ENG 412: Creative Nonfiction


Patricia Murphy

Course Description : Creative Nonfiction has become an increasingly popular genre, with many literary magazines devoting more room and resources to its publication. The journal Creative Nonfiction defines the writing this way, "Dramatic, true stories using scenes, dialogue, close, detailed descriptions and other techniques usually employed by poets and fiction writers about important subjects - from politics, to economics, to sports, to the arts and sciences, to racial relations, and family relations." This ENG 412 class will focus on the composition of essays that combine reflection, research, voice, and storytelling. We will study published essays, discuss issues of craft, and identify markets for publishing polished work.

Writing Workshops : This course is a workshop where students turn in poems and receive constructive criticism from other students and the professor. Students then use that feedback to revise their poetry portfolio. Therefore, it is imperative that peers give thoughtful, careful, and helpful comments. The true purpose of The Writing Workshop is to gather with a community of writers to receive input on your work so that you may revise it and polish it for an audience. Therefore, do not submit work that you do not wish to revise or that you already feel is completed and you don't want to change. Instead, bring in the work you would like to discuss and improve. By doing so, you will benefit greatly from this community of friendly, interested writers.

The Writing Workshop exists to give you feedback. You must enter the Workshop willing to listen to the advice, praise, criticism, and the suggestions of the other writers. It is a true privilege to have a group of people who are willing to give you such feedback. Many writers pay thousands of dollars for such a service. So please respect and enjoy this Writer's Workshop, and take as much as you can from each of the careful readers who will respond to your work.

Course Learning Goals : At the end of the session students will have acquired the following:

  1. An understanding of the role of voice in Creative Nonfiction.
  2. The ability to incorporate research into creative writing.
  3. Mastery of storytelling techniques such as dialogue, character development, narrative pace, and description.
  4. The ability to match form to subject matter.
  5. Identification of markets for publication.

Required Texts : You have reading due on the first Wednesday of class. Our text can only be found at all three campus bookstores: West, Tempe, and Poly. Here are the following customer service numbers: Main campus: 480-965-3191, West campus: 602-543-6800, Poly campus: 480-727-1168. If you are unable to locate books at the closest campus, you should contact one of the other bookstores and have them transferred to your location. You can also order the book online.

Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwartz. Writing True: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction. Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 2006. ISBN 0-618-37375-7

B Mihn Nguyen and Porter Shreve. Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: I & Eye. Pearson Longman: New York, 2005. ISBN 0-321-19817-4

Required Work : This course requires you to not only practice your writing, but also to practice your reading and revising as well. The work of this course will include the creation of polished original Creative Nonfiction, as well as writing exercises, peer workshop responses, and a publication packet

Reading - Worth 30% of your grade. For 12 weeks you will be assigned about a chapter of reading. You will then post a 300 word response to the reading and a 150 word response to another student. These word counts are guidelines for you. I don't actually count words, but I will expect to see substance, and you will not receive credit for anemic or thoughtless responses. Please view this forum as an ongoing class conversation.

Reading Responses are graded as a percentage on a pass/fail basis, out of 24 total posts.

24 100% A
23 96% A
22 92% A-
21 88% B
20 83% B-
19 79% C+
18 75% C
17 71% C-
16 67% D+
15 63% D
14 58% E

Workshop - Workshop Responses are worth 30% of your grade. This course is a workshop where students turn in work and receive constructive criticism from other students and the professor. Students then use that feedback to revise their portfolio. Therefore, it is imperative that peers give thoughtful, careful, and helpful comments.

Unlike face to face workshop classes, where students bring in work each week but only get feedback a few times a semester, this online section allows us to get online feedback for every piece every time. To accomplish this we use a Group Workshop method. You will be assigned to a group of 4 students. Work is due at noon on Sunday. Responses to your 3 group members are due at midnight on Sunday.


Portfolio - The Final Portfolio is worth 40% of your grade. Read the webpage "Publishing Creative Nonfiction" at http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/00725127/student_view0/additional_material-999/publishing_creative_nonfiction.html Using techniques discussed on that page, do internet or library research to profile 2 magazines that would potentially be interested in your writing style.

Office Hours: Since this is an online course, I will not hold face to face office hours, but I am available by appointment. I check email once a day, Monday through Friday. I will answer questions through email usually within 48 hours except over weekends and on holidays. I am also happy to call you if you have a question. Simply email me your phone number and an appropriate time to call.

Required Software : We will exchange our online comments using the Reviewing Features in Word. Therefore all students must have access to a computer with Microsoft Word 2003. To download a 60-day trial version of the software access the Microsoft Website. Or use any of the campus computers, which are equipped with this software. You will not pass this course if you cannot get access to Word.

