Writing 105C: Introduction to Creative Nonfiction


Course Description and Overview

This is a course in writing creative nonfiction, a "new" form of writing that has been around for centuries. Mark Twain, Jonathan Swift, Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, and George Orwell all wrote prose that might appropriately be placed under the contemporary heading of Creative Nonfiction. However, it wasn't until the late 1960s that writers such as Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion consciously blurred the traditional distinctions between fiction and nonfiction, creating a "New Journalism" (or "Gonzo Journalism," as described by Hunter S. Thompson) that evolved into the many stylistic sub-categories of creative nonfiction that exist today. This course will give you practice in several of those sub-categories, and it will give you a chance to work on issues of style, tone, voice, characterization, setting, and dialogue - techniques that are indispensable to writers, whether they are producing fiction or creative nonfiction or even academic discourse.

Our time in the classroom will be spent as a writing workshop. For the first several class sessions, students will work individually in the Instructional Computing Lab on the initial written project, the Autobiographical Narrative Essay. Subsequently, students will upload draft material to an online, GauchoSpace-based forum, and on a given day, certain students will read their work aloud while the class (including myself) will identify genial turns of phrase, discuss what works well in the pieces under consideration, offer suggestions, guidance or benign neglect when appropriate. Additionally, for each class session you'll have a reading assignment (and accompanying written journal response) due from the course readings, which you'll find at the bottom of the GauchoSpace page. I'll also assign the occasional in-class or at-home exercise, to juice your muse or to provide practice in certain techniques and elements.

Writing Requirements and Grading

You have draft material due each week, according to the schedule on GauchoSpace. I expect all submitted work to be new - i.e. not stories that you wrote in the eighth grade about your pet turtle. Obviously, I have no way of knowing whether the writing you turn in is new, but I assume you're taking the class to grow as writers, and the only way to do that is to write, write, write. On the last day of the session you'll assemble and turn in a portfolio of all your work, polished and revised: a substantial body of creative writing that totals at least twelve (12) pages (but don't feel constrained by that number; if you write two hundred pages, I'll read 'em). Your final course grade will be based approximately equally on: (1) the Autobiographical Narrative; (2) a portfolio of creative nonfiction written subsequent to the Autobiographical Narrative (an admittedly subjective grade that assesses both quality and sheer volume); (3) class participation - that is, on how enthusiastically and energetically you participate in reading discussions and peer critiquing sessions: at the end of each class session I note that day's participation grade for every student in my little green book, and I average out all those grades at the end of the quarter; (4) journal responses that demonstrate engagement with the assigned texts and are turned in on time; and (5) a final exam written on the last day of class.

Peer Review Draft Review Critique

Once we get into the peer-critique portion of the program, each student writer will have the delightful opportunity to read some of her/his work to the class and receive friendly and constructive critique from class members and from myself. Please refer to the GauchoSpace section entitled 'Workshop Critique Session Instructions" for a more detailed discussion of this process. If you'd like me to give you some feedback on a manuscript draft before the day of your presentation, please schedule an appointment at least two days before your reading day, to give yourself time to revise. Classmates responding to presented material should strive to give honest feedback -- everyone can benefit from constructive criticism -- but avoid brutalizing particular pieces, since we're all baring our vulnerable souls when we present imaginative creations for all to view and criticize. I'm committed to creating a supportive writing community here, one in which ego and petty competitiveness rear their heads as little as possible.