SHORT STORY ASSIGNMENT
Winter quarter, all Friendship students are required to write a short story about friendship, between 7 and 20 pages long, to be turned in on January 25 for critique by fellow students and then faculty, revised and turned in again on February 3. You need to get started with your story fast, because the first installment (at least 4 pages) will be due in writing workshop January 18. Your story can be any genre you like, from standard realist fiction, to psychological fiction mostly going on in the mind of a character, to science fiction or fantasy, to fiction for children or young adults. Some of your characters must be friends with each other; you could feature one pair of friends, a threesome, or perhaps four friends, but that would be the upper limit. The space you have doesn’t really allow you to develop more than four characters in enough depth.
Fiction writing is a complex process: to write a good story you will need to think seriously about narrative voice, characters, setting, and plot. All these elements need to be thoroughly considered and developed, and they all need to work together to communicate the meaning you want. To make sure this happens, fiction writers spend a lot of time writing about their writing – creating “backstory” for their characters, recording notes to be used in the setting, mulling over what plot sequence will come next.
In the workshop on Wednesday, January 11, you’ll generate some material to get you started. You will need to continue and write a first installment of your story to be critiqued at writing workshop on January 18, but before that, by Friday, January 13, we want you to write down some thoughts about your story and give them to your seminar leader, typed and double-spaced. Write about the following elements of your story:
Backstory on characters – write a short statement covering these questions for each main character. As you do this, your characters will become more real to you, and you’ll be able to make them more real for your readers.
How old is the character?
Where did he or she grow up?
What kind of family did she have? Parents married, both present, divorced? Siblings?
How does this character see his or her life purpose?
What is the central problem he has right now?
What does the character look for in his or her friends? Has s/he been finding it recently?
Give a physical description of the character.
Use at least three of Putnam’s categories of social capital and tell us about the character; for example, how often does s/he invite friends over? Does s/he vote?
What are her political ideas or concerns? How much TV does he watch in a week? How often does s/he play video games?
How does this character carry around necessary items for use during a day: does s/he use a backpack, handbag or carry things in pockets? What items does s/he carry on a typical day?
Setting – write a short statement on the place the story will occur.
Give a complete physical description of one place where a lot of action is set.
Where, exactly, is it? If real, in what country and state/region? If not real, tell us a lot about the smallest unit of social organization the place belongs to, and then something about how that unit fits into the organization of the whole society.
What is the surrounding landscape like?
What is the economic base of this place? What range of things do people (or other beings) do for a living?
Use at least three of Putnam’s categories of social capital and tell us about the setting. For example, do people read newspapers or get information by electronic means? How far do people travel to get to their work? Do people volunteer frequently?
What kinds of spaces are there in this place where friends get together?
As you do this writing, you need to keep a couple of things in mind. First, you will most likely not use all of the material you set down here in your story. However, it will be an invaluable help in imagining the situation of your characters and in communicating the motivations for their actions. For example, a lot of stories will probably not have a scene where the main character opens her backpack and pulls out all the items within, but if you know what items are in there, you will have greatly increased your knowledge of this character. Or if you know what kind of social capital exists in the place you are describing, you have many clues to the nature of your characters’ relationships.
Second, once you have set these ideas down, you do not have to stick to them; it’s too early in the writing process for you to be making any decisions you can’t change. It’s not a kind of outline for you to follow. These questions are designed to get you thinking, and thinking in depth, about some necessary elements of fiction. If you change the characters or the setting in a major way in the process of writing the story, though, it will be much better if you do this exercise again for a new character inserted or a new place your characters visit.
Summary of due dates
January 13 – “backstory” on characters and setting due to faculty
January 18 -- first installment of your story due in writing workshop for critique
January 25 – story as finished as you can make it due in writing workshop for critique, then goes to faculty