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ENGL 584 A: Advanced Fiction Workshop

Meeting Time: 
MW 11:30am - 1:20pm
MEB 102
Maya Sonenberg
Maya Sonenberg

Syllabus Description:

Maya Sonenberg

Office Hours: M 10:00 - 11:00 am, W 1:30 - 2:30 pm,  and by appointment

Padelford B-431

This graduate prose workshop is a place to generate new work, take risks, and question yourself and others about your writing.  As you do so, you should be developing a good sense of your own passions, obsessions, and fears as writers.  In order to achieve these goals, you will generate new writing, use the Critical Response Process to comment on each other’s writing and, study prose style through grammar exercises and readings of published prose.

The term style derives from the Latin stilus, a pointed instrument for writing. Style conjures up the little black dress, a world of haute couture and Audrey Hepburn, but it also invokes William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s Elements of Style and the grammatical prescriptions of the style sheet; though grammar may seem less glamorous than fashion, glamour is etymologically speaking a corruption of grammar, by way of a set of related terms (gramarye, grimoire) that refer to a body of occult knowledge.  The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that style may refer to the manner in which something is written, including a writer’s characteristic mode of expression, but a pattern of tension soon emerges from its series of definitions. Is style merely something superficial, referring to features “which belong to form and expression rather than to the substance of the thought or the matter expressed”? Or do we instead adopt the wisdom embodied in the old adage “The style is the man,” which implies that every aspect of character is written into each sentence a person writes?    --Jenny Davidson, Reading Style: A Life in Sentences


3 submissions of new fiction or literary nonfiction.  This should add up to at least 40 pages. If you are working on a novel or book length work of nonfiction, I will also expect you to produce a detailed outline for me and your classmates (link to instructions: DETAILED OUTLINE.doc).

Prose style exercises—grammar, syntax, rhetoric, music, figurative language, and others.  Prepare to learn and think a lot.  Your brain may hurt.

Presentation on a short work of fiction or nonfiction that you LOVE or HATE--you will do a presentation (15 minutes or so) and lead a discussion on this piece of writing.

Thoughtful consideration of each others' writing, as evidenced in class discussion and written comments.  As this is a small group, I will expect all of you to participate in all aspects of class discussion.  See below for a description of written comments.


Format for Written Assignments

Fiction/Nonfiction: will be submitted via Discussions on our class Canvas website. You must submit writing as Word attachments but may use .doc or .docx; either works fine. The first page of each formal assignment must include your name and the date the piece is to be discussed in class.  Please remember to include page numbers.  Unless specific formatting is intended to add meaning to your work, use Times New Roman, 12 pt. font, double spaced, and 1 inch margins.

In order for me to keep careful track of your work, the following file name formatting is essential.  All file names MUST read as follows: your last name, title of your piece.doc (or .docx).

Written Responses to Each Other’s Work: Summary or end comments will also be submitted on Canvas so that I can read them easily.  When you go to read a classmate’s work, you will have the choice of either downloading the piece, turning on the track changes function to make marginal comments, and uploading again OR printing the piece out, hand-writing marginal comments, and returning a hard copy to the author.  In either case, you must bring your marked-up copy of the manuscript to class when it’s being discussed.

Prose Style Exercises: submitted on paper, in class. A final, longer prose style exercise will be due the last day of class. We will choose the authors to be studied later in the quarter.


Required Texts

After the 1st day, required readings will be in the course reader or Fish; optional readings will be through links in Canvas.

Course reader, available at the Rams Copy Center, 4144 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105

Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One

A good dictionary

A thesaurus

A journal to write in. If you already keep one, that's fine, but if you don't please buy one that makes you want to write.


Recommended Texts:

Bacon, Wendy. The Well-Crafted Sentence: A Writer’s Guide to Style. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009.

Calvino, Italo. Six Memos for the New Millennium. Vintage Contemporary, 1993.

