external image StoryTelling.jpg

Rhetoric and Discourse: Writing in Place

UHON 201-002
CRN: 52316
TTH 11:00am-12:15pm
Room #9 Honors College
Instructor: Michael Thomas PhD.
Office: SHC #2-E
Office hours: MW: 1:30-2:45pm,
TTh: 12:30-1:45pm, and arranged
Phone: 277-3662, 573-1656 (Cell)
e-mail: mthomas@unm.edu



This seminar is an interdisciplinary study of writing. People read to engage ideas. They read to inform decisions. Effective writers make ideas and information accessible. Students in this seminar learn the elements of effective writing.

(Note: this course counts three credits towards the UNM core requirement in writing and speaking)


This seminar will undertake the advanced study of reading and writing. People read to engage ideas and information. They read to inform their decisions. And they decide what to read. Writers write to inform, persuade, and entertain. Writers seek to connect with readers, to engage an audience. Writers succeed when readers choose to read their works and complete those readings. This seminar examines the elements of effective writing and challenges students to build the skills that are fundamental to success in their written work.

New Mexico has an impressive literary legacy. The state has nurtured native-born authors and inspired literary nomads. D.H. Lawrence, Denise Chavez, Tony Hillerman, Leslie Silko, Larry McMurtry, Ed Abbey, and Rudolfo Anaya, and many others have practiced the craft of writing both in and on New Mexico. The product of that craft is literature (fiction and nonfiction) with a strong sense of the New Mexican landscape and New Mexican people, a literature of engagement rather than retreat. This seminar will feature a series of mainly afternoon/evening field trips that will challenge student writers to engage the diverse physical and human landscape that surrounds us. On these field trips writers will engage different places and different cultural realities. Students will also attend a Saturday writing retreat that the instructor will structure as an intensive skills based workshop tailored to the particular strengths and weaknesses students have shown in their work to that point.

This seminar will feature the reading scrutiny of celebrated, mainly New Mexican, stories. Students will explore the techniques the authors use to make their stories credible and resonant. Course activities, exercises, assignments, and prompts will challenge students to apply those techniques in their own writing. Stories are powerful in that they can infuse information with drama, emphasis, and credibility. The goal of this seminar is to provide inspiration while increasing competence.


The books required for this seminar are:
1) King, Stephan, On Writing
2) Flaherty, Francis, The Elements of Story
3) William Strunk and E. B. White, The Elements of Style
4) Lombardo, Stanley, translator, Homer, The Odyssey

These books are, each in its own way, reference books. Focusing on fiction, Stephan King’s book shows the reader how to apply the principles of good narrative writing. Students should read this book for guidance and inspiration. Similarly, Francis Flaherty’s book shows the principles that apply to non-fictional writing. Students should likewise read this book, for guidance and inspiration. The Elements of Style is the slender classic that has helped generations of writers produce lucid and precise prose. Students should read it for pleasure and keep it close at hand for guidance. In the Lombardo Odyssey students will find a clearly rendered translation of the ancient Greek poem. The poem, like the Bhagvad Gita and the Popul Vuh shows the ancient nature of the essential elements of narrative. Students should read it to better understand the enduring power of stories in human endeavor.


The reading emphasis will be on fiction and nonfiction with a strong narrative component, touching lightly on other forms such as poetry, drama, and film scripts. There will be downloadable selections on a blog or wiki from works by the instructor, selections from Edward Abbey, leslie Silko, Rudolfo Anaya, Tony Hillerman , Larry McMurtry, Denise Chavez, Ana Castillo, Mary Austin, Joy Harjo, E.A. Mares, Aldo Leopold, John Nichols, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Jane Smiley, Norman McLean, and others. The instructor will e-mail assignments week by week and may suggest particular readings to individual students based on the instructor’s assessment.


The course is a reading/discussion/writing/editing seminar. The course will utilize the writers’ workshop approach with all participants using the class to craft and mold works-in-progress into refined, literary products. The premises of the class are these: 1) that narrative is a fundamental and very effective way for people to share ideas, information, observations, reflections, and conclusions with one another. 2) That place, physical and/or social location, provides the author with powerful means of integrating his/her work, and an effective dimension of connection with the audience. Students will also learn about the writer’s role in society during different historical eras and in different cultures.

