David M. Fitzpatrick     Email: indy {at} fitz42 {dot} net

WEEK #1: Introduction to the Class

Note: Hyperlinked terms let you click through to the site's Writer's Glossary.


Course summary. I summarized what to expect through the six-week class.

Introductions. We introduced ourselves. Students talked about their writing histories and what they hoped to get from this class. We will all be getting to know each other very well over the next two months as we read and critique each other's work.

Short stories: Short stories are just like novels, but with fewer words. To write any fiction, you need three things:

  • Mechanical knowledge of English usage - without this, your writing will be a mess that no editor will want to wade through
  • Imagination - without this, your stories will be bland and unoriginal, and won’t hold readers’ attentions
  • Love of writing – without this, apathy shows; you won’t care, and neither will your readers

I noted that there are many ways to write stories, but the way I teach is similar to writing novels.

Project stories: We discussed that, starting next week, we will begin writing project stories intended for submission to a magazine. I also addressed the student anthologies I previously did with this class, and that notable students may be invited into such anthologies in the future.

Writing mechanics. While this class is about creative writing and not heavy on English grammar and usage, I did touch on four basic problems that we will touch on throughout the course in hopes of streamlining everyone's writing:

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Verb tense

Manuscript format. I briefly mentioned manuscript format. We will be getting into this in more detail later.


We did three in-class writing assignments designed to get you writing, have you write on a moment's notice, and force you into frameworks and boundaries. The exercises were:

Word lists. Students chose one word from each of eight lists of words and then had 20 minutes to write stories. Students then read their stories aloud to the class. The focus of the exercise was to get students writing right away, and to write within a framework to some degree.

Two-Word Titles. Students chose two words, one adjective and one noun, to serve as the title for a story. Students then abruptly traded adjectives with other students, and the instructor, to create new titles. Students then had 10 minutes to write a brief synopsis for a proposed story. The story had to echo the title the student had, and also had to echo the title of the anthology, represented by the instructor's two-word title. The focus of the exercise was similar to the first exercise, but also to introduce the concept of publication guidelines by forcing students into writing to a theme (that being their two-word titles).

Two-Character Scene Descriptions. Students visualized a room of their choice and visualized two very different characters standing in the room. Students then had 10 minutes to write a description of the room from the perspective of Character #1. Then they immediately had to shift gears and write for 5 minutes from the perspective of Character #2. Then they had five more minutes to write a very different description of the room from the perspective of Character #2. The focus of the exercise is to write descriptive scenes and to write from different character perspectives.

We then discussed the five basics parts of a story (as I teach it):

  • Protagonist
  • Antagonist
  • Plot
  • Resolution - the resolution of the plot, which should happen because of the protagonist's actions; he should not be a bystander
  • Change - in the protagonist, on some fundamental level

We discussed these five things at length in class. It is vital that everyone know these. Virtually every novel, movie, and TV show follows this pattern. There are many arguments as to the best form of short story, but this is how I instruct because it's the way a good story appeals to most people.

Next, students wrote down two fiction genres, the first being their favorite fiction genre to read or write, and the second being their least favorite to read or write. We discussed why students disliked particular genres so much, and discussed how certain genres are often identified by people as far narrower than they actually are.


Then the take-home assignment was announced. The assignment is a story from 500-1,000 words. The story must include the five basic parts of the story.

Students were reminded to bring their work on flash drives. Students were also reminded that regardless of the word processors they use at home, BE VERY SURE to save work as a Word .doc or .rtf format. The school computers will not likely load things like Microsoft Works documents, or Pages documents from Apple computers.

IF IN DOUBT, email me your stories the day before class, and bring printed copies of your stories with you to class during Week #2!