The short story is a ubiquitous and beloved literary form. Long a staple of magazines, particularly in the United States during the twentieth century, it is also the frequent subject of workshops in creative writing. We often hear of “the workshop story,” which is to say, a style of writing that has developed in the context of academic attempts to perfect what was originally a popular, “pulpy” mode. When we discuss short stories, particularly in the classroom, we are apt to consider questions about characterization, pacing, arc, and themes. While such terms can be useful, this course will not treat them as absolutely indispensable; rather, we will be exploring our preconceptions about what makes a given short story “work,” even as we will examine the recent history of the form and, most importantly, develop our own stories.
We will read an array of recently published short stories, drawn from anthologies and collections, as well as a number of theoretical and critical texts not normally considered in the context of short-story workshops. We will investigate narrative and, more specifically, what makes a given piece of writing narrative (as opposed to non-narrative). How do we recognize and construct narratives? Are they always, or ever, perfectly linear? Does narrative emerge from a specific temporal form or style? Could it emerge from some other source or context (a person speaking, for example)? If narrative is not primarily or unconditionally linear in nature, how or where is it? In addition to questions related to narrative, we will be exploring affect, economies and politics of description, theories of mind, and even a bit of game theory—as these relate to the short form. Why, after all, have we constantly been told to “show not tell” in our prose?
Participants should be prepared to write and revise a new story during the class. We will learn how to line edit our work and how to engage in thoughtful and productive critique through a series of exercises and workshops. There will also be time for in-depth discussion of the readings and exploration of ways in which we might apply them to our own work. Participants will conclude the course with a polished draft of a story and a better understanding of contemporary trends in fiction, as well as a critical toolkit for pursuing and unpacking these trends and more, going forward.