Students completing this class should be able to:

1) Identify features of narrative that render a story effective. (Examples: narrative voice, plot or situation, point of view, character, dialogue, setting, dramatic timing, emphatic rhythm, connection/transition, climax resolution, etc).

2) Demonstrate mastery of several features of effective narrative in their own writing.

3) Be able to demonstrate an understanding of the utility of research in multiple disciplines to assess the role and power of narrative, (oral and/or written) in different societies.

4) Assess their skills as writers and storytellers and articulate ways that they could enhance those skills.


  • Final Project: Each student will produce two 3000 – 8000 word writing projects of publishable or near publishable quality. Students will produce their projects in three stages. A rough draft followed by a refined first draft and the subsequent final draft. (25 + 25 = 50 points possible)
  • Portfolio: Each student will document their day to day work in the class by creating a portfolio folder.The folder can be a physical folder or use a digital format such as a wiki or blog. The folder should preserve writings connected to the class such as in-class writing exercises, notes and short reaction essays on assigned readings, story ideas, draft notes or outlines, etc. In the final weeks of the semester, students should refine and organize their portfolio into a coherent set of documents that demonstrate content mastery and skill improvement. (30 points possible)
  • Participation: Students are expected to attend all sessions and to participate in the retreat, field sessions, discussions and other group activities. Students should be attentive and courteous during all discussions and presentations. The instructor will make an assessment of participation in seminar activities. (20 points possible) Note: Since this is a discussion class and since there are but a limited number of meetings, attendance and timely arrival are crucial.

A - 85-100, Cr - 55-84, Ncr - 54 points or less.

TOPICS SCHEDULE (May be revised):

Introduction: The power of narrative in communication. (Entertainment, enlightenment, and persuasion):
7 sessions
a) Narrative (fiction) reading: Stephan King, On Writing: 2 sessions
b) Narrative (non-fiction) reading: Flaherty, Elements of Story: 2 sessions
c) The mythic dimension of Narrative, The Odyssey: 3 sessions

Assigned readings showcase particular features of effective narratives. Discussion, writing assignments, and in class exercises and prompts will address these focal features. All reading assignments listed below are provisional. Dr. Thomas tailors the assignment to the particular capacities and needs of the students who take the class. The listed readings have proved useful in other classes.

Narrative Voice/Point of View: 2 sessions
a) Aldo Leopold, “Thinking Like a Mountain”
b) Michael Thomas,“Blood Mandala”
c) Jane Smiley,

Plot, Situation, and Structuring Devices: 2 sessions
a) William DeBuys, (non fiction) “Red Horse”
b) Annie Proulx, “Brokeback Mountain”
c) Edgar Allen Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher”
d) Susan Glaspell, “A Jury of Her Peers”

Setting Elements: 2 sessions
a) Steve Bodio, excerpt from Querencia
b) Ed Abbey, “The Snakes of Paradise”
c) Denise Chavez, excerpts from Face of an Angel
d) Sherman Alexie, excerpts from the Absolutely True Dairy of a Part-Time Indian

Characters and Character Development: 2 sessions
a) Larry McMurtry, exerpt from The Last Picture Show
b) Ellen Gilchrist, “Victory Over Japan”
c) Diana Nyad – “Fidrych”
d) Leslie Silko – exerpts from Ceremony

Dialogue/Quotation: 2 sessions
a) H. G. Bissinger, exerpts from Friday Night Lights
b) Larry McMurtry, Chapter 1, Lonesome Dove
c) Michael Thomas, “Dead Puppy on a Hot Day”

Timing, Rhythm, Sequencing, Continuity, and Climax: 2 sessions
a) J.L. Borges, “The South”
b) Tony Hillerman, “The Witch, Yazzie, and the Nine of Clubs”
c) Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery”
d) Eminem, “My Fault”

Ensemble, Working with Drafts: 2 sessions
a) From Stephan King, On Writing
b) From Francis Flaherty, Elements of Story

Presentation and Editorial Conventions 1 session
a) From Stephan King, On Writing
b) From Francis Flaherty, Elements of Story

Writing Retreat: 5 hours (equivalent to 4 sessions)
Readings: Individualized assignments