Course overview
Required reading
On writing
Course policies
One more thing
Course calendar

Printable syllabus


Writing Seminar:  Studies in Short Fiction

Brian Mooney
D42, T-F, 3:30 - 4:50




Short stories, like houses– or cars, for that matter– should be built to last. They should also be pleasing, if not beautiful, to look at, and everything inside them should work.                     -- Raymond Carver

In this class we will read some of the best short stories written in the last hundred years or so, and we’ll discuss them as if we’re mechanics taking engines apart and putting them back together again. The classroom will be our garage, and we’ll get oil and grease under our nails as we figure out what makes each story work, paying particular attention to style, tone, angle of vision (point of view), and all the other tricks of the writer’s trade. As you read and think about these stories, you should always be asking yourself, “How can this story make my own writing better?” You must be vigilant about pursuing the answer to this question; a serious writer has no compunction about poking around under the hood to see how everything works. Throughout the semester I will help you get under the hood of the assigned stories and your own essays, as will your classmates.

Remember: writing is like any other discipline, and you improve through lots of practice, experimentation, and reflection. In this class, not only will you be writing and reading every day, you will be thinking about your writing and reading everyday. And that’s a fine thing indeed.

In particular, this class should help you:

  • compose essays in which you not only narrate and explain but also interpret and analyze
  • move effectively between generalizations and particulars
  • develop your ideas by vigorously questioning them and considering other perspectives
  • understand and manage your own composing process (drafting, revising, copy-editing)
  • revise drafts with attention to development, organization, style, voice, audience, and mechanic
  • be a constructive reader or your own work and the work of others.

Required Texts

  • The Best American Short Stories 2006 (ed. Ann Patchett)
  • The Story and Its Writer, Ann Charters
  • Studies in Short Fiction Reading Packet (this is not in the bookstore; you get it from me in class)
  • Dubliners, James Joyce
  • Snows of Kilimanjaro, Ernest Hemingway
  • Assorted Handouts and Forum Commentaries
  • A Pocket Style Manual, Diane Hacker
  • Booth, Colomb, Williams, The Craft of Research (Booth)
  • Handling Sources: a Guide for Marlboro College Writers (online at
  • It’s not a text, but I’d also like you to get a three-ring binder that you can use to organize your work throughout the semester (see Portfolio Review).
  • You should also own Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.


You will write four papers in this class:

  • One 3-4 page personal essay
  • One 5-6 page close reading of a single text
  • One 5-6 page critical comparison of at least two texts (“texts” for this assignment can mean “film” as well as “book”)
  • One 8-10 page research paper

You will also create a portfolio of your writing throughout the semester, and you will re-visit your portfolio at the end of the semester when we do a portfolio review, which will be approximately six pages long.

You will also write ten commentaries (more on that in a moment), as well as complete some short in-class and take home assignments.

About the Papers

Sure, sometimes it’s possible to crank a paper out the night before it’s due. You know that; I know that. However, that sort of last-minute sprint towards the due-date is not what this class is about. The central aim of this course is to teach you a longer and more thoughtful writing process that invites more development and evolution in your thinking. You will be required to write at least two drafts of each essay. This process lets you explore and take risks early in your writing process, and it allows you to be more focused later on. Also, as you work from one draft to the next, you’ll have the chance to assess your goals for yourself, and you’ll also receive substantial feedback from your classmates (peer review) and from me.

With that in mind, all final drafts must also include all your preliminary work: notes, drafts, peer responses, teacher responses… everything. If you don’t include these things, I can’t get a sense of the progression of your thinking, and I’ll have to give you a zero. And you don’t want a zero.

Two of the terms I use in class might be different than what you are used to. Here’s a little glossary:

Mid-process draft

This is NOT a rough draft. A rough draft is what you write when you sit down with your pen and doodle and brainstorm and outline and freewrite and do whatever it takes to get your thoughts and ideas onto the page. A mid-process draft is what comes a draft or two after a rough draft. A mid-process is typed. It’s more than two or three pages. It is reasonably well organized. Your essay should be taking shape by your mid-process. It’s not final yet, but it’s about halfway there. Again: it is NOT a rough draft.

