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CW901 Fiction Workshop 2

Convenor and Tutor: Professor David Vann
The Warwick Fiction Workshop

This course involves the writing and study of short fiction. A short story is a compressed, cohesive, and paranoid world. We’ll analyze the rules of that paranoia and also consider departures and surprises. We’ll work toward a consistent, flexible, and detailed vocabulary of craft, a language for understanding and discussing characterization, dramatic arc, subtext, theme, signs and symbols, point of view, style, tone, setting and imagery, etc. For raw material, we’ll read a range of short stories and a few novel excerpts, a personal essay and a poem. We’ll also workshop your own work.

The writing requirements, totaling 10,000 words, are two new short stories (both of which will be workshopped) and a critical essay of 2,000 words. You must write new work (and no ‘multiple submission’ or ‘group work’ allowed).

I’ll email the published readings to you as PDFs or Word files. I’ve kept the number of pages fairly light, and I’ll expect you to read each of the selections twice, the first time for its effects and the second to look more carefully at how it was made.

Finally, you’ll be reading the works in progress of your peers, and I’ll expect you to comment on these works with respect, hard intelligence, and thoroughness. You’ll need to read each piece up for workshop at least twice and offer a written comment as well as participate in the workshop discussion.

I don’t grade your pieces when you put them up for workshop but consider instead your final portfolio, which includes your two short stories and your critical essay. Here’s how the grade will be weighted:

Short stories: 75% together with

Your critical essay: 25%

Your two short stories are due as you come up for workshop (handed out to the class a week ahead of time), and your final portfolio, which includes your critical essay and your two stories, revised or unrevised (your choice), is due on one of the mysterious dates of your choosing provided by the system here (something like your choice of Feb, May, or never). Your final portfolio should not include new stories that I haven’t previously seen.

The module will be a good one only if all of us attend, arrive on time, and are well-prepared. Missing class really is unfair, also, to the students whose work is being discussed that day. So to put it more bluntly, your attendance at every class is required, and lateness is not appreciated, because it distracts. If there’s a problem, I reserve the right to drop you. If you have a real excuse to miss class, I need notification by email at If you miss a class, it’s your responsibility to contact another student in class to find out what you missed and to make sure you’re prepared for the next class.

Workshop Timetable

In our first two meetings, we’ll discuss published texts.

From our third meeting on, we’ll discuss one or two published texts per class and workshop your stories – three students per week. These will ideally be 10-15 pages (12 point double spaced). You’ll hand out copies of your story for workshopping one week before your workshop. You each have two workshops.

One more note on the readings. You’ll notice that most of these aren’t very recent. These are works that shaped my understanding of fiction, a kind of personal anthology, which is something you’ll need to find for yourself. So I’d like each of you to give a 5 minute presentation (and please don’t turn this into 10 minutes) on two or three authors you’re reading, explaining what it is you aspire to in their work and what their work has taught you about fiction. Given how literary influence works, you could possibly consider this the most important assignment in the course, though it’ll be ungraded.


Week One (Style and Description)

Proulx, from The Shipping News

McCarthy, from Blood Meridian

Robinson, from Housekeeping

Week Two (The Protagonist)

O’Connor, “Everything That Rises Must Converge”

Faulkner, “Barn Burning”

Nabokov, “Signs and Symbols”

Week Three (Dialogue and Structure)

Paley, “Wants”

Carver, “They’re Not Your Husband”

begin workshopping (three student stories each week)

Week Four (More Dramatic Structure)

Chekhov, “Lady with the Pet Dog”

Week Five (Voice)

Carver, “Cathedral”

Kincaid, “Girl”

Week Six (Breaking the Rules)

Diaz, “Drown”

Wolff, “The Liar”

Week Seven (Drawing from other genres)

Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son”

Bishop, “At the Fishhouses”

Week Eight (Novella)

Porter, “Noon Wine”

Week Nine (Magical Realism and Symbol)

Garcia Marquez, “Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”

Ozick, “The Shawl”

Week Ten (readings unassigned for now, to give me some flexibility)

Secondary reading list (mostly the full books that we’re reading excerpts from in the module)

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories

Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life

Annie Proulx, The Shipping News

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Complete Stories (esp the Erendira collection)

Elizabeth Bishop, The Complete Poems

Junot Diaz, Drown

Jamaica Kincaid, “On Seeing England for the First Time” (great for tone)

Raymond Carver, Where I’m Calling From

Grace Paley, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute