Writing Children’s Stories: WA 07309: Spring 2020.
Professor: Edward Asher Briant.
Class Meeting Time:
Mondays and Wednesdays: Robinson—12:30PM-1:45PM
Office hours: Mondays: 2PM-3PM, or by appointment: Victoria 510
Dear Students, Welcome to Writing Children’s Stories. I’m very excited to meet you all, and I have some great classes planned for you with plenty of fun books. Of course they’re FUN—they’re children’s books, they have to be fun.
There are no actual assigned books, so you actually don’t have to buy any books for this class. Instead I will project (hopefully) selected excerpts from relevant books, and we will take turns reading them aloud in class.
You are encouraged to buy the books that we’ll be using—-but it’s not essential.
For the most part we will read in class, and write for homework.
All of the course materials will be available online.
The lecture components will mostly be on my website:
Everything else will be available on blackboard.
So if you miss a class, or if you just want to have another look at what was taught in a particular class session, then you can access it all online outside of class time.
Perhaps you were thinking about your own Young Adult novel while the class was about picture books. I’ve done it. All writers do it from time to time. We’re writers. We daydream our stories. Anyway, everything should be available for you to look at again after the class.
This course is a creative writing workshop that explores the field of writing for children. Class sessions are principally devoted to discussion of the forms of the children’s book field, readings, writing exercises and workshops in each area; young adult fiction, middle-grade fiction, and picture book texts.
Students explore the techniques and strategies of writing and producing books for children and learn to find voices and forms for their writing, and express their ideas in styles appropriate for children’s interests at different ages.
Elements of the field and craft such as voice, character, plot, and style will be addressed via lectures, assigned readings and in-class assignments, and as they pertain to workshop material submitted. Students have the opportunity to write in three areas of the children’s field; picture book, middle-grade and young adult fiction.
- To learn about the field of children’s literature.
- To learn to differentiate between the various formats and genres of children’s literature.
- To learn story-telling techniques.
- To learn to develop characters that are relatable and appropriate for young readers.
- To learn to write stories containing themes and subject matter that engage the interest of children.
- To develop strategies that will generate imaginative ideas.
- To put creative ideas in practice through the writing of fiction for a particular audience.
- To learn how to read and critique material and discuss matters articulately and constructively.
- To learn the essentials of fictional narrative, as follows:
- To learn how to structure plot.
- To learn the difference between summary and scene.
- To learn to write in scene as opposed to in summary.
- To learn commonly-used points of view.
- To establish point-of-view.
- To write in a consistent point of view.
- To learn to write and correctly format dialogue in a manner that develops plot and character.
- To structure active sentences and paragraphs.
- To write in a consistent tense.
- Actively participate in class discussions and workshops.
- Complete all graded assignments.
- To complete all writing prompts and warm-up exercises.
|Wed Jan 22||Introductions|
|Mon Jan 27||Overview of the field of Writing For Children and Young Adults. Basics of Story.|
|Wed Jan 29||Fundamentals of Fictional Narrative: Protagonist versus Antagonist; Scene versus Summary. Point of View.|
|Mon Feb 3||Fundamentals of Fictional Narrative: Dialogue and Action.|
|Wed Feb 5||Fundamentals of Fictional Narrative: Characters and Setting.|
|Mon Feb 10||Intro to Young Adult.|
|Wed Feb 12||Young Adult.|
|Mon Feb 17||Young Adult. Rules and conventions. Plot and Character.|
|Wed Feb 19||Young Adult. Voice and Diversity.|
|Mon Feb 24||Young Adult. Grounding the Reader. Balancing the Narrative Elements.|
|Wed Feb 26||Young Adult Workshops.|
|Mon Mar 2||Young Adult Workshops.|
|Wed Mar 4||Overview of the field of Writing For Middle Grade.|
|Mon Mar 9||Review of the fundamentals of Narrative as they relate to Middle Grade Stories.|
|Wed Mar 11||Middle Grade: Novels in poetry.|
|Mon Mar 23||Middle Grade: Book Discussion.|
|Wed Mar 25||Middle Grade Workshops.|
|Mon Mar 30||Middle Grade Workshops.|
|Wed Apr 1||Middle Grade Civil Rights Era Presentations.|
|Mon Apr 6||Overview of Picture Books, Concept and Narrative.|
|Wed Apr 8||Narrative Picture Books: Poetry and Prose.|
|Mon Apr 13||Narrative Picture Books.|
|Wed Apr 15||Narrative Picture Book Workshops|
|Mon Apr 20||Narrative Picture Book Workshops|
|Wed Apr 22||Concept Picture Books.|
|Mon Apr 27||Concept Picture Books.|
|Wed Apr 29||Concept Picture Book Workshops.|
|Mon May 4||Portfolios due.|
There are three major assignments in this class, and at least twelve minor assignments.
