Monday, February 18, 2008

Fiction 101 Workshop Curriculum

Fiction 101 - Introduction
Learning to write fiction provides a unique challenge to any writer. Unlike nonfiction, which is based on established facts, or poetry, which can be entirely imagined, fiction depends upon rooting an imagined story in reality. Good fiction allows readers to suspend their disbelief - for the duration of the story, readers believe in the story, they believe in the characters. It might be a story about vampires or it could be aliens fighting for control of Mars, but if it's well written the readers will set aside their doubts and allow the question that drives all imagination: "what if?"

In Fiction 101, we examine the fundamentals that allow suspension of disbelief. For this class, each student will write a prompt-directed story. First, we root the story with setting, providing a stage for all that occurs. Then we establish our characters: the protagonist, the antagonist, their conflict. We use dialogue to flesh-out the story further, to develop the conflict and reveal the sides of our characters that are not seen directly. Finally, we bring the conflict to a head and resolve the story.

Throughout this workshop, students will receive feedback from the instructor after each assignment. Through ongoing discussion forums, the instructor will provide topics for consideration and fellow students will discuss their progress. There will opportunities for questions and feedback throughout. At the end of the course, students will share their stories with classmates for critique.

Fiction 101 - Activities:

Setting - Set Location
Pick a Room that has strong memories for you. It could be your own room now, you're parent's bedroom, the principal's office, your grandfather's attic. It should be a room that holds personal meaning to you, a room from which you can draw personal connections. Describe this room. What's in this room? What's missing that should be there? How do the contents of this room represent it's inhabitants? How do the habits of the people affect this room, the way it's been laid out? The aim is 250-750 words.

Character - Pick a Protagonist
Imagine your protagonist in the room you've described. This protagonist can be someone you know, or a stranger who fascinates you, or simply someone you made up. Think about what your protagonist looks like. What does he or she wear? How do we see the life of this person in his face, in her hands? What does this person want or need most right now?

Now write your protagonist into the room. You may use first or third person narrative, but limit your point-of-view to information that your protagonist would personally know and care about. Your reader will see the story through this character's eyes. The goal is 250-750 words.

Conflict - Insert Antagonist
Insert character two. Consider how this character prevents your protagonist from fulfilling his or her needs. Why do your protagonist and antagonist hate one another? What topics will they never discuss? Write about this from your protagonists perspective. Write about how these to people avoid one another while inhabiting the same room. Remember that in developing conflict, you must continue to uphold setting along with descriptions of both characters. What are these two characters doing in the room? How do their actions display the turmoil? What do they say - or not say - to one another?

As you write this, you are revealing an important aspect of your protagonist. Make sure that you write about the key change that your protagonist must make in his or her life. Think about the lesson you want your protagonist to learn from this story. What plans does the protagonist make while sparring with the antagonist? Are these plans good or bad?

The goal is 500 words, but you can go longer.

Dialogue/Description - Introduce Outside Party
Dialogue is one of the most potent literary tools at your disposal. It is dialogue that drives scene by defining the relationships between characters. Description may indicate feelings and setting can influence tone, but the words that your characters exchange will leave the most lasting impression on the reader. Your characters must sound believable, and they must exchange information which drives the plot forward. For this exercise, your protagonist is still in the room, but the antagonist has left. Briefly describe why the antagonist has left - is it something the protagonist said? Or is it part of your antagonists plot to rule this world?

Insert a third character, a neutral party, someone who is not part of the conflict but should be aware of it. The first part of this exercise is the way your protagonist views the third party. What brief detail defines this third person? How does the protagonist think of this person?

Next, use dialogue to reveal who this character is. What does this person care about? Does the protagonist need to win this character as an ally? Does this person have valuable information for your protagonist? Or has the antagonist bought him off? Your protagonist is trying to justify his own point of view in the conflict with the antagonist - this dialogue is his chance to justify himself through words. The goal for this exercise is 500 words, but you can go longer.

Dialogue: The Three-Way
Uh-oh, the antagonist returns…and now we have a three-way dialogue. Remember that conversations consist of short sentences - everyone wants to be heard, even those afraid to speak. While your protagonist and antagonist are duking it out for supremacy, your third character will have his or her own agenda. What is this agenda? We don't know because we see the world through the eyes of the one protagonist only. Using dialogue, description, and your protagonist's intuition, reveal as much as you can about your antagonist and his relation to the third character. As in other exercises, the setting of the room continues to evolve - has anything changed in the room since assignment one? How does the change affect the arena of conflict? (e.g. if the AC goes out and everyone's sweating, will tempers be lost?) Remember that you do not need to resolve your story just yet - that's the next assignment. The goal for this one is 500 words or more.

Resolution: The Clean-Up
The key to ending a story is resolving the conflict. Somehow, the energy driving the protagonist's desires must dissipate. Does the guy get what he wants? Does the girl realize she needed something else entirely? Does our hero oust the antagonist from an ill-gotten throne, or has compromise postponed our battle? The goal is 250-750 words.

Looking Back: Revision and Critique
Now that you've completed your story, the final portion of the workshop is dedicated to examing what you've accomplished. Each student will complete revisions and submit a second draft of their story for student critique. The writing assignment for this portion is to provide feedback for fellow students. The instructor will lead the story critique with leading questions for each story and highlights. Ground rules will be maintained to establish an open and welcoming environment for critique.

Click here to Register for Fiction 101.

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