fullscreen background
Skip to main content

Winter Quarter

Winter Registration Now Open
Most Classes Begin Jan 09
shopping cart icon0


« Back to Creative Writing

FICT 82 — Plotting Outside the Box: Alternative Story Structures

Quarter: Winter
Day(s): Thursdays
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Jan 12—Mar 16
Time: 6:30—8:30 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Jan 14
Units: 2
Tuition: $535
Instructor(s): Nina Schuyler
Limit: 21
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Live Online(About Formats)
6:30—8:30 pm (PT)
Jan 12—Mar 16
10 weeks
Refund Date
Jan 14
2 Units
Nina Schuyler
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Most of us have been taught that the causal plot—with one thing causing another, ultimately leading to the protagonist’s transformation—is the only way to plot a story. But a myriad of alternative plot structures exist to explore. What about plotting through argument, associatively or lyrically? Deviating from the traditional plot structure provides another lens for organizing the world, which can feel not only fresh and original but also truer to experience. As Nicole Krauss writes in her novel Forest Dark about the traditional causal plot, sometimes the degree of artifice is greater than the degree of truth.

We will look closely at nine alternative forms of plot structures: associative, episodic, expository, argumentative, discursive, thematic juxtaposition, symbolic juxtaposition, epistolary, and lyrical. Some of these structures don’t lead to character transformation. While the traditional plot precludes disorder, several of these alternative forms invite it in and revel in this energy. We’ll study stories that use these different structures by Stuart Dybek, Jenny Offill, Isaac Singer, and others.

To put our learning into practice, students will write the beginning of at least two stories, using two alternative plot structures. The course will alternate between discussing different plot structures and workshops of students’ stories. Upon completion, you’ll better understand the vast panorama of possibilities available to you as a fiction writer.

Adjunct Professor, University of San Francisco

Nina Schuyler is a faculty member of the MFA Writing Program at the University of San Francisco, where she's taught for 16 years. Her forthcoming novel, Afterword, will be published in 2023. Her short story collection, In This Ravishing World, won the W.S. Porter Prize and the Prism Prize for Climate Literature and will be published in 2024.

Textbooks for this course:

There are no required textbooks; however, some fee-based online readings may be assigned.