The grading breaks down as follows:
25% Young Adult novel opening.
25% Middle Grade novel opening.
25% Picture Book text (no illustrations are required).
10% Completion of all minor assignments.
15% Classroom contribution and behavior.
MAJOR ASSIGNMENTS IN DETAIL.
1: YOUNG ADULT NOVEL OPENING.
Open a story for 11-16 year age group using only dialogue, setting, and action. No exposition is allowed in the first page. The story must introduce a clear main character, and a distinctive setting. The text must show a good understanding of dialogue, a consistent use of tense, active writing, and a good sequence of cause and effect. Story must show an understanding of the interests and obsessions of the intended readership.
2: MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL OPENING.
Open a story for 7-12 year age group using only dialogue, setting, and action. No exposition is allowed in the first page. The story must introduce a clear main character, and a distinctive setting. The text must show a good understanding of dialogue, a consistent use of tense, active writing, and a good sequence of cause and effect.
Story must show an understanding of the interests and obsessions of the intended readership.
3: NARRATIVE OR CONCEPT PICTURE BOOK
Write the entire text of a picture book for 3-7 year age group. The story should feature a distinct main character who is faced with a problem that the character is able to solve without parental help. (750 words or less).
All written work will be ‘handed in’ on Blackboard.
If you hand in the assigned work on time you will probably receive an A.
Please note: this is not at all the same as saying, ‘Everyone gets an A.’
You really do have to complete all of the assigned work, and it really does have to be handed in on time. Other reasons you might not receive an A include the following––depending on whether they’re relevant to the assignment in question:
Poor dialogue formatting.
Poor use of point of view.
The Final Portfolio will consist of the three major assignments, and the three minor assignments you believe are your best work. You will combine these into a single file.
The Final Portfolio may be uploaded to Blackboard following the last class.
The Golden Rule for Writers: Always read your work before you hand it in. If possible read it aloud.
Perhaps the most important element of this class is the workshop.
Here are some goals of workshopping:
1: Improving your own work.
2: Helping to improve the work of your classmates.
3: Learning to read critically.
4: Learning to quickly detect the commonplace errors that are found in early drafts.
5: Most important of all: learning the worship process. All writers have to endure the workshop process. Learn how it works for you as both a reader and a writer.
These are the rules:
Prior to the workshop you will share your writing with your peer group, which will consist of between 4 and 6 students.
You will read all the stories from your group.
You will then write 3 comments on each of the stories.
You will bring these comments to class, share them during the workshop and, afterwards, give them to the author.
It is essential that you upload your story to your group on Blackboard before the deadline.
It is essential that you show up to the workshops.
If you miss the deadline, and/or if you miss the workshop, you will let down your classmates, and the workshop may not be able to take place.
Consequently, if you miss the deadline or the workshop you will receive an F grade for that section of the class.
CLASS PARTICIPATION RUBRIC
|Distinguished (A). 90 and above.||Proficient (B). 80-89||Apprentice (C). 70-79||Novice (D). Below 70|
|Student is engaged in class discussion and contributes college-level comments, respectfully, and without being prompted. Participation is not intrusive, but timely and
|Student is often engaged in class discussion and makes sporadic attempts to contribute comments, respectfully, and without being prompted. Participation is not intrusive, but timely and
|Student struggles to remain engaged in class activities, and contributes only when prompted.
Student appears to be attentive most of the time.
|Student is minimally engaged in class activities or discussion, and may be non-responsive even when called on to contribute. There are no respectful attempts to participate.|
|Attendance and Promptness.||Perfect attendance.
|Student’s absences are within the maximum limits set for the class.
There are no tardies.
|Student’s absences are within the maximum limits set for the class.
There are some tardies in addition to absences.
|Student’s absences are above the maximum limits set for the class.
Student may struggle with getting to class on time.
How a student behaves
|Student leads by consistent example of courteous behaviour to the instructor and to other students.||Student displays courteous and respectful behavior to instructor and other students.