Clark, Roy Peter. The Glamour of Grammar. Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

Danticat, Edwidge. Create Dangerously. Vintage Book.s, 2011

Davidson, Jenny, Reading Style: A Life in Sentences. Columbia University Press, 2014.

Forsyth, Mark. The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase. Berkley Books, 2013

Landon, Brooks. Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read. Plume Books, 2013

Lanham, Richard. Analyzing Prose. Continuum, 2003.

Lanham, Richard. Style: An Anti-Textbook. Paul Dry Books, 2007.

Le Guin, Ursula. The Wave in the Mind. Shambhala, 2004.

Livesey, Margot. The Hidden Machinery. Tin House Books, 2017.

Martone, Michael, and Susan Neville. Rules of Thumb: 73 Authors Reveal Their Fiction Writing Fixations. Writer’s Digest Books, 2006.

Pinker, Stephen. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Penguin Books, 2014

Prose, Francine. Reading Like a Writer. HarperCollins, 2006.

Tufte, Virginia. Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. Graphics Press, 2006.

Vitto, Cindy L. Grammar by Diagram: Understanding English Grammar through Traditional Sentence Diagramming. Broadview Press, 2006.


Workshop Etiquette

This quarter we will use the Critical Response Process developed by choreographer Liz Lerman as the basis for our workshop sessions.  I imagine that you may find these workshops different from those you have experienced in the past—more formal and more geared towards the writer’s needs.  In past workshops, you have probably sat silently while others discussed your work, a fly on the wall until the end when you were suddenly expected to ask intelligent questions.  Or perhaps you’ve participated in workshops where the writer was allowed to speak and had to sit through endless defenses of the work at hand.  While the Critical Response Process allows for readers’ responses and opinions, it focuses on questions rather than statements, questions from both the readers and the writer.  I have decided to use this method because, too many times in the past, I have encountered unhelpful workshop sessions—as a student, as a writer, as a teacher.  I’d wager that the helpfulness or not of the session had little to do with the ratio of negative to positive feedback, but rather with the relationship between the response and the writer’s concerns about his or her own work.  This method allows us to include those up-front.  It also calls for greater responsibility on the writer’s part.  You may no longer feel that wash of relief after you turn in your story; instead you’ll need to prepare for workshop too.  And your work itself will need to be at the right point in its development—ready for questioning, ripe for development.

Written Comments

These are due to me and to the author when the work is discussed. I do not accept these late. These comments should first list 3 statements of meaning, including at least one statement about the piece’s main concern (focus, heart, “aboutness”) as you see it.  This should not be a summary but a consideration of what you think the piece is trying to get you to experience, focus on, feel, or think about.  Other possibilities for statements of meaning would be anything that got you excited about the work, things it made you think about, things you loved.  Then, please choose only one or two of the following topics to discuss so that you can go into depth and detail; characterization, movement, tone or voice, sentence construction, imagery, structure, or form (particularly noting any connections or disconnections between form and content). Please try to relate you statements to your general sense of the piece’s main concern. You should expect to write about 300 words for each work of fiction or nonfiction we read.



Grades will be computed by points, with 400 points equaling a 4.0, 300 points a 3.0, and so on.
Each component of the course is worth the following number of points:

Fiction and/or literary nonfiction         200 points

Prose Style Exercises #s 1-6             10 points each

Final Prose Style Exercise                 20 points

Presentation                                      20 points

Participation                                      100 points


  • Fiction and/or nonfiction will be graded holistically at the end of the term.  I will not grade individual selections, but if you are worried about your grade, please come talk to me.
  • Each Prose Style exercise will be assigned a number grade, based on the facility with which they address the particular issue at hand that week.
  • Participation grades will be derived from your contribution to class discussion and written comments on classmates’ writing.  I will read your comments on your classmates’ work to make sure you’re doing them, but I will not grade them and will only comment on them if they need improvement.
  • I only accept late work under dire circumstances.  Contact me as soon as possible if you think you will need to miss an assignment.


Catalog Description: 
Prerequisite: graduate standing.
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 10:40pm