I'm working on my curriculum for next year's Creative Writing class. It's one semester spread out over three six-week periods. Since I started teaching this class, I've been able to do whatever I want. Thank god, no state-mandated text book. Someday, I'd like to develop my approach into a college course or a writing seminar.
Here's what I have so far. Please excuse any errors or awkward wording. First draft.
PART I: THE CHARACTER AND THE PLOT
“Your characters move the story along.”
Lesson 1: Creativity
Purpose: To explore creativity as something innate in all people. Creativity is an act of synthesis. Creativity can be examined in three areas: influences, ideas, and experiences. A writer must immerse himself/herself with literary and artistic influences. A writer should understand that in order to come up with one great idea, they may need to first develop a hundred decent ideas and narrow it down. A writer finds ideas within their own experience and from the experiences of other people. A writer is an observer of the world.
Lesson 2. Premise
Purpose: To create good ideas that can be used to initiate a story. It may begin as a question, an intriguing image, an odd character, or a dramatic situation. A writer should learn to identify which ideas will work best.
Lesson 3. Characters
Purpose: To understand how writers craft a character-centered story. All stories connect with the human experience. The human experience is rooted in desire. A standard protagonist, or main character, desires greatly and takes risks. The writer needs to understand the role of a protagonist (passive or active) in his/her story. A story can have multiple protagonists or one that functions as an antihero.
Lesson 4. Characterization
Purpose: To develop traits in characters that enhances the overall authenticity and quality of the narrative. Characterization is not just a collection of revealed traits. It is a cohesive sense for who they are, and why they do what they do. A writer needs a workable system for how to get inside the head of their own creations.
Lesson 5. Archetypes
Purpose: To understand the function of various characters within a story. However, characters should not be simply tools to push the plot forward. They should be integrated into a believable world the writer has created.
Lesson 6. Contrasts
Purpose: To humanize a character by analyzing the contrasts within their nature or situation. Contrasts can exist as paradoxical traits, a relationship (odd couple), an environment (fish-out-of-water story), or an ironic event. A writer can create fascinating complex stories through skillful use of contrasts.
Lesson 7. Dialogue, part 1
Purpose: To see dialogue as an extension of the character. Dialogue is not only what they say. It is a window into who they are. The writer needs to fully know the character in order to find his/her unique voice.
Lesson 8. Dialogue, part 2
Purpose: To see dialogue as a way to negotiate desire. Dialogue in conversation is used for many purposes: establish rapport, persuade, and manipulate. Even in its most innocent form, dialogue is a game of power exchange.
Lesson 9. Conflict
Purpose: To use conflict as a way to reveal character. A story should take the protagonist and place him/her at the “end of the world” as they know it. Under such distress, the audience discovers what the character is all about. The writer should use conflict not only as an obstacle to be solved or fixed, but also as a way to further invest the audience in the life of the character.
Lesson 10. Arc
Purpose: To evaluate the purpose of a character arc. Some characters change during the course of the story as a direct result of the conflict (dynamic), while some remain unchanged (static) from beginning to end. In either instance, this arc may bring about fortune or ruin for the character. They may change into the person they need to be to overcome the obstacle, or their change may mark a downward spiral. The static character may be precisely the type of person needed to solve the conflict, revealed to the audience over time – or their stubbornness to adapt could lead to destruction. The writer speaks to the human experience through character arcs.
Lesson 11. Plot, part 1
Purpose: To use meaningful plot points as a way to further the action of the story. The plot may consist of an inciting incident, progressive complications, turning points, a climax, and resolution. Each point presents a choice to the protagonist. The writer must find unique ways to integrate these points into the story without the structure being overbearing or formulaic in presentation.
Lesson 12. Plot, part 2
Purpose: To understand the necessary aspects of a beginning, middle, and end. It may be helpful to begin with the end in mind. How might a twist ending or having the story come full circle be best set up? What can the writer do to move the story along and transition between acts?
Lesson 13. Subplot
Purpose: To integrate additional plot lines into a story. A subplot may be used to develop characters, add thematic depth, a new tone (complimentary or counter), and enrich the setting. The writer should examine the worth of any subplot to see if it benefits the overall narrative.
PART II. THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT AND CONTROL
“Your style will emerge naturally as you become comfortable with the writing process.”
Lesson 1. Reveals
Purpose: To choose what is revealed to the audience for maximum impact. The reader may know more than the characters (dramatic irony), the reader may know less than the characters (mystery), or the reader may know only what the character knows (empathy). All three levels of reveal may be used in a story. The writer controls a reader’s reaction to the story through what knowledge is revealed and when.
Lesson 2. Subtext
Purpose: To utilize the underlying meaning of any action or dialogue for greater impact. Subtext is a way to speak to the audience without saying anything. It can be also used to mislead. A writer adds layers by how the action or dialogue is presented.
Lesson 3. Tone
Purpose: To create a tone built on empathy, instead of cheap emotional clichés. Empathy is built when the audience is allowed to emotionally participate in the life of the characters. Audiences tend to like variations on familiar stories. These stories create expectations, which the writer can then control for intended effect.
