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Short Story Bootcamp: Writing Assignment

Now that you and your cohort have had an opportunity to read and discuss your selected short story, it is time to move to the final skill of the bootcamp: writing a literary analysis paper. Using a retired AP prompt as a guide, you will will select and analyze specific textual evidence from your story in order to support a coherent thesis.
  1. Choose a character and write an essay in which you (a) briefly describe the standards of the fictional society in which the character exists and (b) show how the character is affected by and responds to those standards.
  2. Identify a specific inanimate object (e.g., a seashell, a handkerchief, a painting) that is important in your story, and write an essay in which you show how two or three of the purposes the object serves are related to one another.
  3. The significance of a title such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is so easy to discover. However, in other works (for example, Measure for Measure) the full significance of the title becomes apparent to the reader only gradually. Show how the significance of the title of your story is developed through the author’s use of devices such as contrast, repetition, allusion, and point of view.
  4. An effective literary work does not merely stop or cease; it concludes. In the view of some critics, a work that does not provide the pleasure of significant closure has terminated with an artistic fault. A satisfactory ending is not, however, always conclusive in every sense; significant closure may require the reader to abide with or adjust to ambiguity and uncertainty. In an essay, explain precisely how and why the ending of your story appropriately or inappropriately concludes the work.
  5. Choose an implausible or strikingly unrealistic incident or character in your story. Write an essay that explains how the incident or character is related to the more realistic or plausible elements in the rest of the work.
  6. Select a moment or scene in your story that you find especially memorable. Write an essay in which you identify the line or the passage, explain its relationship to the work, and analyze the reasons for its effectiveness.
While you can analyze the nonfiction pieces in AP Language and Composition using the rhetorical triangle (Purpose/Audience/Speaker), literary works require a different approach. A literary work rarely has a stated or implied purpose the way an essay or editorial will; instead, a literary work will more likely explore a universal theme or idea of some kind, like coming of age, sacrifice, epiphany, etc. Your essay should focus on what the author is employing (point of view, setting, specific diction, etc.), how that tool is being used (look for patterns of words/phrases, how the story structure reveals information, where in the narrative or dialogue the technique is being employed, etc.), and why (what point about love/honor/growth or what have you is the author intending to make).
Here’s an example of the what—>how—>why relationship applied to Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”:


Vonnegut’s fantastic imagery (what) reaches its climax when Harrison and his chosen empress abandon “Not only…the laws of the land…, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well” and “leap like deer on the moon.” (how – examples from text) These improbable actions underscore the absurdity of their situation and the lengths people are willing to go to overcome it. (why)

Because your paper should be limited to two pages, choose your evidence carefully. Remember, you are not expected to comment on every aspect of your selected story. Focus on selecting multiple examples from the text that support your thesis. Avoid the “drive-by” reference (Hey, look! A symbol! On to the next paragraph…). Your goal should be to create a persuasive case for your answer to the prompt, revealed through your reading/interpretation of the story and its construction.


  1. Your cohort is encouraged to mark your story text and comment using a Google Doc through Collaborations in Canvas. 
  2. Cohort members should assist each other in the writing process by providing feedback, answering questions, and suggesting evidence to support an individual writer’s chosen prompt.
  3. Final papers must follow standard rules for formal paper submission. The first page of the document should list your name, name of course and instructor, and the date. Your last name and page number go in the document header. The whole paper should be in 12 pt., left-justified, and double-spaced. You don’t have to use TNR, but you do need to choose a professional-looking, readable typeface–this is a paper, not a party invitation. If you do not know how to format documents properly, ASK. A title is not required, but an appropriate and thoughtful one is welcome. Name your file Bootcamp QuestionNumber LastName: Bootcamp Q3 Smith, for example.
  4. Papers will be scored using the AP 6-point scale.
  5. Papers are due Wednesday, September 16 to Canvas by 11:59 pm. At midnight, your grade turns into a pumpkin.

As always, if you have questions, see me. Happy writing!

