21W.758 | Fall 2016 | Undergraduate
Genre Fiction Workshop: Fantasy


Course Meeting Times

Lectures / Workshops: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


MIT students were required to obtain permission from the instructor.

Course Overview

Fantasy is currently one of the most popular genres across every platform in fiction. From film to gaming to literature, fantasy tops the charts. Why? Why do people who believe in democracy and live with the magic technology appear to long for wizards and dragons and the matters of kingship? In this class, we will explore this question, and from that base read articles, novels, write exercises and stories in this genre. Please note that this class demands heavy reading. Students who are not pre-registered and who have not begun the reading list over the summer will need to speak to the instructor as to whether or not they will be admitted.

Schedule and Readings

During the first seven weeks of the class, we will discuss techniques directly related to the assigned stories. Exercises during the week will focus on the particular element of style and subcategory of fantasy that we have discussed.

The second seven weeks of the class will be devoted to workshops of original student stories. Using the vocabulary of technique, every student will participate in workshops leading to polished, finished fiction.


Our reading will be various forms of long form fantasy (several stand-alone novels and some books in series.) While you are encouraged to write long form as that is the major preferred length in fantasy, short stories and anthologies do exist. If you have a strong preference to write short form you are certainly permitted to do so and will not be penalized in any way. Novella length is considered long form in this class.


This class requires a lot of reading. Fantasy as a genre is skewed heavily towards the novel (and the series) and short stories are far less common than in science fiction. Fantasy readers prefer longer novels, so a number of the required readings for the class are rather big books. Though they are large, most of them are great reads, compelling and full of fascinating characters and wonderful worlds. I expect that, though I have assigned only one book of most series, you may well want to go on and read the rest. I will try to include as much information about these books as I can on this list. You may well have read a number of these. In a perfect world you would re-read them with a more critical eye. This world is far from perfect and you have a lot of work to do so if you may want to start with the longer books you have not read first. I will give some indications when I believe the order in which you approach the readings counts.


There are four types of assignments required in this class. Reading the books and articles as assigned and participating in discussion of these works is the center of our exploration. Close reading and thoughtful reaction are crucial to developing a sophisticated sense of how various writers have addressed issues, and should inform participants’ original work. Even if you have read the assigned books in a different context, read them again with a view towards technique and elements of style.

The second type of assignment will be a series of exercises in the techniques we will discuss in class. These exercises are designed to give students an opportunity to focus on different elements of fiction and to practice in those particular areas out of context. Included in this type of assignment will be not only writing exercises, but world building as well.

Students will be required to prepare critiques for workshop, which will include thoughtful prepared notes on each piece presented.

Finally, every student will write two pieces. These may be short stories or chapters in a longer work. If a student chooses to write long fiction, a short summary of the rest of the book should be appended to the final revised version of the second piece. Your two pieces may be two sections of a single long work, or may be two substantial sections of two different works in different forms of fantasy.

Each major piece will be submitted to workshop and rewritten. Every student will be required to finish two pieces of fiction at the end of the class.

You will need to bring an exercise journal specifically for this class. We will be doing exercises in class on a regular basis, especially in the beginning of the term, so always bring your journal and a pen/pencil with you. You will be expected to keep your journal (using various writing exercises and approaches) during the entire term.

Please note: Fantasy is most commonly a long form. You will be required to turn in thirty (30) pages total of finished, revised material to pass this class.


Assignments must be handed in on the day due. Since stories will be part of the workshop process, handing in a story late will inconvenience your classmates and give them less time to prepare a thoughtful and useful workshop response.

If there is an unavoidable reason for an assignment to be late, please talk to me or send email at least 24 hours before the due date to ask for an extension. Any final assignment handed in late without an extension, or after the due date of the extension, will cause a full drop in grade. No exceptions.

Turn in all work in to me hard copy. For workshop purposes, we shall use the homework/workshop section of the course website. Everyone will upload their work, exercises or critiques, onto the site under “workshop” so that the entire class may have easy access. All work must be uploaded 48 hours before the workshop is due, in order to give all class members time to read and prepare a thoughtful and useful critique. All work must be submitted in .doc, .docx or .pdf format.


All work turned in for workshop will be typed, spell checked, and printed out double-spaced in black ink on white paper. Your name, class/section and the date go on the top in the right-hand corner. The title goes 3 lines down in the center. Number all pages in standard fiction format:

  • Surname/Title Word/Page #

Selections from your journal and exercises should be typed; do not simply photocopy handwritten exercises, please.


All work in this class will be produced for this class. Do not use earlier work, or submit a story for this class that you are also submitting in another Writing class. An idea or character from earlier work that you want to explore in a different context is acceptable, but please talk to me about it.


Writing cannot be learned from reading a book. Attendance and participation in class are essential to making progress as a writer.

Department policy states that more than five absences will result in a failing grade. More than three absences may adversely affect your overall grade in this class.

Missing a workshop is serious and you must still turn in all critiques to your workshop via email if you do not attend. Not attending your own workshop date, or not having material available to critique for a scheduled workshop will result in a full drop in grade.

If you arrive more than ten minutes late to class, that will count as an absence.


I use what is called “contract grading,” which means that you and I agree on the following contract.

You will be guaranteed to receive at least a B in this class if you do the following:

  • Attend class regularly
  • Do all assignments and exercises seriously, with the full weight of your consideration, and on time
  • Come to class prepared
  • Participate actively in the workshop process, giving full and thoughtful responses to your classmates’ work

The requirements to receive an A are harder to quantify, but they include more sophistication and grace in the writing, lively storytelling, and prose that approaches publishable quality.

Course Info
As Taught In
Fall 2016
Learning Resource Types
notes Lecture Notes
assignment_turned_in Written Assignments with Examples