Reading Between the Line – Short Fiction and the Art of Literary Analysis


STX Engelsk A/B

Looking beyond the meaning of the physical words printed on the page is essential when analysing fiction. The real meaning of a text is usually hidden between the lines. From time to time, however, writers condense their message in a single line or a single metaphor, that completely arrests our attention and seems to contain worlds.

Reading between the Line is an introduction to short fiction, fiction analysis and the methodology of the English course. Particular emphasis will be given to analysing short short fiction, poetry and short creative writing exercises.

The mainstay of this module is Bjørn Christensen, Looking for America (LfA). Systime, 2004.

Primary materials

Ellen Hunnicutt, Blackberries
Ernest Hemingway, Six Word Story
Augusto Monterroso, The Dinosaur
Paul, Milenski, Tickits
William Carlos Williams, This is just to say
Jim Heynen, The Good Hider
Raymond Carver, On an old photograph of my son
Sharon Olds, My son the man

Secondary materials

Tickits (short film)
Handouts and models for reading fiction and poetry (usually from Contexts or Worlds of English)
Carl and Ellie’s life together (montage sequence from Pixar’s Up):
Welcome to the desert of the real (“Construct” scene from The Matrix):

John Cage, 4:33 (full orchestral version):

Lesson plans

  1. Core text: Ellen Hunnicutt, Blackberries. Focus on characterization, setting and the use of symbols. Analytical assignment: Draw a map of the setting based on textual evidence. Written assignment write a summary of the short short story.
  2. Core text: Paul Milenski, Tickits. Focus on characterization, setting and theme/message. Analytical assignment: Give a detailed description of the setting based on textual evidence. Written assingment: Give a characterization of Toby (main character) based on textual evidence. Your characterization must contain 4 paragraphs and be structured: Introduction (1 paragraph) – body (2 paragraphs) – Conclusion (1 paragraph). Watch Tickits short film. Discuss your and the film’s interpretation of Toby.
  3. Core texts: Ernest Hemingway, Six Word Story; Augusto Monterroso, The Dinosaur; EE Cummings, Loneliness. Focus: Recognizing different genres and close reading. Starter: Clap a rhythm, make class join in. Discuss the elements of rhythm – beats and pauses. Stress the importance of pauses – i.e. blank spaces. Genre recognition – which of the three texts is the poem? Why? Close reading of poem. Close reading of Hemingway. Show montage sequence from Up. Discuss why both texts can be seen as realism. Close reading of two versions of Monterroso (Portugese has no personal pronouns, so second version is the more accurate translation). What is the difference between them? Show Construct scene from The Matrix. Discuss why both texts can be seen as fables. Discuss how the reader becomes co-author of the text. Written assignment: Write a 55 Fiction: Your text should be exactly 55 words and contain (a) charater(s) and a conflict.
  4. Core text: Jim Heynen, The Good Hider; Two paintings by Edward Hopper (both in LfA). Pseudo-ekphrasis as text opener. Take turns reading the story out loud. Analytical focus: composition, characterization, close reading, symbols.
  5. Core text: William Carlos Williams, This is just to say. Individual assignment: Read the poem three times. Write for three minutes on what you think the poem is about. CL structure – Grab a Partner: Student A – speak for two minutes about  the meaning of the poem. Switch roles. Student B – speak for two minutes taking the most interesting thing you have just been told as you point of departure. Class assignment: Close reading of poem. Written assingment: Write your own version/parody of Williams’ poem.
  6. Core text: Raymond Carver, On an Old Photograph of my Son. Analytical focus: close reading, composition, figurative language. Written assigment: iPoem: An iPoem is a short poem that will fit within no more than two screens on the iPhone. An iPoem may be up to 150 words long. However, I favor iPoems that can be read in a single screen, which would be a poem of about forty words, allowing space for title and byline.
  7. Core text. Sharon Olds, My Son the Man. Analytical focus: close reading, comparative analysis, contextualisation, seeing parallels with other texts.

Two shorties and a poem

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