Writing Assignment #1: Responding to Short Fiction

Many ways of understanding literature, its creation, and its form exist.  Collectively, these are known as literary theory.  The act of explaining literature to others is called literary criticism.  There are many “schools” of literary criticism, each with a different approach to the text.  Reader-response theory states that the text (the story itself) does not truly exist unless a reader interacts with it.  That is, if a story is just words on a page but is left unread, it does not have meaning.  Do you remember the age-old question that asks whether a tree that falls in a forest when no one is around to hear it actually makes a sound?  Reader-response theory is something like that.  Just think of the story as the tree.  Whether or not you agree with reader-response theory, it is one way of thinking about the literature that we read.  Everything depends on the reader, rather than the story alone.

Here are some questions that a reader-response critic might ask himself/herself when trying to analyze a piece of literature:

Who is the intended audience (the ideal reader) for this text? How can I tell?

What are the differences, if any, between the “ideal reader” and the “actual reader” (me, the critic, in this case)? Might these differences—should they exist—influence the way I experience the text?

What life experiences, cultural attitudes, or prior knowledge do I, as a reader, bring to this story that may shape the way I view the text?

What questions does this text inspire for me?  Am I able to answer them from within the text, or am I left wondering?

As I read this text, do I find myself making associations between myself, my own life, my own experiences, or my own emotions and the characters in the text?

For this essay, you will choose any one of the works of short fiction from this anthology and view it as a reader-response critic would.  You may choose any story from pages 20-668 in The Norton Introduction to Literature.

You will:

Select a story from our text that you would like to explore for this assignment and post the title, author, a one-sentence summary of the story, and a one-sentence explanation of why you have selected it to the Assignment #1 discussion thread.

Read the story carefully several times, annotating the text as you go.

After reading, do some prewriting by completing Understanding the Short Story, a document which can be found in the Assignment #1 handouts folder.

Continue your prewriting by answering questions #1-5 above for yourself on a sheet of paper, remembering that you are the literary critic and the reader.  As long as you can offer textual support for your ideas that is both substantial and plausible, those ideas are valid.

Discover as you read and brainstorm on these questions what point or points in the text begin to most “speak” to you as the reader and try to understand why.

Identify the elements of the story that are significant to you in literary terms: character, plot, theme, point of view, imagery, figurative language, setting, etc. An excellent website for literary terminology is http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/lit_terms.html. There is also a handout about literary terms in the Writing Assignment #1 Readings folder.

Demonstrate how and why these literary elements are significant to you the reader in this particular story. Cite specific examples from the text to support your discussion. An explanation on how to incorporate evidence smoothly into your paper can be found here: http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/research/usingquotes.html

As you draft your essay, remember that it should have a solid introduction with a clear thesis statement, body paragraphs that support the thesis and introduction, and strong, coherent conclusion that will leave a powerful impression on your reader. There are a number of sample essays in our text, but two good reader response-style papers may be found on pages 46-51. Another sample essay with audio annotations may be found here: http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/litweb11/section/literature/sample_writing_fiction.aspx

Note: If you choose a story for this assignment that has a corresponding sample essay in our text, I will be scrutinizing your paper very carefully to make sure it is not too closely modeled on the sample essay.

The essay should be a minimum of three pages (approximately 750 words) long and should follow the manuscript form prescribed in your syllabus. All quotations from the text should be properly cited using MLA-style format, and a works cited page should accompany your paper.  If you are uncertain about how to use MLA-style documentation, visit the following website to learn more about research and documentation style: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/2/11/

Once you have completed a rough draft, edit and revise carefully.  There are guidelines for revision on pages 1866-1867 of our text, and there is a self-editing checklist in the Writing Assignment #1 Handouts folder.

The final draft of your essay should be saved in .docx or .doc format and uploaded to the Writing Assignment #1 Assignment Dropbox by the date indicated on the course calendar.  When naming your file, please title it with your last name and the assignment number (ex. Garcia-Brown1).


This assignment is worth 15 of the 100 points available for this course.  The scoring rubric can be found in the assignment dropbox if you would like to see how points will be distributed.  You will be graded on manuscript format, content, organization, documentation of sources, and grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  

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