. Maybe tell an old story from a different character’s point of view, or have an old fairy tale be set in the present day. Or maybe you could take a modern story about some current event and tell it using the images and language and expectations of a fairy tale? What if the story of Watergate began with “Once upon a time” and included a king with magical powers, for instance?
-You might develop a satire, a dystopia, or a utopia. Take one particular aspect of our society that you’re distressed by, intrigued by, or whatever, and literalize and exaggerate it so that it becomes the normal, central, institutionalized doctrine for a new society.
-You might try your best to inhabit the mindset of someone from a different time period. Whatever they took for granted, whatever they dealt with on a daily basis, whatever they believed was cutting-edge or acceptable or an accurate explanation of reality–try to make that your new normal and look at the world through those eyes.

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