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short storeis

Hmm…it’s been a looong while since I wrote anything of substance and the truth is I haven’t been the least bit motivated. But! I did finish my second UCLA Writer’s Extension class in December, so I figure it’s well past time to do a quick review. I know I’ve said it before, but it’s nigh unto impossible to find student reviews of the writing classes at UCLA Extension, and I promised when I started that I’d post one for each class I take.

So! The class was Creative Writing: Short Stories with Adam Prince as the instructor. This is one of two online courses worth 5 credits and they are fully transferable. The other being Creative Writing: Poetry which I started a few weeks ago (hence the amateur poetry popping up on this blog).

First, for the TL/DR crowd who don’t want to skim further, I give this class an 8/10 and the instructor 10/10, I penalized two points for inconsistent levels of student engagement and the fact I hated 80% of the required readings. Done!

Now, I want to stress that those two points I didn’t like are in no way the instructor’s fault, and I have to say that he did a great job of making each student feel included. He also took the time to answer every question, and took great care to learn what our strengths and weaknesses were so he could tailor the content accordingly. Pretty darn good if you ask me!

Student engagement on the other hand, was hit and miss. While I understand the need to have the courses available for credit AND pass/fail only, my experience so far has been that only those of us seeking a letter grade put in 100% effort in the workshops. This tends to make them one sided, as people who don’t care about transcripts often don’t bother to participate beyond posting a couple of sentences to everyone else’s several paragraphs. Perhaps transferability is one reason why this class’s student participation was far superior to my first one. Anyway, no biggie I suppose, it’s just irksome when I give someone a page of detailed feedback and I get four sentences back with so little substance, I have to wonder if they even read my story. Meh…c’est la vie, right?

OK, so here’s a quick rundown of the class:

This class was full with the maximum 15 students, so we were split into groups to have a maximum 5 stories a week to workshop. However, as with most courses a few students dropped out after the first week or two, and we ended up with twelve who stayed untill the end.

As with any course, it’s important to READ the syllabus and understand the deadlines. And, as with my first class, this instructor said he would not comment or grade work that was posted late unless arrangements were made ahead of time, and he meant it. This class’s workload was at least double my first one, so be prepared to spend a minimum of two hours per week with the reading and discussions, two to three hours giving feedback in the workshop, and several hours over the course writing and revising your own stories.

Grading was mostly based on participation and we were required to make one discussion post about the lecture and reading, comment on at least two other student’s posts, review and comment on at least three workshop stories even if your story is one of them for that week. Pretty straightforward, and I have to admit we had some brilliant people in our class who were funny and made the discussions great fun. Those fellow students were pure gold!

The weekly lectures Dr. Prince posted were excellent and on point, nothing superfluous at all which I greatly appreciated. The required readings came from our only required text, “The Best of American Short Stories 2012” edited by Tom Perrotta…a book I was appalled at when I started reading it. I know fiction is highly subjective, but out of the entire book there were maybe 3 or 4 stories I liked, only 2 I loved. Needless to say, I didn’t enjoy the weekly discussions as much because of this, and more often than not I was the odd person out with my scathing or dissenting opinions. Ok, I lied…it was a little bit fun to be the shit disturber. Muhahahaha!

The real meat of this class though was the workshop component, and each student had to write one single page max. flash fiction story, and one 3000k or so word short story. For the final week, we then had to choose one of these two to heavily revise and submit along with our reasons for the changes made.

As I said above and in my review of the Fiction I class, the workshop is hit and miss and entirely dependent on how much effort your peers put into really reading and thoughtfully reviewing your work. 
The instructor’s comments were usually the best and most helpful, but I learned the most valuable lessons during the final revision process.

This is where I think Dr. Prince excelled at propelling us forward, because most of us thought of revision as spell checking, rewording a few things, adding or removing details, etc. Not so! No, we were expected to do major rewrites via painful hacking and slashing at our magnum opus until little of the original remained. I was skeptical at first, and bristled at some of the feedback and suggestions I got, but in the end I found that many of them were right. There were elements in my story that several people identified and those were the ones I took to heart and changed. I think most of us did the same and we were all pretty damn proud of ourselves at the end.

And there you have it! Even if you don’t like short stories and don’t plan to write them, this course is invaluable for learning the importance of brevity and choosing your words with care. It helps you practice the art of keeping only that which is necessary and identifying the key components necessary to tell your story. Also, I don’t think you’ll find better guidance on the revision process, and that’s a crucial skill no matter what you’re writing.

So that’s all for now! If anyone would like more detailed information about the UCLA Extension Writer’s program, I’d be more than happy to share it.


The Cheeky One