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Creative Launchpad: Thinking Things Up and Writing Them Down

Session B: July 20 - July 30, 2021
1:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.
English and Writing
Melissa Jensen

We will read—and watch and listen—across genres: fiction and essay, prose and verse and script, exploring various approaches to how best to get the “story” told. Students will complete a series of quick writing assignments: honing their voice, creating powerful message, characters, and language. We will discuss some of these pieces as a group in class. The goal is to become coherent, compelling storytellers. Because absolutely everyone has a story to tell.


Each session will begin with a focused lecture from the instructor on the day’s topic: novels, personal essays, poetry, scripts, etc. We will read topical pieces aloud, view segments from film and television, listen to song lyrics, and discuss as a group what we’ve read, seen, and heard as works of creative writing: not just whether we like (or dislike) them, but why? What has the author achieved (or not) through subject, language, form, etc. to compel, entertain, illuminate? In the second week, we will workshop students’ work, offering (guided) insights into what is appealing and works well, and what might benefit from revision.

Assigned Reading:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (it is strongly recommended that students have this read in advance of the first session). And absolutely, we will make time to talk about important literature/challenging writers. Assorted poetry and prose to be read in class and/or on Canvas. Assigned and recommended pieces will be posted on Canvas throughout the week.

Writing Assignments:

There will be regular in-class writing exercises. Students will also complete two short pieces outside of class, based on a choice of topics. Instructor will provide comments and suggestions for revision.

Course Outline (note: this might change slightly):

Class 1: “Wingardium leviosa!”: Introduction to Creative Writing
- history, form, function, and some familiar examples
- inspiration and purpose

Class 2: Roses are red; violets are smelly: Poetry
- what it is and why it’s such a good thing, the basics
Reading assignment: Assigned free(ish) verse poems; write several quick thoughts about each*

Class 3: Do not go gentle: (more challenging) Poetry
- rhyme, meter, and other form(al) elements
Reading assignment: Assigned formal poems; write several quick thoughts about each

Class 4: Once upon a time…: Fiction
- plot and setting: building worlds and telling tales
Reading assignment: Assigned short stories; write several quick thoughts about each

Class 5: …there was a beautiful prince(ss): Fiction
- characters: who they are, why we care, how we make them real
Writing Assignment: “Manythings Go” Poetry -minimum 14 lines, maximum 39: free verse, rhymed/metered, concrete, prose...

Class 6: “Scourgify!”: Editing, critique, and the workshopping process
- how to find what isn’t working well and how to fix it Workshopping: Students discuss each other’s work
Reading/Writing Assignment: Classmates’ “Manythings” pieces; write at least two comments about each

Class 7: “I swear I didn’t make this up!”: Creative nonfiction
- personal essays, profiles, reviews
Reading Assignment: choose two non-fiction pieces, either from the suggested list or on your own; write several quick thoughts about each

Class 8: Fade in: Scripts and screenplays
- form(at) and content
Viewing Assignment: Assigned clips/shorts on YouTube; write several quick thoughts about each

Class 9: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Stepsisters: Writing in the real world (and for college)
- planning, doing, and how to live Happily Ever After in the writing realm
Reading Assignment: Assigned (very) short essays

Class 10: Good-by and Keep Cold: Wind-up and final discussions
Writing Exercise Due: “F(a)ction”
- maximum 350 words: personal essay or profile

*These “quick thoughts” can literally just be a few words, and shouldn’t be more than a sentence each. Just enough to show you’ve read the piece and given it some thought. It can be an intellectual/analytical response, an emotional one, or even evocative: something else of which this reminded you.

Instructor bio:

Melissa Jensen is current faculty in the Penn English Department. She is also an award-winning writer of historical and contemporary fiction. Most recently, her Young Adult novels have been official selections on such lists as New York Public Library's Teen Reading and FYA. She is currently working on the fourth and final book in her Philadelphia novel series and a play centered around bog bodies and Irish rap music, as well as participating in an ongoing multi-media project exploring the connection between anthropology, archaeology, and literature. “Broken Siren”, a contemporary work for string ensemble and soprano based on Homer’s Odyssey, for which she wrote the libretto, debuted in 2020, to be followed by Carmilla from the Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu novella in 2023. She has contributed to numerous print media, including Philadelphia Style Magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer. She currently divides her time between Philadelphia and Dublin, all the better to be immersed in the worlds of really really good fiction and poetry, and fascinating stuff unearthed from underground.