Process letter

With each draft you hand in, you will write a process letter. Your process letter is a letter from you to me in which you discuss where you are with your essay, what you feel good about, what you don’t feel so good about, what you intend to do as you revise, and so forth. Writing such a letter (or memo, if you prefer to think of it that way) may be different than what you’ve done in the past. I realize this. But get in the habit of handing in the process letter with every draft. I will not read your essay if it doesn’t have a process letter.

And now a few words about how to format your papers:

  • Assume that everything you hand in (with the exception of work done during class time) should be typed, stapled in the upper left-hand corner, and in a readable 12-point font. Times, Times Roman, or Courier New are good fonts to use. Don’t use a quirky, funky, isn’t-this-kooky kind of font. That stuff drives me up the wall.
  • Set your margins at 1” on all sides. In Word, you make this change under Page Set Up. If you use extra-wide margins I will assume two things about you: you have it in for trees, and you’re padding your paper.
  • Double-space text, but single-space footnotes and bibliographies. I’m going to repeat that: double-space your text. I write notes in between the lines, and I can’t do that if you single space. Also, single space text is very difficult to read.
  • No, your bibliography page does not count as a page for the length requirement. And not that you ever would, but don’t even think of triple-spacing your papers.
  • When you print anything that I’m going to read, print single-sided. The library default setting is to print double-sided. That is a good thing, because it saves paper. However, I will often write notes on the backside of pages, and I can’t do that if you print double-sided.
  • Put your name and a page number on each page. These go in the upper right-hand corner header. In Word, the header is under View.
  • Use a title page. Make sure this has the paper title, the date, the name of the class, and your name. And no, this page doesn’t count towards the length of the paper.

Consult either the Chicago or MLA sections in Hacker for what your paper should look like.

About Your Portfolio

Do not throw any of your work away! At the end of the semester you will do a portfolio review in which you perform a self-analysis of your work throughout the semester.

Your portfolio includes all the major essays, the drafts and preliminary work that accompany the final draft, the additional in-class and out-of-class writing exercises you do (including commentaries), the written feedback from me, and the written feedback you give to your classmates.

I repeat: do not throw your work away.

About the Commentaries

Commentaries are brief (200-300 words), semi-formal writings in which you respond to the readings. Commentaries are this length because I want you to get to your point quickly. To give you an idea of how long 300 words is, this section is exactly 324 words.

Commentaries will be posted to a class forum on Nook. Go to and click on Studies in Short Fiction - Spring 2007, which is under the Restricted Forums section.

You will notice that the schedule has 16 due dates for commentaries, but I am only looking for 12. Here’s how it works: the deadlines for commentaries through Monday, April 3 (Flannery O’Connor) are firm. That means that everyone must do them, and that makes a total of 9 commentaries. After that, you can pick your due date for your remaining 3 commentaries.

Your commentaries can take several forms. Sometimes I will assign a commentary topic, but often the commentaries are open. You might be moved to analyze some element of craft within a story, or you might want to write a parody in which you imitate the voice and style of a particular writer. You might want to compare the themes of two or three different stories, or you might want to respond to a previous commentary… You have lots of choices available to you. The important thing to keep in mind when writing commentaries is to actually comment on something.

You are responsible for posting your commentary and reading all the other commentaries. You will do so before we have class. See the schedule for due dates.

Did you catch that? Commentaries are due BEFORE we have class. Not after. Before. They are due before class because your commentaries will provide a foundation for class discussions, and they are a way of continuing our discussions outside of class. They can also serve as catalysts to longer papers.

Did I mention that the commentaries are due before class?

