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ENGLISH 3PT3 Perspective&Time in Fiction

Academic Year: Winter 2018

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Blair Hurley

Email: hurleb2@mcmaster.ca

Office: Chester New Hall 314

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 20927

Office Hours: Wednesdays 2:00-4:15pm



Course Objectives:

Calendar Description

In this course, we’ll explore the art of time and perspective in fiction, and study how to use point of view to write fiction that is bold, challenging, and authentic.

Overview

Point of view is one of the most important elements writers employ when writing fiction. Who tells the story? Who has the right to tell the story? And whose perspective will give us access to the richest narrative? Over the last century, writers’ choices have expanded from the third-person omniscience of the nineteenth century novel to a wide spectrum of access, voice, and character. Perspective also goes hand-in-hand with choices of tense and timing: in what time frame should the story be told, and should we tell it in the present or past tense? Is the story contained within a day or an hour, or can it span decades? We’ll read classic novel excerpts that experiment with perspective, including Joyce’s Ulysses, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and stories by William Faulkner, Mavis Gallant, Junot Diaz, Lorrie Moore, and Alice Munro.


Method of Assessment:

Grading Breakdown

Class participation                            15%

            Attendance, class preparedness, and completion of peer critiques

Short homework assignments          15%

            These will be graded in a check, check-plus, or check-minus capacity.

Workshop submissions                     30%

            While I consider the quality of the writing itself, I am more concerned with effort, creative risk-taking, and use of the craft techniques we will discuss over the course of the semester. See attached grading rubric for creative writing.

Final portfolio                                      40%

            The final portfolio must constitute a significant expansion and revision of the writing included, taking into consideration the techniques we have discussed in class and the comments and suggestions of the original graded story. This is not just correcting the grammar.

Assignments

1) Writing

            Students will submit one short story during the semester; submissions must be fiction from 6-15 pages, double-spaced, that incorporate one of our techniques of time or perspective. There will also be short one-page homework assignments due in class.

2) Readings

            Professional short stories and novel excerpts will be assigned to read each week.

3) Critiques

            Students will submit written critiques of each other’s work, to discuss in group workshops.

4) Final Portfolio

            The final project will be a major revision of the short story submitted, as well as several short homework exercises on perspective. There will be a choice as to which pieces will be revised.


Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Lateness Policy

Submitting work late just doesn’t work for a class that depends on peer critique. When you submit work late, you are inconveniencing the TA’s who must read your work, but you are also inconveniencing your classmates. Work is always due at 11:59pm the day of its due date. For every day that it is late, it will be marked down one third of a letter grade (A becomes A-, B+ becomes B, etc.). After three days with no urgent reason for the lateness, the work will receive a zero.


Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.


Topics and Readings:

Reading List

Topics in Perspective

What 3rd Person Can Do

Tobias Wolff, “Hunters in the Snow”

Chekhov, “In the Horsecart”

 

What 1st Person Can Do

Barthelme, “Game”

Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street excerpts

 

The Collective Voice

Karen Shepard, “Popular Girls”

Stuart Dybeck, “We Didn’t”

 

What 2nd Person Can Do

Lorrie Moore, “How to Be an Other Woman”

Junot Diaz, “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie”

 

Free Indirect Discourse

Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway excerpt

James Joyce, “Dubliners” excerpt

 

Voice and Form

Daniel Orozco, “Orientation”

Daniel Orozco, “Officers Weep”

George Saunders, “The Semplica Girl Diaries”

 

Topics in Time

A Story in a Day

Kate Chopin, “The Story of an Hour”

Joshua Ferris, “The Dinner Party”

Sherman Alexie, “Night People”

Hemingway, “Hills Like White Elephants”

 

The Past, Childhood, Memory

Mavis Gallant, “The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street”

William Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily”

Alice Munro, “Friend of My Youth”

Jill McCorkle, “Billy Goats”

 

The Future, the Hypothetical

Joshua Ferris, “The Breeze”

Jennifer Egan, “Safari”

 

Writing on Writing

James Wood, “How Fiction Works” excerpt

Christopher Castellani, The Art of Perspective excerpt

Benjamin Percy, Thrill Me excerpt

 

Creative Writing Grading — General Guidelines

 

FICTION

An A-level Story:

Language: the language is fresh, inventive, and elevated, using vivid imagery, thoughtful word choice, and a minimum of cliches.