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Short Story Bootcamp: Writing Prep

bootsWe’re in the home stretch of our short story boot camp, and now it’s time for you to put your knowledge to work. You will work with a cohort to discuss and analyze a story from an assigned group. The ultimate objective is to write a paper about the story which uses specific examples from the selected text to answer an AP-style prompt.

Your cohort will complete the following tasks:

  • Read and discuss your story – you may mark your electronic copy either with notes/highlighting in Google Docs or through a PDF markup tool like Acrobat or Kami
  • Select an AP prompt from a provided list
  • Collaborate to plan and write a formal paper – all members of the cohort should assist each other in gathering evidence and refining the paper draft

You and your cohort should confer to select ONE story from your assigned group. You may access/download a copy of your story from the following links:


Gina Berriault, “The Stone Boy

Ha Jin, “Saboteur

Tillie Olson, “I Stand Here Ironing

Alice Walker, “Everyday Use


Sherman Alexie, “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona

William Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily

Frank O’Connor, “First Confession

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, “The Medicine Bag


Arthur C. Clarke, “The Nine Billion Names of God

Nadine Gordimer, “Once Upon a Time

Ursula K. LeGuin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Gabriel García Márquez, “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World


In your cohort, you will first discuss and expand your knowledge and understanding of your selected story. Use the Literary Elements diagram to guide your analysis and discussion. Consider which of the tools are being employed in a way that reveals the author’s overall meaning in the story. For example, John Updike’s “A&P” is successful because of his choice of the first person point of view, which helps to create the indelible character of Sammy the checkout clerk. You can discuss strong characterization, the success of the use of dialogue, diction and syntax choices that reveal tone, how symbols in the story convey meaning—your choices are open. You could also refer to the Exploring and Identifying Theme handout to begin crafting a MOWAW for your story. Remember, a statement of meaning cannot be a single word; it must be expressed in a phrase.

Your discussion and analysis will be used to select a prompt for your final 500-word paper, which will be due next week. Prompts will be made available tomorrow.

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The Pied Piper and Bob Dylan – Context for “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

In May of 1964, a young woman named Alleen Rowe disappeared from her home in Tucson, Arizona. Her mother was convinced that a popular young man known as “Smitty” by the kids in town was connected to Alleen’s death. He was questioned, but never charged.

A year later in August, sisters Gretchen and Wendy Fritz disappeared. Gretchen, the volatile daughter of rich parents, had been dating Smitty for some time. By October, a friend of Smitty’s finally confessed his knowledge of the double murder and led police to the bodies he’d helped Smitty bury in the desert outside of town. Once Smitty and his friends were rounded up, the truth about Alleen Rowe’s death emerged. Charles Schmid, known to the teenagers as “Smitty,” is now one of America’s best known serial killers, the infamous “The Pied Piper of Tucson.”

Schmid was an interesting combination of characteristics. He was short, only 5’3″ or so, but an excellent athlete and gymmast. He was smart but never graduated from high school. He was handsome but created a look for himself of dark pancake makeup, jet black dyed hair, white lips, and a false beauty mark. He stuffed the boots he wore with flattened cans and newspapers to make himself appear taller.


Charles Schmid, the Pied Piper of Tucson.
Photo from the Tucson Citizen, 1965

Writer Don Moser’s profile of Schmid in Life magazine, entitled “The Pied Piper of Tucson,” provided in-depth information about Schmid and the murders he’d committed. Moser’s story and the Bob Dylan song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” were the impetus for author Joyce Carol Oates to create the story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” The ambiguous tale of Connie and her doomed relationship with Arnold Friend hails back to the events in Tucson in the ’60s and introduces a number of questions that Oates herself has not fully answered. It makes for a disturbing and intriguing read.

A recording of Bob Dylan singing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” from a concert at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England.

In San Francisco in 2004, author Joyce Carol Oates was asked about the connection between the Bob Dylan song and her eventual story. Here is her response:

Student Spencer Mead’s short film “Arnold Friend,” which dramatizes “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

Finally, this is the trailer for the 1985 movie Smooth Talk starring Treat Williams and Laura Dern, which is an adaptation of the story. The movie has a definitive ending–whether it matches what you think happens, well…

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