Student may not always be in class
|Student’s one-time behavior includes the following: chatting or passing notes while discussion is in progress; doing work for another class; defensiveness; questioning what is being taught in a contemptuous manner; using a phone, tablet, or laptop.||Whether with prior knowledge or not, student acts in a manner that is perceived as being rude, offensive, or ignorant by anyone in the class. Student makes no attempt at apology, either publicly or privately,|
|Student consistently displays a positive attitude towards learning and sharing knowledge with others.||Student consistently displays a positive attitude towards learning and sharing knowledge with others.||Student is usually positive in attitude, but may on occasion have displayed a negative attitude. Student has attempted to make adjustments and display a healthier attitude.||Involvement in class activity seems to be an inconvenience for the student.|
ATTENDANCE, PUNCTUALITY and CLASSROOM RULES:
The Big One: Electronic Devices: Most in-class material will projected on the Classroom Screen. These screens are not always clear, so you may––if you wish––follow along on your own laptop or mobile device.
Remember, if you use an electronic device for anything other than class work you may be marked absent.
Audio Recording: You are welcome to make audio recordings of any of the class sessions.
Video Recording will only be permitted by express consent from the teacher.
Since our classes will be seminar style discussion, workshop sessions, or in-class exercises and readings, attendance is critical to your success in this course. Class members will be working to develop a learning community in which an atmosphere of trust and mutual support prevails. Each of you is important to this community. If you are absent you obviously miss part of the common experience, and the rest of the class misses your participation.
It is the sole responsibility of students to ensure that they are marked as ‘in attendance’ for each class. If you think you may have been marked ‘absent’ in error, please check with the professor at the end of the class in question.
You must provide documentation for all absences. If you are absent it is solely your responsibility to find out what you have missed.
Punctuality: If you show up to class more than 10 minutes late you may be marked as absent. If you leave more than 10 minutes early (without permission) you will be marked absent.
Cell phones and computers: Do not phone or text during class. If you use a phone, a tablet, or a computer during the class, you may be asked to leave the classroom or marked absent for that day.
Extended Illness or cause for legitimate absence:
In the case of extended illness, family emergency or other legitimate absences that may
keep the student from attending a class for more than six meetings, students will be required to withdraw from the class.
BE RESPECTFUL of yourself, your classmates and your teacher, and we will do the same to you. We are all here to learn and to improve, even though we may be at different levels of experience. Growth can come in all forms.
GUESTS: Please do not bring any outside persons in to the classroom while class is in session (exceptions may be made to this rule if permission is given beforehand). GRADING:
1. If at any time you have any questions or concerns about your grade or how you are doing in this class, please make an appointment with me and I’ll be happy to go over it with you.
2. The class is divided into 3 sections (picture book, middle grade, and young adult). You will receive a grade for each section, and a final grade.
3. Your writing will comprise 70% of your grade, and your classroom contribution will comprise 30%.
4. Quality and improvement over the semester are the main criteria on which grades are determined.
5. Be sure to carefully proof-read everything you turn in.
6. If you know you have problems with mechanics it is your responsibility to seek help. The Rowan Writing Center is available for you, so use them if need be.
8. I don’t expect your work to be perfect, part of this course is about taking risks and even making mistakes, but I DO expect you to work hard, to respect your work and that of your classmates’, and to show commitment to improving.
9. You do not have to agree with all suggestions and comments, but you are expected to listen to and consider them.
10. Extra revisions you do will count as extra credit toward your grade, but only if done in earnest.
STUDENT ACCOMMODATION STATEMENT:
Your academic success is important. If you have a documented disability that may have an impact on your work in this class, please contact me. Students must provide documentation of their disability to the Academic Success Center in order to receive official University services and accommodations. The Academic Success Center is located on the 3rd floor of Savitz Hall (856-256-4234)
PLAGIARISM AND “DOUBLE-DIPPING”
Plagiarism doesn’t just mean copying someone else’s story or paper or even just borrowing a few sentences. It can also mean quoting from elsewhere, but failing to cite an outside source. Plagiarism has no place in a classroom or in publishing! The entire point of this class is to give you the opportunity to discover your own voice and storytelling skills. You can shape old and familiar ideas into your own, but the key is to make it yours and not someone else’s. If in doubt, DON’T!
The Department of Writing Arts does not allow students to turn in the same writing assignment for more than one class. Students should not submit writing or a substantial part of a text written previously. Not doing so is considered academic dishonesty and, following the policies laid out by Rowan, may result in an “F” for that assignment and possibly and “F” for the class.
