Techniques in Fiction

Realistic Fiction and Its Alternatives

716B: Sem. in Tech. in Contemp. Litt.

M 6:30-9:00

Instructor: S. Shankar        CW/LS

This course is a close study of modes of narration in contemporary fiction. “Realism” here indicates a reliance on an objective and verifiable notion of reality in the construction of fictional worlds. The varieties of dissent from this mode of narration—modernism, postmodernism, magic realism—then represent a departure from this feeling of certitude. This does not mean that these dissenting modes of narration give up a claim on reality, only perhaps that their approach is more anxious, more tentative. Thus, at bottom, this course is an exploration of techniques in the representation of reality as exemplified by a variety of works in contemporary literatures of the world.

This is an advanced course in reading for creative writers (though because of the presence of some critical material, students not on the creative writing track may also be interested in taking it). It is not a fiction workshop, though I do mean it to be of practical use—we will spend some time reading student work in class. My purpose is to explore with students the different modes of narration available to them as writers of fiction and to get them to reflect on the choices they themselves make in their writing. What kinds of resources does each mode of narration offer the writer? What have been the dominant modes, when, where, and why? These questions will be approached both in a practical way and as objects of critical reflection. Thus the fiction we read will be approached from the point of view of both technique and critical debate; and students will be assigned “practical” essays/statements/manifestos from novelists like Henry James, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie as well as critical considerations of realism and alternatives to realism by critics such as Raymond Williams.

Required Texts:

  1. E. M. Forster, A Passage to India
  2. William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
  3. Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
  4. Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
  5. Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman
  6. Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun
  7. Daniel Halpern, The Art of the Tale
  8. Course Packet (available at EMA Campus Copy Center)

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • A foundational knowledge of basic narrative theories relevant to fiction.
    • A critical understanding of how different narrative modes create different meanings in fiction
  • An understanding of realism, modernism, postmodernism, magical realism, speculative fiction, surrealism and related terms
  • An understanding and appreciation of peer and other forms of critical evaluation of fiction.

Assignments and Class Work:

There will be 5 assigned activities through the semester.

Students in the course will do two short papers—

(1) one analyzing one of the readings for the semester (no more than five pages, also to be presented in class on the day the reading is assigned) and

(2) a short story (no more than five pages, to be distributed to the entire class) written in a specific mode of narration. For non-creative writing students, the latter paper may be substituted in an appropriate way.

At the end of the semester, students will write a

(3) twenty-page paper, which can take one of many forms: a reflection on practical aspects of the craft of fiction as it intersects with the concerns of the course; a “straight” critical term paper on some topic concerning realism and alternative modes of narration (this option might be especially attractive to non-creative writing students); a longer work of fiction, if supplemented with a commentary that relates the fiction to the concerns of the course. This longer paper may be an extension/revision of what is submitted under (1) or (2).

In addition, students making presentations on readings will

(4) post two brief “Points to Ponder” through the discussions feature of Laulima no later than the morning of the Monday before the class meets. This is meant to facilitate discussion on the day of the meeting as well as to allow the discussion to continue beyond.

(5) Students will collectively choose 6 to 8 stories from the assigned anthology and lead discussion in class. Groups of students will be expected to take responsibility for different selections but no formal presentation is necessary for this activity.