Procrastinating by Planning

The end of the semester is a busy time. Not only are their projects and exams and grades to contend with, but also preparation for the Spring semester. Sometimes, this presents a method of productive procrastination, as in I don’t feel like grading this pile of essay exams right now, so I shall instead re-work the research paper assignment I will be giving in the spring. Thus far, I have been pretty good about not falling into the trap, but the closer I get to the final grade submission deadline, the more tempting it gets.

Last spring, in my intro to lit course, I introduced a novel for the first time. I’m going to keep that general idea, but I think I’m going to add a little bit of theory to give students more direction for research paper ideas. In general, I’m aiming for a basic anatomy of the novel, in part using standard qualities like plot, character, narrative structure, and genre attributes. What I’m hoping for by adding some basic theoretical background is to get students to learn and research a little about a general approach or theme in literature, and then analyze and apply that information to the novel the class will be working with.

I stand by the use of novels that don’t have as much critical attention on account of being recent or popular, or both. Neverwhere is a sort of exception here, but there isn’t much in terms of exclusive focus, so the general thought is still applicable. Since I will be teaching with multiple sections of the same course, I have the advantage (?) of being able to use several novels at the same time and gauge what works better for different things. Vicious is repeat from last year, given its appeal to reluctant readers. Fred the Vampire Accountant connects to the popularity of supernatural folkloric creatures over the past 15-ish years in entertainment, and its non-standard narrative type will likely be relatable to some of the things the class will look at during the short story unit.  I would also theorize that its narrative structure might actually make it more appealing to students in that it is a faster read than one might expect when you think of the ‘novel’.

Going by last year’s calendar, the chart below that covers the theoretical approach and its potential applicability or area of probable research is designed to take 3 weeks, or 6 class periods, or roughly 60 pages of text per class meeting. I still have to work out the best order though, so right now that might be subject to change.

Using Neverwhere to teach:

Genre tropes: hidden/alternative world (London), fantasy, horror, supernatural

Mystery-Suspense tropes & Urban Fantasy tropes

Media Adaptations: tv to book, book to movie etc.

Fairy tail (Propp)  – focus on plot

Dan Harmon’s story circle – plot and character

Campbell’s “Hero Journey” – focus on main character and general plot


Suspense-Action (Fugitive; police procedural??): plot and some characters

Science Fiction – Frankenstein, real basis for theories (NDE) of concept

Narrative Structure- non-linear chronology

Superhero tropes – primary and secondary characters

Campbell’s “Hero Journey” – focus on main character

Revenge tragedy – Aristotle, and Renaissance tropes: genre, plot, character

The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant

Vampire- Gothic and/or film: character and characterization

Unwilling/Unlikely hero trope/Campbell: characters and plot

Folklore: characters

Supernatural fantasy; Realistic fantasy: genre tropes

Secret Agency/Team: plot and character

Short Story Novel: narrative structure

Then there is the research component. The overall goal here is to encourage more critical thinking and application or incorporation of research into individual arguments, and less report on what everyone else might have said. The basic assignment looks something like this:

“Your basic prompt is to discuss how your author treats and adapts some of the literary genre traditions in which they are working.

You will need to describe and discuss the literary tradition in the past (this will come from research), describe and analyze what your novel does (this is you), and interpret how and why the novelist has adapted the conventions (also you and possibly some further research). As part of your argument, you have the option of considering how successful you think the author was and why.

You will need at least 3 secondary and/or tertiary sources of acceptable academic quality and reliability.

Length: 6-8 pages of essay (not counting works cited).”

I’ve noticed that sessions with librarian in the library does help students learn something about navigating the various databases and search engines, and which students say are helpful sessions, but at the same time still don’t really solve the issue of students not seeming to be able to synthesize secondary or tertiary sources with primary and fit it all into an argument of their own.

I also want to figure out how to work in time to cover not necessarily academic but still reliable sources, which is a necessity when using texts without large (or any) critical examination history. I mean things like:

Author on social media, especially Twitter

Reviews by reliable or credible sources

Author in general, especially if Gaiman

Other things the author has written or said: interviews, blogs, recorded talks, etc.

I have until January 9 (start of spring 2019 term), or really more like late March (starting the novel unit), to get all the details worked out. Any suggestions?