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Storytelling - Calendar

 English 430: Special Topics in Professional Writing - Storytelling

Spring 2010

T: 4:00 – 6:20

Professor Perry Glasser

 Readings & Sources – Tentative Calendar of activities and readings



The course pack will be posted online and should be downloaded and printed. It’s total length is about typescript 30 pages. All sources in the course pack are public domain.

 Week #1 – Orientation — Fun and Games for the Brave and Bold. Why O Why do we tell stories?

So you are squatting in the cave, it’s a rainy day, the fire is low, the kids are restless, and so to keep them amused you start painting pretty lies about mastodons and tribal courage on the cave wall…

Week #2 — Making Meaning – see inter-textual questions in the course pack, please.

  • Hansel and Gretel – required, in online course pack.
  • “Moral Education in Fairy Tales” — an excerpt from The Uses of Enchantment, by Bruno Bettelheim: in online course pack
  • Beauty and the Beast in online course pack
  • Recommended: The Gift of Stones – Jim Crace.

Week #3 – Making Meaning — Steal from the Best. Please be prompt.

Viewing Boorman’s Excalibur

Arthurian legends have been told and retold by Mallory, Tennyson, T.H. White, Richard Wagner, Walt Disney, and who knows how many others. Comparing these renderings is a course unto itself, but as storytellers if we can come to some conclusions as to why this tale holds such enduring power over us, then we can hope to infuse our own work with that power and majesty. In other words—storytellers steal from the best. We will view the film in its entirety in class and begin its discussion immediately following. 

  Depending upon enrollment, two – three students will prepare a one-hour presentation for the following week on The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Book One of which is required by all students, the whole novel being recommended reading. The Mists of Avalon tells the familiar Arthurian story from the perspective of women, Druidic and Wiccan figures. 

Week #4 – Story Structure & Character Assets

The first sixty minutes of class will be devoted to discussing Boorman and Bradley, specifically how two storytellers telling the very same story can deliver such variant meanings. The class will wrestle with the issue: is meaning on the page (or on the screen) or in the mind of the audience?  Why do we insist that stories make meaning, anyway?

The remaining time will be devoted to defining and analysis of pre-story assets, what in film and teleplays is called “back story,” and how those elements predispose a story to structural and plot necessities. If that sounds mysterious, it is not, but the storyteller who ignores such matters does so at great peril.

In addition, we will discuss:

  • El Paso” – Marty Robbins: online course pack, with music – for structure
  • The Tinder Box, in online course pack – note the inter-textual questions!
  • An Age of Marvels and Wonders,” a  novella by Perry Glasser (free online, the galley pdf from Next Stop Hollywood (it contains errors) at http://www.nextstophollywood.org/An_Age_of_marvels.pdf --for back story & structure
  • Organize student presentations for week #6. – Bradley presenters excepted

Week #5 — Voice, Persona & Character — Approaching Plot

Caveat: Reading dramatic monologues and other forms of serious poetry is neither an obscure art nor a preoccupation of addled eccentrics. This assignment calls for careful, thoughtful reading. Take your time with these; the intention of this assignment is not to spend two hours explicating the text to students who read their homework 15 minutes before class or failed to read it at all. Not that I’d threaten a pop quiz, but you have been warned. Nu-huh. Not me. Make the time that will allow you to succeed; come to class with ideas well stocked in your head. The first person who whines, “But it was haaaaard!” will be fed to wild boars. “But I work,” will be met with a blank stare. Having to work while attending college is a noble, American tradition that relieves no one from homework. Work fewer hours; take fewer courses. Just do not whine.

Finishing up whatever has been left behind. Group committee meetings, time permitting.

Week #6   Bringing it Together – 3  Student- Group presentations – 40 minutes each – groups will focus on the same issues as the term paper due Week #9

 A Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi

Watchmen – Moore & Gibbons

HW: By next week, rent, beg, steal or borrow and watch: The Lord of the Rings, Part I (film) – “The Fellowship of the Ring,” Peter Jackson, director.

DO NOT watch this film surrounded by 15 talkative friends with the attention spans of gnats.
DO NOT watch this film as though you were engaged in idle entertainment. You are a student. STUDY THE FILM for the storyteller’s art. Do you want to be a consumer or producer of art? A consumer says, “O wow.” A producer says, “How’d they do that?” The choice is yours.

If for some reason you’ve been living in a cave and are not part of western civilization for the past decade, watch it twice.

Plainly, this film, its two sequels, and the books they are based on could be a course unto itself. For our purposes, we are interested in the storyteller’s art. After admiring the music and production values, take notes on the following — you need not write out answers, but come to class ready to comment on:

  • What assets does Frodo bring to the story that predate Gandalf’s appearance in the Shire? How do those assets enable Frodo to perform his acts of heroism?
  • How do Jackson (and Tolkien) define heroism?
  • What events did Bilbo partake of that bring menace to the Shire?
  • What motive does Evil have in this fantasy epic?
  • Imagine Sauron’s childhood. (Yes, I am serious.)
  • Describe the structure of “the quest.” Name five additional stories you know, only one of which is a film, that are a quest. Have you read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road?
  • While watching—especially if you are familiar with the entire LOTR trilogy—list all the transformations you note. For example, Strider is revealed to be Aragorn, and Aragorn—eventually—is revealed to be the King.  Gandalf the Grey dies and is reborn. An elf chooses to become mortal for the sake of love. Do transformations power this epic fantasy? One thing becomes another…
  • Extra Credit: In Return of the King, Aragorn addresses his hopelessly outnumbered troops at The Black Gate. 
    Compare that speech to that of Henry V in the play by Shakespeare.
  • What do you suppose Tolkien needed to know before he could write LOTR?
  • Monster Extra Credit: Compare the scene in the LOTR tavern to the mercenary bar scene in Star Wars to the sailor recruitment scene in Treasure Island by Stevenson.


