Creative Writing and Narrative Craft Crash Course

The goal of this course would be to introduce beginning or intermediate fiction writers to a set of formal terminology and concepts, both practical and theoretical, that they can then use while composing or editing, and which will allow them to read fiction in any genre for specific craft elements. Course "assignments" will include optional craft discussions on "required" readings and optional creative writing assignments that emphasize a certain craft element. The course will be run asynchronously, and would probably be the first in a series of more specific courses on the individual topics covered.

Readings will include craft essays, short stories, and short stories that have been marked up as a model for students to emphasize certain elements of craft.

  1. Module 0 - Course Introduction

    Wherein the course's intentions, purpose, goals, and organization are established; wherein a metaphor for creativity is proposed and definitions of "craft" and "a successful short story" are given; wherein best practices for maximal learning are described; wherein grammar resources and an exercise are prescribed for writers of fiction; wherein writing groups are established.

  2. Module 1 - Story Structure

    Wherein the common characteristics of the Narrative Arc are laid out; wherein the concepts of "plot" and "story" are discussed; wherein the Narrative Contract is alluded to by concepts inherent to story structure.

    Readings: Alexie's "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," Carver's "Cathedral," and Richardson's "Let Us Now Praise Famous Dinosaurs."

    Writing Assignments: "Annotate the Structural Changes of a Story" and "Outlines, Part 1."

  3. Module 2 - Character

    Wherein types of characters are delineated and tied to the issue of "development"; wherein a taxonomy of characterization is proposed; wherein the issue of "stakes" and "motivations" are considered; wherein bullet-pointed lists of tips are given for building characters and writing dialogue.

    Readings: Butler's "Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot," Dubus' "The Fat Girl," and Roth's "The Conversion of the Jews."

    Writing Assignment: 20 Questions for a Character

  4. Module 3 - Time

    Wherein time in narrative is broken down into three variables--Order, Frequency, and Duration--and each are discussed with an attention towards their practical usage; wherein tense is briefly touched upon but mostly ignored; wherein an epistemological concern is brought to a reader's attention.

    Readings: Almond's "Donkey Greedy Donkey Gets Punched," Wolff's "Bullet in the Brain," and Wallace's "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature."

    Writing Assignments: Recasting Tense; Annotating O, F, D; Creating Backstory

  5. Module 4 - Point of View

    Wherein the three common points of view are discussed, broken down into subcategories, and framed in terms of their advantages and disadvantages; wherein a very brief description of self-conscious narration is given; wherein an incomplete list of the different methods of delivering character interiority is presented.

    Readings: Bambara's "The Lesson," Power's "Moonwalk," and Powers' "To the Measures Fall."

    Writing Assignments: Recasting POV; The Abstract Matryoshka Doll Method of Inventing POV.

  6. Module 5 - Genre: Bending and Blending

    Wherein the history of the novel is presented, and the initial divisions that led to further subgenres are discussed; wherein an incomplete list of subgenres and their conventions is provided; wherein genres of style are very briefly touched upon; wherein the difference between "literary" and "genre" fiction is essentially called stupid; wherein all of the above is tied into issues of the narrative contract and establishing conventions to encourage readers to suspend disbelief.

    Readings: Brockmeier's "The Ceiling," Barthelme's "Cortes and Montezuma," Link's "The Specialist's Hat," Cortazar's "Letter to a Young Girl in Paris," and Borges' "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius."

    Writing Assignment: The Abstract Matryoshka Doll Method of Blending Genres

  7. Module 6 - Language

    Wherein signs and the ways signs work together to make meaning are described, and this then is connected with image patterning and other concerns.

    Readings: Choose your own story to read for image patterning.

  8. Module 7 - Drafting and Revision

    Wherein some general tips and useful strategies are given based upon the practices of other professional writers.

    Writing Assignments: Something for "Outliners"; Something for "Discovery Writers"

  9. Module 8 - Publishing

    Wherein I try to answer some of the basic and most common questions people have about publishing fiction.


Readings will be distributed via Google Drive or through web links, learning modules will be posted to the course subreddit, /r/CreativeWritingCraft. You'll need something that can open .doc and .pdf.



  • Module 0 (7/25): Course Intro. (What it is/isn't; Grammar for Writers; Organizing Writing Groups)
  • Module 1 (7/29): Story Structure
  • Module 2 (8/1): Characterization and Character Development
  • Module 3 (8/5): Telling Time
  • Module 4 (8/12): Point of View/Focalization (Intro. and Advanced)
  • Module 5 (8/15): Genre: Blending and Bending
  • Module 6 (8/19): Language and Discourse (Intro. and Advanced)
  • Module 7 (8/22): On Writing and Revision
  • Module 8 (8/26): On Business and Publication

I'd also be willing, once the course starts, to look at a few students' stories or novels or what have you and give brief editorial comments (i.e., my reaction as an editor at a journal if I were to read your story in slush) and possibly suggestions for revision. I'd probably do this once a week for 2-3 people I'd choose through a lottery on the course subreddit.

Here is how classes will work: every Monday and Thursday I'll post a "written lecture," "mandatory" and recommended readings, and a guided writing assignment. Written lecture posts will be for discussion and Q&A, reading pages will be for directed discussion, and guided writing pages will be for sharing and critique.

Writing Groups: Before the class begins, I will make a post encouraging people to get into writing groups of 4-5. This is not a mandatory prerequisite, but there are two habits you should get into: 1) writing at least 1,500 words a week (about 1 page a day) every week, and 2) sharing your work with strangers and people you trust so you can get feedback.

(N.B. There is a lot of reading in this class. Almost every course module will be a wall-of-text, and that doesn't even include the assigned stories or essays. Prepare to devote some time to the material.)

Additional information

This isn't your typical namby-pamby creative writing class meant to "cultivate the artist in you." Readings will be hard, directed writing assignments will be long and tedious and hard. All of it will be designed to force you out of your comfort zone. Every module, though, I will make sure to do a Q&A session to address any issue you may have with the material.

Teacher qualifications

B.A. and M.A. in English, with coursework and my thesis focusing on literature, narratology, and critical theory. I'm currently a candidate for an M.F.A. entering my final year at the program. I have ~5 years experience teaching Rhetoric and Composition and ~2 years teaching Creative Writing. I'm also currently an assistant fiction editor at a nationally distributed literary journal.

Latest Update
Module 8 (2013-08-25 20:31:00)

"The final module on publication for the Creative Writing craft class has been posted. It's formatted like an FAQ, and you're absolutely invited to ask more questions in the comments below.

While the class is over, I'll still gladly answer questions on the other modules. Thanks for being a part of this little experiment. I might do a more narrowly focused creative writing class at some point in the future!

Keep writing and good luck!

Best, Sean"

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