About the Presentations

In February you will sign up to give presentations on the stories in the course reading packet. The packet is loosely divided by theme. It really goes without saying that you should choose a theme that interests you, but there, I said it anyway. Your job as a presenter is to read the stories closely and then decide which story or stories you would like to assign to the class. You will study this story (or stories) and know the material better than anyone else. That means doing a little research. You will then lead a class discussion about these stories. In other words, you will teach the class. This doesn’t mean you have to prepare a lecture; your presentation may take the form of a game, a debate, or a discussion… The rest of the class will have read the same stories, but you will be the expert. I will, of course, be available should you need help.


Although I will not require it, I strongly suggest you maintain a journal and write at least five pages a week. Journals are catch-alls for your creative process. Thoughts and ideas can be fleeting, and your journal is a place to save these precious things before they vanish. It’s a place for you to think about your own work, to reflect on your reading, and to record ideas for essays, stories and poems before they disappear. Use your journal to jot down cool words and their definitions, or to save bits of dialogue you’ve overheard in the dining hall. Make lists of questions you have so that you can actively participate in class. Dreams, fantasies, descriptions that suddenly come to you… put them in your journal. Keeping a journal helps you reside in a creative place, and it is very difficult to write creatively if your mind isn’t in that place. When an idea comes to you, you must be ready for it.

When Things Are Due

You should be prepared to hand things in at the beginning of class, no exceptions. If you don’t have a preliminary draft when it’s due, you will be unable to fully contribute to our peer review sessions, and will therefore be considered absent (see the Attendance and Absence Policy section for what this means). If you don’t have a final draft when it’s due, it’s a zero. And like I said before, you don’t want a zero.

Commentaries are due before class. I think I mentioned that already.



Attendance and Absence Policy

It’s a simple policy: show up on time.

You get two absences without seeing your grade change, though I will most likely ask you why you are having difficulty making it to class. Save those absences for when you’re sick, or if you have an emergency. Except for exceptional circumstances, being sick does not entitle you to an extra absence. Being absent does not change due dates, and it is your responsibility to make sure you turn in work on time.

For each absence beyond the allowed two, you will lose a half-grade for the semester. That means that a B turns into a B- if you miss three classes. Miss four, and a B turns into a C+, and so on.

You will be considered absent if you come to class without the work that is due, if you are so late that you cannot actively participate in the work of the day, or if you miss a conference. Chronic lateness will also affect your final grade.


The Bathroom Policy

Okay, I really shouldn’t have to have a section in the syllabus called “Bathroom Policy.” To be honest, I feel kind of silly putting such a thing in here. But here’s the deal: go to the bathroom BEFORE class, or hold it until after class. It is disruptive and disrespectful to wander in and out of class during a discussion. If you really do need to leave class, I will not say no, but these moments shouldn’t happen very often.


Conferences and Office Hours

I will hold short (20 minutes or so) conferences every 3 weeks or so to discuss your current work and your progress through the course. These conferences are important because they enable us to talk one-on-one about your work. Sometimes we’ll have longer conferences with two or three people at a time. I’ll send around a sign up sheet a couple of classes before the conferences so you can sign up at a time that is convenient for you. Failure to attend a conference equals an absence. Since conferences may occur outside of regularly scheduled class time, I will probably cancel a class or two.

My office hours are Thursdays, 10-11, and Fridays, 2-3. This is time set aside for you, and I encourage you to use it.

Grading Happens

You are guaranteed a B for the final grade if you meet the following conditions:

  • Follow the guidelines stated herein regarding attendance, due dates, and assignments.
  • Be a good citizen of the class. Work cooperatively in your peer review groups. Share your writing. Listen supportively to the writing of others and provide full and thoughtful responses.
  • Complete all the commentaries and participate in the forum by responding to others’ commentaries.
  • Hand in papers that demonstrate your effort, involvement, and thinking. Papers should be revised and free of errors. Here are the specifics:
  • Effort. Your papers must show solid effort. This doesn’t mean you have to suffer. What effort means is solid, diligent practice at writing.
  • Involvement. Find a way to involve yourself or put yourself into your papers. This means concentrating, finding a topic that interests you and committing yourself to the task of communicating this interest to your audience.
  • Thinking. Your papers need to show a process of trying to figure something out, trying to think something through and learn about it. Let’s see those mental gears turning.
  • Revise. Do more than just correct commas and fix spelling. Use the drafting process to challenge your thinking, complicate or substantively clarify your ideas or relate your ideas to new things.
  • Error Free. When the assignment is for a final draft, it must be well copy-edited–that is, free from mistakes in spelling and grammar. It’s fine to get help in copyediting (just about every published writer has an editor). Use Hacker, use friends, use the Writer’s Block.

To get a higher grade (A/B or A) you must fulfill the B contract and demonstrate throughout the semester that you are actively using what you are learning, that you are putting time and energy into your writing, that you are giving full and thoughtful responses to your peers’ work, that you are participating in class discussions, and that you are using your conference time with me so as to best benefit you.

In order to give you a yardstick by which to measure your work throughout the semester, I will mark assignments with a Ö, Ö-, Ö+, or 0, based on three criteria. I will then average these scores and give an overall letter grade. The criteria are content, revision, and mechanics.


Here I’m looking for a few things. I want to see how interested you are in your topic (because if you aren’t interested, how can you expect your readers to be?), and I want to see how thoroughly you examine your topic. I’m interested in seeing what kinds of risks you’re taking: how difficult and challenging a task have you undertaken? Put simply, I want to see if you are genuinely interested in your topic, or if you are desperately trying to crank out a few pages so you can call it a day.


When you finish your first draft, do not sit on your hands until the final draft is due– continue working on your ideas. Look at your essay again (that’s why it’s called re- vision). What else can you do to make this an even better paper? Your peers and I can help you with this.


You must be serious about the work you hand in. What this means is what John Gardner in The Art Of Fiction calls, “grammar and syntax, punctuation, diction, sentence variety, paragraph structure, and so forth.” This is what I’m looking for in terms of mechanics:


Do you have a clear focus/purpose (even if your purpose is to explore your own confusion)? Is the essay coherent? Does it move the reader smoothly to the conclusion/focus/purpose?


Appropriate? Consistent? Interesting? By “voice” I mean that there is an actual person revealed in the words, and not just an anonymous typist.


Did you spell everything correctly? Is documentation cited correctly? Are your pronoun references clear? Is faulty grammar getting in the way of your meaning? You get the drift.

A "check-" in any of these categories means that:

  • You have not written enough to explore your thinking (remember, you must submit 20 pages in order to pass the writing requirement).
  • You are having difficulty conveying your thinking in a clear, concise manner.
  • You did not turn in all previous drafts, notes, peer comments, etc. with mid-process and final drafts.
  • You did not incorporate worthy peer review comments.
  • Your final draft has not been copy-edited well.
  • Your drafts and peer responses don’t show that you put considerable effort and thinking into them.
  • I asked you to use the tutors at the Writer’s Block and you did not do so.

A "check" means that:

  • You have fulfilled all the formal requirements (i.e. turned in all drafts, notes, etc.)
  • Your thinking and writing is, for the most part, clear.
  • You’ve incorporated peer review comments.
  • You have a minimum of copy editing mistakes (2 or 3 per page).

A "check+" means that:

  • You have fulfilled all formal requirements and effectively used peer feedback to improve your final draft.
  • You have striven to thoroughly examine your topic.
  • You have a nearly error-free paper.
  • You have shown excellent effort at pushing for your best writing and thinking.
If assignments are not turned in on time I will record them as a zero. If at any point it appears that your ship is sinking, there will be a formal review of your progress, and I will encourage you to drop the class and take it when you are better prepared.


Reading through several pages of policies about grading, attendance, and homework can make any course sound daunting. But don’t be intimidated. Keep this fact in mind: we’re gonna read some excellent stories. Writing about them will be interesting and provocative, and we’ll have some laughs as we go.

