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Story: The Art & Science
FYS 016, CRN 6486
Amy Letter
TR 12:30pm-1:45pm

What does your brain do when you’re hearing a story? What catches audiences’ attention in a story, and why? Can stories be organized into taxonomies, and understood to have lineages, evolutionary family trees? What makes one character come alive in readers’ imaginations while another is forgotten? Why did fictional storytelling evolve in the first place?

In this course we will read, watch, and listen to STORIES presented across media and genres, from the ancient world to the present-day. We will analyze these stories as both works of art and as living specimens, coming to both appreciate and understand their construction, as well as our own and others’ reactions to them, with the ultimate goal of better understanding how stories “work.”

We will read essays by authors who self-analyze, offering philosophies of composition and “rules" of the craft; essays by scientists who have studied the human brain and behavior in response to story; essays by scholars of folklore who have tracked down the evolutionary history of individual stories; and theorists struggling with the very existence of fiction in human culture.

Finally we will respond to what we’ve learned with essays and stories of our own. The stories we create may take one of several forms — eg: essays, videos, songs, poems, plays, comics, fairy tales — but in any case what we write will be stories carefully crafted using the vital information and principles that we’ve learned.

Course readings may include essays by Richard Dawkins, Jack Zipes, Zadie Smith, Scott McCloud, David Foster Wallace and others; as well as stories by Willa Cather, Enid Shomer, Alison Bechdel, Margaret Atwood, Kate Chopin and others.

Example assignment: students will read guidelines from Robert McKee's Hollywood screenwriting seminar, and will use this text as a lens through which to analyze a recent major film release, identifying where the film adhered to, and departed from, these widely accepted principles of screenwriting. Students will then be challenged to write a synopsis of a film which departs from every principle listed.

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