This page focuses on the course 21W.758 Genre Fiction Workshop as it was taught by Shariann Lewitt in Spring 2013.
Genre Fiction is a workshop-based course for students with some writing experience who want to focus on mastering the forms and challenges of established genres. Published works of mystery, fantasy, and science fiction are read and discussed, with particular attention paid to structure, world building, the Reader Writer Contract, maintaining suspense, and the realities of contemporary publishing, among other topics. These conversations are intended to inform the writing done by students during the course and our discussions about those pieces.
The overall goal for the course is for students to learn to write good fiction. The emphasis is on character and how plot grows from character. Good fiction is the basis for writing good genre fiction.
The genre-based goals for the students are to:
After this course, most students want to find a workshop group where they can continue to write and receive useful critiques. Compatible workshops, especially in genre, are not often easy to find. Those who are not graduating often are writing minors or concentrators and will take more courses in the creative writing track. Depending on a student’s interests, that could include 21W.759 Writing Science Fiction, 21W.770 Advanced Fiction Workshop, or 21W.773 Writing Longer Fiction.
A course in writing short fiction or comparable writing experience.
Every other fall semester
Primarily juniors and seniors with some underclassmen and one or two graduate students.
Wide variation, though most students were writing minors or concentrators.
The common interest of all the students in this course was a real love of whatever genre they read. They were all there to learn to write in one particular genre (almost all of them either science fiction or fantasy). Almost all had a previous writing class, primarily 21W.755 Writing and Reading the Short Story (the introductory fiction class at MIT), and several of them had one of the other introductory creative writing classes that emphasize creative non-fiction, poetry or autobiography. Many of them had been writing stories on their own for pleasure for a long time. Students brought a lot of enthusiasm to this class — they were deeply invested in the material and committed to improving their own work.
15. Every member of a workshop needs to be responsible to every other member. With more than 15 students, it would not be possible for every student to read every other student’s work.
6-12 works well; 8-10 is perfect.
During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:
On the following pages, Shariann Lewitt describes various aspects of how she teaches 21W.758 Genre Fiction.