And remember that there are many resources available to you besides your classmates and me. There is a tutoring lab on campus, and on the Web there are excellent sources of information at

(this is all subject to change)


Commentary Due

Tuesday, Jan. 23


  • Introduction to class.

  • First paper assigned.

  • First reading assigned.

Friday, Jan. 26


  • Due: mid-process of essay one.

  • Workshop and peer review of draft.

  • Heath Introduction and How to Read and Write About Fiction.

  • Review syllabus.

  • Sign up for quick conferences

Monday, Jan 29


  • Quick Conferences

Tuesday, Jan. 30

Monday, 8:00 PM

  • Due: Final draft of essay one.

  • Best American 2006, (forward, introduction, 1-104, 204-220, 237-251, author’s notes).

Friday, Feb. 2

Thursday, 8:00 PM

  • Babel: My First Goose, Salt (handouts)

  • Hemingway: On the Quay at Smyrna, A Way You’ll Never Be, Snows of Kilimanjaro, Big Two-Hearted River, (handouts)

  • O’Connor: Everything that Rises Must Converge (Charters)

Tuesday, Feb 6

Monday, 8:00 PM

  • Best American 2006, (105-203, 221-236, 252-358).

Friday, Feb. 9

Thursday, 8:00 PM

  • Chekhov: Misery, The Kiss, The Lady with the Dog

Tuesday, Feb. 13


  • Booth (pages TBD)

  • Hacker (Clarity and Chicago sections)

  • Writing Workshop

  • Second paper assigned.

Friday, Feb. 16

Thursday, 8:00 PM

  • Joyce: Dubliners up to The Dead

  • Sign up for presentations

Tuesday, Feb. 20

Monday, 8:00 PM

  • Joyce: The Dead

Friday, Feb. 23


  • Due: mid-process of essay two.

  • Workshop: peer review.

Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 26-27


  • No Class: Conferences. Bring all drafts, all peer review

Friday, March 2

Thursday, 8:00 PM

  • Stein: Miss Furr and Miss Skeene, handouts

  • Due: Final draft of essay two.

  • Third paper assigned

Tuesday, March 6

Monday, 8:00 PM

  • Hemingway: Snows of Kilimanjaro (the whole book), Big Two-Hearted River (again), Hills Like White Elephants, The Cat in the Rain

Friday, March 9


  • Due: mid-process of essay three.

  • Continue discussion.

  • Over the weekend: peer review.

Monday and Tuesday, March 12-13


  • Conferences. Bring all drafts, all peer review

Tuesday, March 12


  • Presentations

Friday, March 16


  • Due Final draft of essay three.

  • Presentations

  • Fourth paper assigned.

March 20-30


SPRING BREAK: You MUST read over break. Prepare for your presentation. Read O’Connor. Zero in on what you want to do for your final paper. Have fun over break, but don’t completely lose your focus. Everything speeds up after break, and it’s easy to fall behind in the home stretch.

Tuesday, April 3

Monday, 8:00 PM

  • O’Connor

Friday, April 6

Thursday, 8:00 PM

  • Presentations

Tuesday, April 10

Monday, 8:00 PM

  • Due: Research Prospectus

  • Discussion of research projects.

  • Presentations

Friday, April 13

Thursday, 8:00 PM

  • Presentations

Tuesday, April 17

Monday, 8:00 PM

  • Due: mid-process of essay four.

  • Workshop and peer review

  • Presentations

Thursday and Friday, April 19-20


  • No Class: Conferences. Bring all drafts, all peer review.

Tuesday, April 24

Monday, 8:00 PM

  • Presentations

Friday, April 27

Thursday, 8:00 PM

  • Presentations

Tuesday, May 1

Monday, 8:00 PM

  • Due: Final draft of essay four.

  • Presentations

Friday, May 4


  • Portfolio Review

Tuesday, May 8


Due: Portfolio Review




Home | About | Admissions | Academics | Campus Life | News | Library | Search