Alex E. Blazer Course Site Syllabus
Links Reading Journal Exam Review
Annotated Bibliography Group Project Paper


Reading, Writing, and Repression

English 261S (07975-5) Introduction to Fiction

Spring 2003, Saturday 8:30-12:18PM, Denney 250

Author Links

The following links were compiled the Winter 2003 Introduction to Fiction class.


Authors on the class reading list:

Favorite authors:

Reading Journal Study Questions

The goal of the reading journal is to cultivate the habit of active reading and responding to ficton and literature in general (if not all texts). Use the journal as a space 1) to work out your understanding of the operations of the elements of fiction and 2) determine the overall theme or meaning of the text's world view. If you wish, you may use these prompts (to be updated by the day we discuss a work) as a jumping off point for your responses. However, do not simply answer the questions, 1-2-3; instead, use them as a way to construct a holistic response to the work at hand.


Reading journal entries must be typed. By the end of the quarter you should have 10 entries (out of 11 texts) of approximately 250 words each. Entries will be collected twice in the quarter: Thursday, 1-30 and Thursday 3-13. You'll receive a tentative grade after the first submission and, if you wish, you may turn a few more entries in before the final submission to see if you're heading in the right direction, though this is not mandatory. Although electronic submission is preferred, you may submit reading journals in one of the following two ways: 1) as a hard copy print out, or 2) via one computer file (PC/Windows disk or email attachment of MS Word or WordPerfect formatm not MS Works).

  1. Susan Daitch, "X =/ Y" (1996)

  2. John Barth, "Lost in the Funhouse"

  3. Thomas Pynchon, "Entropy"

  4. William H. Gass, "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country"

  5. William H. Gass, "Emma Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop's"

  6. Margaret Atwood, Surfacing

  7. Doris Lessing, Briefing for a Descent into Hell

  8. Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine

  9. Bret Easton Ellis, Glamorama

  10. Donnie Darko (directed by Richard Kelley)

Exam Review

the texts

Susan Daitch, "X =/ Y"

John Barth, "Lost in the Funhouse"

Thomas Pynchon, "Entropy"

William H. Gass, "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country"

"Emma Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop's"

Margaret Atwood, Surfacing

Doris Lessing, Briefing for a Descent into Hell


the elements of fiction






plot and structure

point of view



The listserv response asks for summary and tentative analysis. The reading journal requires active engagement with the stories. The exam compels you to build comparative interpretations among the stories using textual evidence and the elements of fiction. Showcase your analytical abilities by providing strong, thesis-driven readings of the texts. Use the text inasmuch as it fuels your ideas, your making sense of the texts.


Be prepared to discuss each author, and be prepared to make connections among multiple texts. There will be no questions that allow you to discuss the texts in isolation; rather, you will compare and contrast texts. You will be asked to write two or three essays from a set of four to six discussion questions. Each question will require you to discuss two or three texts, and you won't be able to discuss a text more than once on the exam.


Here are the issues that will appear on the exam in some form or another.

  1. The elements of fiction: Don't just know their functions, rather be able to apply them to each story, not just the story focused on as an in-class example. Be able to compare and contrast how the elements function differently in different works of literature.
  2. The core conflicts: What internal and external conflicts rend these characters asunder? What divides their innermost selves? What helps them work through their conflicts, and what keeps those conflicts unresolved, even at the end of the story?
  3. The conflicts between men and women: What causes gender trouble? What puts men and women in conflict? How do various characters struggle with sexuality, and how does sexuality create anxiety?
  4. The conflicts between individual and society: Why do many of these characters find it difficult to adapt to or simply exist in society? Why do many of these characters rebel or retreat from the world and into themselves? How does this rebellion or self-isolation succeed or fail? How and why do some characters come back into the world?
  5. The conflicts within families: How and why do some of the families we've read flourish? How and why do some decline? What distinguishes the (relatively) functional families from the deteriorating families? What pits children against their parents? How do these children overcome their resentments, if at all?
  6. The function of fiction: How does reading or writing literature (or viewing or creating art), help certain characters flee from the harsh realities of life? Alternatively, how does fiction engage the traumatic and help certain characters traverse the reality of their innermost psychic fears and desires?

Annotated Bibliography Group Presentation Sign-Up

The previous assignments (listserv response, reading journal, midterm) compelled you to analyze fiction, to estimate the author's world view. This assignment asks you to do just that, but also to teach the class what you've come to understand. You must choose a work of fiction not discussed in class, but it may be by an author we have read in class. Groups of three or four will compose a website that provides a working analysis of the text as well as an annotated bibliography of journal articles, book chapters, and scholarly websites on the text and/or its author. Groups will then teach the work of fiction to the class in a multimedia enhanced presention.  The website must be turned in via PC floppy disk, Zip-100, or CD on Tuesday, March 4. Multimedia-enhanced oral presentations will be on Tuesday, March 4 and Thursday, March 6.  The project should be informative and argumentative. This assignment is neither a book report nor a biography, but instead a critical and analytical interpretation of a work of fiction.


