"And the Queen Died of Grief": Approaches to Plot in Fiction
All literary art imposes some form of order on the chaos of experience in order to convey something about the human condition. One of the ways we as working writers have of conceiving of this effort is through plot. How to select information, organize information, and release information (information about characters and conflicts) is one of the fundamental challenges that all short story or novel writers face. In this course we will consider how a variety of writers have dealt with plot; we will learn techniques that facilitate our understanding of literary craft. To what extent is plot “necessary” for a piece of fiction? How might we expand our conceptions of plot and action in short stories and novels to push our work in new, unexpected directions? What techniques of plot (or eschewal of plot) can we find in published texts to then use the same or similar techniques in our own work? Readings will range from mystery and ghost stories to domestic realism to fabulist works. Some of the writers we’ll read are Mary Gaitskill, Shirley Jackson, Peter Stamm, Donald Barthelme, and others. Each student will outline the plot of a complete short story, and begin the drafting process, with guidance from the instructor.
At the end of the course you will receive a detailed written response to your work with ideas for moving forward.
Nathan Oates's collection of stories, The Empty House, won the 2012 Spokane Prize. His stories have appeared in The Missouri Review, The Antioch Review, the Alaska Quarterly Review, Copper Nickel, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. His stories have been anthologized in The Best American Mystery Stories (2008 & 2012), as well as in Forty Stories. He is an associate professor of English at Seton Hall University and lives in Brooklyn, New York with his family.