Story: there is a clear, suspenseful, escalating conflict. Eventually, a choice and some sort of transformation has occurred. Something is at stake or there is an urgency in the story; we have a reason to care about how the story turns out.

Character: characters are detailed, thoughtfully drawn, and three-dimensional; they are complex and seem to have realistic mental processes and motivations. Character has some individuality and does not rely exclusively on stereotypes. The character has some sort of desire that pushes the story forward.

 

A B-Level Story:

Language: the language is clear and understandable throughout, with some fresh phrases and images. There may be some cliches or over-familiar phrases. There should be more use of the active voice than the passive voice.

Story: there is a discernible conflict and movement toward a climax. The choice may not be clear. We have a reason to find out what happens next.

Character: characters are detailed and have realistic mental processes. Some moments may seem out of character or are not fully understood. Character has some individuality and does not rely exclusively on stereotypes. Character should have some kind of back development; there may not be enough backstory. The character has a desire.

 

A C-Level Story:

Language: language is unclear or awkwardly phrased throughout, with heavy use of cliches. There may be grammar errors or other distracting flaws in the writing that sacrifice clarity.

Story: there is no discernible conflict or climax. There may be an explosion or clash, but the story does not build towards it properly. There is no clear choice that is made; events may happen to a character without the character having any agency. There may be significant errors in the logic of the plot.

Character: characters are lacking in detail and seem unrealistic; they may behave in an unbelievable or hard to understand way. The character development relies heavily on stereotypes and generic cliches. The character has no clear desires or motivations.


Other Course Information:

Contact Me

Contact me by email (bhurley@mcmaster.ca) anytime with questions, comments, or to set up an in-person meeting if you can’t make my office hours; please allow at least 24 hours for a response.

Submitting Work

Work will be submitted online on Avenue, either in the short HW assignment dropbox or in the dropbox for workshop stories. So that both your TA and your group can read and comment on your workshop stories, you must submit both to your group’s discussion board and to the assignment dropbox.

Please include your last name in the file name of all stories and documents you submit. For example, you might submit homework #1 as “Hurley_HW1.docx”, or your workshop story as “Hurley_Story.docx”

A Note on Content in this Course

As readers of literature, we may encounter disturbing or troubling content in the stories we read for this course, including violence, sexual assault, suicide or murder. These topics can be difficult to read for some. If you are disturbed by something you’re reading for this course, I urge you to come talk to me about it. As readers and scholars we have the power to analyze work and dive deep into the artistic merit of literature, and my policy is to encourage you to read the work even if you find it troubling. If you find yourself unable to read a particular story, you won’t get credit for the critique of that story; it is your choice about whether to sit out that particular discussion.

If you are writing about dark content for your workshop story, please bear in mind that other students might find your subject matter disturbing. Please include a content warning when you post your story to give students a little preparation for what to expect in your story.

More Notes on Subject Matter

This course is designed to make you better writers, and to develop your skills in the writing of literary fiction. “Genre fiction” can be great if the writing is great, but if it simply follows the rigid rules and conventions of its genre, then it isn’t literary and will not be scored highly. That includes standard vampire-werewolf-ghost horror stories; dystopian alternate societies; formulaic romances; space travel stories in which the characters are just cardboard cutouts; and so on. There is no explicit ban on these genres or storylines, but your story will be graded on its quality of language, plot, and character as stated in the rubric, and in the space of a short story, these sorts of formulaic genre stories don’t usually do well.