The purpose of this sheet is merely to form groups.  Sign up for two slots, placing a #1 by your first choice and a #2 by your second choice.  Once groups are assigned, those groups are responsible for meeting with me outside of class to determine a poet of the movement to research.  Click here for the particular parameters of the assignment.


Margaret Atwood, "Fiction: Happy Endings"

Sommer Atkins

Angela Goldsberry

Angela Kohut

Margaret Atwood, "Dancing Girls"

Laura Dunham

Courtney McClellan

Sarah Shaffer

Nicholson Baker, Vox

James Barber

Sarah Cotner

Mark Ruter

John Barth, "Preparing for the Storm"

Sarah Bauer

Chris Hempfling

Greg Miller

Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero

Brian Milnark

Cameron Nowak

Ben Thoennes

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

Meredeth Beckett

Michael Callas

Crystal Crosby

Group Project

1. Goals

  1. To practice the analytical and critical reading skills learned in class.
  2. To practice making arguments and interpretations of literature in forums other than the typical academic paper, i.e., the website and the multimedia presentation.
  3. To practice the research skills of searching for and evaluating online and print literary criticism.
  4. To teach oneself about a work of literature and then teaching one's fellow students.

2. Assignment

The previous assignments (listserv response, reading journal, midterm) compelled you to analyze fiction, to find the core conflicts of the characters and overall themes of the stories by looking at characterization, setting, imagery, symbol, point of view, tone, plot, and so forth. This assignment asks you to do just that, but also to teach the class what you've come to understand about the story at hand. The project should be not only informative but interpretive, not only analytical but argumentative. Do not give a book report or a biography, but rather a critical and analytical interpretation of a work of fiction. Click here for the group sign-up sheet.

  1. Choose a work of fiction (short story or short novel) not discussed in class; it may be by an author on the course reading list or one of your choosing, subject to instructor approval.
  2. Construct a website that a) provides a working analysis of the story and b) an annotated bibliography of journal articles, book chapters, and scholarly websites on the text and/or its author.
  3. Teach the work of fiction to the class in a multimedia enhanced presention.

3. Web Component

In class, I'll show you how to make a basic website with Netscape Composer, but you may use any web design software you wish.


The website must include the following items:

4. Presentation Component


The presentation should accomplish three objectives:

  1. summarize the ways critics read the story as well as what issues they debate
  2. teach the story to the class according to your groups reading of it
  3. use some aspect of the technology available to our classroom

As long as you meet these two objectives, the format of the presentation is completely up to you. You may choose to use aspects of the website to guide your group presentation, or you may use Microsoft Powerpoint, which I'll show you how to use in class, to guide your presentation. You may choose to focus on various elements of fiction as ways into the story as we have done in previous class. You have all the technology of our lab at your disposal: projector, cd players, speakers, web browsers, Microsoft Powerpoint; and I can reserve a television/vcr/dvd if you need one. Presentations will be 20 minutes long and followed by a five-minute question and answer period.


5. Due Dates

6. Assessment

Group projects will be assessed based on the following criteria:

  1. The critical analysis of the story, i.e., the quality of the group's reading of the story.
  2. The usefulness of website, i.e., the effectiveness of construction and the inclusion of all pertinent information
  3. The understanding, utilization, and summary of online and print research materials, i.e., the quality of the research
  4. Cohesiveness and effectiveness of the presentation, i.e., how well the group taught the story

7. Useful Handouts

The following handouts, presented in class and available online, will help you complete the assignment:

Final Paper Prompt

The goal of the final paper is to help you constitute a deeper and more complex understanding of a work of fiction using the modes of analysis exemplified throughout the quarter. All of the assignments have been leading up to this point. From listserv responses, you've practiced narrative summary and preliminary textual analysis; from class discussion, you've employed the various elements of fiction; from reading journals and the midterm exam, you've learned to compare and contrast literary works' general themes and world views. From the group presentation, with the help of your peers and secondary sources, you've read, interpreted, and taught a story. This assignment asks you to combine all of the analytical abilities above by doing do a rigorous reading of one or two works of fiction.


Your final paper should develop a deep and analytical reading of a particular issue, an interpretive problem, or thematic point. You may write your paper on either one or two works of fiction. You may choose texts not covered in class, but must conference with me first. If you write on two works, you should rigorously compare and contrast how the two works deal with the idea you're analyzing.

Length: 2000 words