First-Year Studies: The Stories We Build


How do we, as writers, take our lived experiences and transform them into fiction? The novelist Janet Frame observed that “putting it all down as it happens is not fiction; there must be the journey by oneself, the changing of the light focused upon the material, the willingness of the author herself to live within that light…the real shape, the first shape, is always a circle formed, only to be broken and reformed, again and again.” Through exercises and longer writing assignments, we will begin the journey into this softly lit territory of subject matter. We will explore questions of craft: What makes a story a story? How does one go from word to sentence to paragraph to scene? Does there always need to be transformation? What is the role of setting? And how does structure help create voice? The workshop will be divided between the discussion of student stories and the discussion of published authors—among those we’ll read are Chekov, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Alice Walker, George Saunders, and Edward P. Jones. We will also read from other genres, including essays on writing from writers such as Chabon, Russo, Freed, and Hemley. Students are required to do additional conference reading, as well as to attend at least two campus readings per semester. From the start, we will work on developing our constructive criticism that (when developed in a supportive atmosphere) should help us better understand the workings of the stories we build.