Lorene Cary teaches fiction and non-fiction in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Penn’s Department of English.  She received the Provost’s Award for Distinguished Teaching and believes that coaching track rather than teaching literature gave her her core pedagogy for teaching writing.  Each class is organized by its own website, which includes student writing. Here’s one of Lorene’s recent blogs on the site for her fiction class:

Elbow prompts

Last night, after dinner I noticed that someone had dropped under the table a wonderful faux-fountain pen by Pilot, called Varsity.  I’ve decided that I think it belonged to Lisk, and that the thought process that got me to that conclusion, right or wrong, could be useful in a short story for characterization or as one sliver in character development:  what I know about Lisk, or think I do, will tell the reader about her and also, of course, about me.


urlI could use this moment as the body-of-knowledge kernel to grow a scene (or maybe even just a sentence) in a short story about teaching a college class.  But I’d be more likely to want to transplant it to, say, a story such as Liyange’s to develop a character who teaches outside the frame of the story.  In that case, how she thinks of her individual students as she tried to match them to this smooth, bright blue-inked pen could let us in on how she might be as a sister, mother, daughter, griever, repairer, wife, immigrant, intellectual, or emotional or spiritual being. These are what I think of as hinges in a story, sometimes homely, but useful, elbows that connect dry bones.


Shakespeare brings in Gloucester to show you how bad Regan is, because she will never reveal the depth of her viciousness to Lear. And, in that case, the subplot gives you richness in itself and its characters, as well as in relation to the main story.


The ideas that we each come back to again and again show up in the bits we collect and have ready to fit onto two parts of a story line as elbows.  Here are some I’ve been collecting with you in mind.  Please collect five to ten of your own.  Then, like all collectors, you can pull them out and look at them for your pleasure.

·       Bioengineering animals

·       3D printers

·       Award winners who have fallen up or down steps at the Oscars

·       Cyber bullying

·       The guest house as a metaphor in Rumi’s poem and BUddha’s teaching

·       hawks that live in cities

·       cameras that are installed in homes to watch workers while homeowners are away

·       deeply disturbing images of violence in animated film

I’ll bring the penn to class next week.


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