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“Story Structure and Narrative Form” and “Neil Gaiman” with Chris Dowd: What to expect. 


For each student in our university’s English department, a few names have frequently popped up on our and our friend’s rosters: Dr. Randall Horton, Dr. Diane Russo, Dr. Jeffery Foster, and of course our beloved Dean Dr. Christopher Dowd. This fall, a select few upperclassmen English majors have decided to subject our beloved Dean to a bi-weekly, over two-hour marathon of  light-hearted jabs and conversation-inducing questions. When we signed up for his back-to-back “Story Structure and Narrative Form” and “Neil Gaiman” classes. I was able to get a few statements on what to expect from these classes. 

The first class in this marathon is  “Story Structure and Narrative Form”, which our university’s course catalog describes as a “detailed study of story structures and the formal aspects of fiction and other prose genres. Attention is given to the technical aspects of writing, including structure, characterization, setting, tone, imagery, point of view, and style. This course explores the relationship between form and content through lectures, readings, discussions, and writing exercises” In short, this class is one that will teach the technical side of writing. 

When asked what tier the “Story Structure and Narrative Form” class was under he said it is a “mid-level class in the creative writing sequence”. This basically means that if you want to take our English department’s creative writing classes in “sequential order” (which I must confess I did not) you would take the “Intro to Creative Writing” class, then this class or the “Poetic Form” class and then one of the “Advanced” writing courses. Additionally, Dr. Dowd described this course as the “nuts and bolts of how to write a story” and is not “a peer workshop”. That last fact allegedly throws off a lot of underprepared students.  

A major part of this course, Dowd said, will be “plotting”. “Act structures” and how “they work differently in short stories… novella and novels” will also be explored. Historical and contemporary theories will be implemented, so brush up on your high school Shakespeare and Homer. The class will also look at “sloppy storytelling… even by great writers” to see what not to do. As a summarizing statement for this class, Dr. Dowd claims that “it’s important to see how the other writers do it and learn to, even writers don’t embrace it fully, to at least learn some of the skills and the ability to recognize plot elements that other writers use”. 

The second course in this marathon is the “Neil Gaiman” course (which is considered a writing across the curriculum course for those who still need that credit). Neil Gaiman is a Jewish-British author known for works such as Coraline, Good Omens, The Sleeper and the Spindle, and most recently a graphic novel Mircaleman. Gaiman has won many literary awards including, but not limited to, the Newbery Medals, Hugos, Nebulas, the World Fantasy Award, the Locus Award, British SF Awards, and the British Fantasy Award. 

Dr. Dowd, when asked why he decided to teach a Neil Gaiman course, proudly declared “because the students asked for it”. Single-author courses are not an irregularity within our department’s course load. Some courses included the likes of “Mark Twain” “Edgar Allen Poe” and “Toni Morrison”. So when Neil Gaiman was brought up as a course subject, Dr. Dowd seemed like the obvious choice, since he “has a background in Neil Gaiman”.  

When asked how Gaiman’s British and Jewish identity factors into his works, Dr. Dowd responded “Well, his Jewish identity does not often factor into most works as his Britishness since he does not identify as a practicing Jew. He does identify with his grandparents’ ancestry and their traditions. So it does come up in a lot of his more autobiographical works, such as The Piano Case. His British identity is very much a factor in his works… to the point where publishers, when making editions into the States, have to take out British slang because Americans would not understand the references. So his Britishness will definitely be a major point of discussion.” 

One fact that intrigued Dr. Dowd about Neil Gaiman is that he “writes for completely different audiences. With books that were very much written for adults. But he has young adult books… and even children’s picture books”. He states that he will explore how Gaiman explores different, yet similar themes for each audience. 

Both the “Story Structure and Narrative Form” and “Neil Gaiman” classes will analyze stories and the art of storytelling. Dr. Dowd, from every student taking part in this two-hour marathon, we are looking forward to next semester. If we annoy you, it’s only because we admire you so much. We look forward to the fifteen-minute intermissions in between classes. To everyone, one or both classes, see you then.     

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