The Enemies of Fiction: A Fiction-Writing Workshop


The late novelist John Hawkes said that he began writing fiction with the assumption that its “true enemies” were “plot, character, setting, and theme.” This same quartet seems to dominate the conversation in writing workshops. We like to “vote” on the plot’s efficiency, the theme’s effectiveness, the characters’ foibles. If we are not careful, our discussions can descend to the level of a corporate focus group, a highly effective forum for marketing laundry detergents but maybe not for making art. This yearlong workshop will attempt, in its own small way, to see the fiction of both published masters and participating students through a wider lens. In the first semester, we will read across a wide range of styles and aesthetics and will write in response to weekly prompts designed to encourage play. Issues of language, structure, and vision will be honored right alongside Hawkes’ imagined enemies. In the second semester—provided all goes well—each student will workshop two stories. Our reading list will include several short and unorthodox novels (possibilities include Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, Concrete by Thomas Bernhard, and Florida by Christine Schutt) and weekly short stories by writers both well-known and ignored. These writers may or may not include Robert Coover, Dawn Raffel, Joy Williams, Stanley Elkin, Julio Cortazar, Shelley Jackson, Donald Barthelme, Harlan Ellison, and Kelly Link. We will also regularly read essays that challenge us to think about what art is and why anyone would want to make it. I am looking for generous students interested in fiction-as-play. The model here is counterpoint, so it may help if you have already taken a fiction-writing workshop, though this course is offered (generously) to writers of all backgrounds.