 Write a short 500-word analysis of the storyteller’s art for LOTR — assets, back story, resolution of Part I.

NB: Full length analytical papers are due in Week # 9. This 500-word assignment is a graded, practice assignment.

Week #7 Trouble Means Drama; Drama Means Trouble. Aristotle said so, so it must be true. – BE PROMPT.

  • Collect 500 word analysis on LOTR
  • Commit to an analytical paper topic — please see Week #9 below.
  • Star Wars, episode IV – A New Hope, George Lucas, director - class viewing.
  • We will watch Star Wars intent on identifying the similarities and differences to LOTR.
    What is Evil’s motive?
    How does the fellowship of heroes come together?
    Who is transformed by the action and in what way(s)?
    How is heroism defined? 
    Watch the scene in the bar…wait a gosh-darn second…

Week #8   Conferences for analytical papers. “Come up and see me sometime” – Mae West

Week #9   Retrograde Plotting, Story Boarding, and Making Meaning Beyond Closure – a lecture for the intrepid and doomed.

How to design your project for weeks 11 – 15.


Students will bring to bear their intelligence in a 7 – 9 page analytical paper that:

  • identifies the elements of the back story of a tale including the pre-story assets of protagonists and antagonists
  • describes the strategies of how a story comes to make meaning
  • describes in detail the interplay of conflict, character, and drama.
  • In all cases, you paper addresses the question HOW and only incidentally addresses WHAT.

Students are urged to work with well known, uncomplicated stories told in a straightforward manner in which resolution suggests meaning. Anyone unsure of what these conditions mean should avail themselves of my counsel during office hours.


  • mysteries,
  • comedies,
  • Twilight,
  • zombies,
  • Harry Potter,
  • exceptions.

College is your chance to grow, not revert.

In no special order, eligible sources include but are not restricted to the list below. These are stories that rip. You are urged to read/experience a source/text you do not know. Before committing, wise students will look into or at several:

    • Beowulf – the first fantasy-adventure epic in English
    • The Odyssey— the first fantasy-adventure epic
    • Kidnapped  or Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson is often dismissed as writing boys’ adventure stories, but for some reason we keep turning the pages. What does he know we should want to?
    • The Sea Wolf - Jack London – fascism on the high seas
    • Dog Soldiers – Robert Stone – smuggling heroin from Vietnam
    • The Road Cormac McCarthy – post apocalyptic quest whose only goal is survival
    • The Yiddish Policeman’s Society Michael Chabon – an award-winning novel in an alternative universe where there is no Israel, but post-WW II Jews have settled in Alaska. Then someone kills the rabbi’s gifted son. Oy vey.
    • The Red Tent Anita Diamant – the Biblical story of matriarchy from a woman’s perspective.
    • The Secret HistoryDonna Tart – murder after the orgy when a group of undergrads take their New England  college English professor too seriously
    • Macbeth William Shakespeare – overleaping ambition corrupts the soul of Shakespeare’s darkest protagonist. All those plays, all those villains — look, do you think Shakespeare wrote to torture high school students 400 years later, or did he tell a heck of a story?
    • Dune – Frank Herbert – the first ecological sci-fi novel; dynastic wars on a desert planet
    • Unforgiven  AND True Grit AND Shane–Clint Eastwood, Henry Hathaway, George Stevens, directors, respectively — note the nature of “heroism” and the play on the myth of the American western hero in each.
    • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — Mark Twain — The reappearance of an abusive father sends an escaping boy on a quest through the heart of American morality.
    • The 300 – the film AND graphic novel (Miller and Varley) – based on the historic battle of Thermopylae where hopelessly outnumbered Greeks delayed the armies of Persia in 480 BC. The East is East and the West is West because of this battle and this war.
    • The Metamorphosis Franz Kafka – Gregor Samsa awakens to learn he is a bug. Yeah, well, so what?
    • The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. LeGuin – a sci-fi novel set on a planet where gender is always indeterminate
    • The Gift of StonesJim Crace – a fable set in no time and no place on the nature of art and the nature of storytelling. See

Week #10 — Scene, Narrative, Sensory Data, Dialogue and other Storytelling Tools.

An overview of how stories are written and imagined; the mechanics of designing and fulfilling your project for weeks 11 – 15. Form and content. Collaboration or isolation?

Week 11 – 15 —  Do It!

The Storyteller’s Workshop: write, video, script, outline— startle us and yourself. Students are encouraged to engage a single project and use the class to measure an idea’s effectiveness.