Fiction Techniques


Art may come from the heart, but craft comes from the brain. Taking a craft orientation, the class identifies and isolates essential technical elements of fiction writing—the merits of various points of view, the balance of narrative and dialogue, the smooth integration of flashback into narrative, the uses of long or short sentences, tenses—and then rehearses them until the writer develops facility and confidence in their use. We accomplish this by daily writing in an assigned diary. In addition to assigned writing, the writer must (or attempt to) produce 40 pages of work each semester. The class reads short fiction or excerpts from longer works that illustrate the uses of these numerous techniques and pays special attention to James Joyce’s Ulysses, a toolbox of a novel that employs most of the techniques of fiction developed since its 17th-century beginnings. Each writer must choose and read a novel of literary or social value written by a woman, such as Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Gone with the Wind. Conducted in a noncompetitive and cooperative way, the class brainstorms a plot and, with each writer taking a chapter, composes a class novel. Finally, the class explores the proper use of a writer’s secondary tool—the copy machine in the production of a simple publication, a ’zine—extending the process of fiction writing beyond the frustrating limbo of the finished manuscript. Fictional Techniques adopts a hammer-and-nails approach to writing prose fiction, going behind the curtain to where the scenery gets painted and the levers get yanked.