Lesson 4. Genres, part 1
Purpose: To know the purpose of a genre and the numerous genres available. A story falls in a particular genre, because of similar settings, plots, tones, themes, and motifs. The genre allows for boundaries that can be explored and tested. It offers the occasional guilty pleasure, which may be worth pursuing. The writer does not need to stick to one genre, but an understanding of how they operate is beneficial.
Lesson 5. Genres, part 2
Purpose: To gain greater flexibility by mixing and reinventing genres. Genres are not fixed in stone, but are continually redefined. The writer should learn how to experiment in the genres to create new and fresh takes on timeless themes.
Lesson 6. Impact, part 1
Purpose: To learn how to scare reader. Fear and horror are powerful emotions that require deep psychological understanding. Many readers enjoy the catharsis that a good scare can bring. Even outside of the horror genre, a fearful moment can add interest to a writer’s story.
Lesson 7. Impact, part 2
Purpose: To learn how to make the reader laugh. Humor is difficult to do well, and many argue that such skills cannot be taught, i.e. funny people are born funny. However, there are basic principles behind physical, situational, and linguistic comedy. Even in the most serious stories, a writer should be open to honest and funny moments.
Lesson 8. Impact, part 3
Purpose: To learn how to make the reader cry. Dramatic scenes are tricky, because they can easily fall into melodrama. Learning how to be subtle and forceful, and finding the range between the two, is a fine art. Drama cannot be simply inserted into a scene; it needs to grow over the course of the story.
Lesson 9. Impact, part 4
Purpose: To learn how to inspire the reader. Stories that seek to celebrate the goodness of the human spirit and triumph over adversity can fall into formulaic patterns. An astute audience wants to be challenged, and such stories are more difficult than the writer might assume.
Lesson 10. Oddity
Purpose: To learn how to write “weird”. Many people enjoy stories that take a bizarre turn, that use inconsistent realities and flirt with coincidence. The distinction between quirky, absurd, and disturbing is the level of honesty a writer is willing to bring to the situation.
Lesson 11. Imagery
Purpose: To use image systems to enhance the narrative. A skilled writer can approach a story with a strategy of motifs, embedded imagery, and extended metaphors.
Lesson 12. Exposition
Purpose: To integrate necessary information into the story without it feeling forced. Exposition conveys or explains aspects of the plot. It can slow down the story in unwanted ways. The writer should learn how to “show not tell” to maintain the interest of his/her audience.
Lesson 13. Devices
Purpose: To understand various plot devices such as Chekhov's gun, deus ex machina, and the Mac Guffin. If skillfully used, the reader will not notice the device is a construction of the author. If poorly used, the reader will have trouble maintaining the suspension of disbelief.
PART III. THE REWRITE AND THE BUSINESS
“Your ideas are only as good as how you present them.”
Lesson 1. Editing, part 1
Purpose: To objectively read a writer's own work. This is the first step in learning how to effectively edit. It can be difficult to read a story with a fresh and unhindered perspective, but editing requires good and sensible judgment.
Lesson 2. Editing, part 2
Purpose: To improve a story by adding necessary scenes and beats. Sometimes, a story can be missing an important moment for impact. The writer should not inflate their prose with needless additions, nor should they take short cuts that leave the story flat.
Lesson 3. Editing, part 3
Purpose: To improve a story by removing unnecessary scenes and beats. Editing is also a process of trimming the excess. Even a good scene can hurt the story if it’s inclusion cannot be justified.
Lesson 4. Editing, part 4
Purpose: To improve a story by changing scenes and beats to better suit their intended purpose. Editing sometimes involves re-structuring the order of events, finding new emphasis, or combining scenes.
Lesson 5. Editing, part 5
Purpose: To improve a story through line editing and fine tuning. Editing is both a telescope and microscope. As a story nears completion, the writer needs to go line by line to correct grammar and mechanics errors. They need to ensure every word is the best word for that sentence. All this fine tuning is to make the reading experience as seamless as possible.
Lesson 6. Editing, part 6
Purpose: To improve a story by realizing when to stop editing. A story can be ruined, when a writer picks it to death. The task of any artist is to determine when the work is complete.
Lesson 7. Presentation
Purpose: To effectively explain a completed story to others. A writer must learn how to sell his/her ideas, to summarize the work in one or two sentences and make it as appealing as possible.
Lesson 8. Allies
Purpose: To learn the appropriate channels for networking. The writer needs to know how to find agents, managers, consultants, and writing peers, to write a query letter, and maintain a professional attitude.
Lesson 9. Publishing
Purpose: To increase a writer’s audience through publishing. Opportunities are available, but it requires understanding on how to best approach a publisher. Writers should also search other outlets for finding an audience.
Lesson 10. Career
Purpose: To explore the practical aspects of a writing career. The writer should know about intellectual property rights, fair use, public domain, and how to make ends meet.
Lesson 11. Confidence
Purpose: To gain assurance that there are many ways to be successful. Each path is different. Every voice is unique. In the end, a writer has to let his/her work speak for itself.