These are the official Rowan University Policies:
- Academic Integrity Policy
- Plagiarism Detection Services (If using TurnItIn via Blackboard–if using, there needs to be an “opt out” mechanism)
- Classroom Behavior Policy
- Mobile Electronic Device Policy (can be embedded in classroom behavior)
- Attendance Policy
Powerful creative writing emerges from honest self-awareness. My goal as a teacher of creative writing is to help students discover the stories that already exist within them. It has been claimed that anyone who has survived a normal childhood has more than enough material for a lifetime’s worth of writing. Unfortunately even the most honest writing is ineffective without mastering the basic elements of crafting a fictional narrative. If students can master the balance of summary versus scene; action versus setting; and dialogue versus interior thought, then they will grow as writers and creative thinkers. Aristotle noted that character is desire, and character is fear. Once students learn to create fictional characters with unfulfilled desires, and unconquered fears––and through fictional narrative to fulfill the desires and conquer the fears––then students can begin to make meaning of their own lives.
My teaching philosophy arises from these ideas:
Creative writing is taught through study of the basics of story that were first codified by Aristotle in his Poetics, and are still equally relevant today: Mimesis, Mythos, Perepeteia, Ethos, Harmatia, Anagnorsis, (Immitation of life, plot, dramatic reversal, character, hubris, discovery), and so forth. Through studying these basic guidelines students will be able to create narratives that flow elegantly, and brim with deep meaning.
Characters are not characters until they desire and fear. Plot emerges from the character’s desires and fears. Honest meanings, morals, and themes can only emerge naturally from the character and plot.
A story at its most fundamental level is not a specific form of text. A story is an abstract idea. This abstract idea can take many concrete shapes: a novella, a sestina, a graphic novel script, a screenplay, or even a combination of these forms. As a teacher I believe it to be essential to create a safe environment for experimentation without fear of embarrassment.
It is essential for creative writers to establish the habit of writing every day. Daily writing should follow a regular routine, in order that writing becomes an inseparable component of daily life.
In order to write, one must read, and in order to learn to write the student must learn to read analytically. An understanding of how creative works can only be fully understood through a regular practice of reading.
Few creative writers work in isolation, and so it is essential for the writing student to learn to hear criticism without being defensive, and to give honest feedback to others.
Just as the writer’s personal writing process requires a regular pattern, the teaching of writing also requires regular patterns. I use the following system: Reading; analysis; discussion; warm-up exercises to hone in on specific craft topics; writing; workshop; revision.
Effective workshopping is probably the most difficult element of the class. It is hard for the inexperienced writer to hear criticism of their own work, and perhaps even harder to give honest criticism on the work of others. In order to facilitate sincere workshopping I do the following:
1: There will always be a level of discomfort in sharing personal work, and the more personal the work, the more discomfort students feel. In order to minimize this discomfort I establish a secure atmosphere within the classroom in order to minimize the inevitable discomfort of sharing deeply personal work.
2: I impress on all the students the necessity of finding their own stories from within themselves. If the boldest writers are sharing honest writing, then the easier it becomes for the more hesitant writers to write and share.
3: I give writing prompts designed to teach craft-issues such as: character, voice, plot, and language.
4. During the process of learning the technical basics of story, creativity can seem to take second place, so I give assignments that emphasize passion and invention, without judgement.
The writing-to-workshopping process requires reading and discussion of published work. Within this pattern I make every effort to include the broadest and most diverse range of voices that are available within the field. Perhaps one of the harder tasks facing writing students is to branch out from their own limited experiences, and see that even within their own geographic region there are many different cultures and lifestyles, all of which have many unique stories to tell.
Even within the classroom, each student will have unique personal experiences, thus I emphasize individual process. Every student has individual strengths and it is important to identify those qualities within the student writer.
It is pleasing to be able to tell individual students such statements as:
“You are a plotter,” “You are good at dialogue,” or “You are good at suspense.”
There is no requirement for the ‘plotter’ to remain a plotter, but knowing that strength can give the student both confidence to develop that ability, but also to branch out. Ultimately the successful writer must be both a plotter and a dialogue expert, along with having a broad range of skills.
Finally, it is important that students are aware of what careers are available in creative writing, even if they have no specific goals in that area, and are just taking a creative writing course out of curiosity. Even if the student has no intention of pursuing a career in creative writing. Clearly any student who studies creative writing will become a better reader, but the commensurate benefits go way beyond merely getting more out of books.
I believe that through studying fictional narrative the student will become more effective independent learners, and develop critical thinking and analytical skills that will serve them through out their lives.