Attendance : This class meets online using myASU. The class asks you to complete the same work as other sections, but it has the added benefit of teaching you to communicate electronically with your teacher and classmates.  This is an integral part of your grade.  This course is not self-paced. There are set due dates. Work submitted after the due dates will not receive credit. Each missed assignment will result in an absence, and each absence will negatively affect your grade. If you miss more than 4 class assignments you will automatically fail the course. THERE ARE NO EXCUSED ABSENCES, even for emergencies or school activities. You have 4 absences to use for emergencies.

Protecting Work: While there are many benefits that come with using technology to conduct the course, there can also be drawbacks such as system outages, hardware and software failures, and inexperience with systems. Technology failures are NOT an excuse for late or missing work. I do not expect you to be an expert with technology, but I do expect you to observe some common sense practices. I also recommend that if you are new to online courses or if you are unfamiliar with the software I suggest you view the online tutorials available through asuonline. Here are some other tips:

•  Never type directly into myASU. Type in Word and then cut and paste your work.

•  Ctrl-S is your best friend. The more you save the less you lose. Make a habit of saving your work several times as you write.

•  My degree is in English, not Computers, so there are many technical questions I am too dumb to answer. If you get stuck with a technical issue, call the computer help desk at 480-965-6500.

Late Work : Other students depend on you to post your work on time, and we often cannot proceed until all the work is complete. For that reason, the policies on late work are very strict. Late work will not receive credit unless you email me in advance of the deadline. If you miss a deadline, contact me and I will help you.

Plagiarism : To plagiarize is to present as your own any work that is not exclusively your own. Plagiarism of all or a portion of any assignment will be strictly penalized. Penalties can range from no credit for the assignment to failing the course. Repeated offenses can lead to your expulsion from the university.

Online Environment : You will need to pay attention to a few details in order for your work to be counted. For example, when you post your work online, you have to ensure that it shows up and we can access it or else you won't get credit. Get in the habit of checking your work to make sure it shows up as you intended. Also, be aware of how the things you're posting in online discussions come across--it's easy for something you meant humorously to be taken seriously in an online environment, so be careful. Above all, be kind towards and respectful of your fellow students. Any material that is viewed as obscene or profane will be removed from the board and you will not receive credit. Consider the class to be an academic audience.

The Public Nature of Writing and Confidentiality Issues : Part of becoming a good writer is learning to appreciate the ideas and criticisms of others, and in this course our purpose is to come together as a community of writers. Remember that this is a workshop, and you will be getting feedback from others. Avoid writing about things you may not be prepared to subject to public scrutiny or that you feel so strongly about that you are unable or unwilling to listen to perspectives other than your own. In other words, if you can't separate a poem about your grandmother from your grandmother herself, then we can't effectively critique that poem without angering or hurting you. That's not good. Also not good is focusing a discussion on how you might disagree with a political view exposited by the work in question--this class is about discussing the writing, not the subject of the writing. I also have had several problems in the past with students posting obscene work. Please be sensitive to the needs of your peers, and treat our classroom with respect by refraining from posting explicit matierial.

Incomplete Grades : I do not offer incomplete grades.

Academic Integrity : All students are expected to abide by ASU's policy on academic integrity. Not doing so could result in failure in the course.

Accommodations for Disabilities : Accommodations for disabilities will be made according to the policy of Arizona State University in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you have concerns not addressed by these policies, reasonable accommodations may be made contingent upon circumstances and the approval of the instructors and administrators in the College of Education.

Grading Scale: For continuity The English Department uses the 4.0 scale as follows.

Letter Number

Scale Lower Upper

I use the Gradebook function in myASU. Each week you will get a score for reading and workshop grades based on a point system. To determine your final grade for the course, multiply each of your Required Work grades by its weighted percentage. The sum of these numbers equals your final grade. Final grades are available after the end of the semester at the Registrar's online site.

Email Procedures: I cannot accept emails from non-ASU accounts. The best way for you to get around this is to get used to using your ASU email account. This is preferable for many reasons, including that your email address will be in the global address system so that anyone at ASU can reach you easily. However, if you still want to use an outside email, simply set up your ASU email to forward to your outside account. You can also use the "Email" button on our website to email me. Here are some other general rules about email:

. Email is not simultaneous. Allow at least 24 hours for an answer to your message, or even more on weekends or holidays. Avoid overloading me with a barrage of messages.

. Email lacks cues that are available in face to face communication. Therefore, always begin each email with a greeting and close each email with a signature.

. Be very careful to phrase your email with a neutral tone so that it does not sound angry or rude. It is very easy for email to be misinterpreted.

. Get to the point quickly and make individual questions or comments clear. If you have several questions or comments, use a list.

. Always include a descriptive subject line with enough information to indicate what your email is about.

. Always use spellcheck, even when you are sending a quick note. Even though email readers are more relaxed, mistakes will still affect the validity and power of your message.

. Never use all caps. It means you are shouting.

Patricia Colleen Murphy, MFA* Arizona State University * Bell Hall Room M3 * 7001 E. Williams Field Road * Mesa AZ 85212-6032