Some Narrative Proposals to discuss

October 12, 2017

A BrownTaking Back The Narrative – Berryhill

Turner T Draft Proposal

Dukes Journey_to_remember

Frye Shayla proposal


Howard Narrative Proposal-

Boutty War and Music

Cobbs I Weather the Storm


Casablanca a summary of a movie

October 11, 2017

If you see this before tomorrow night, listen to the first few minutes of the Terry Gross interview  when she summarizes the classic 1941 movie,  “Casablanca.” Think of it as a model for a proposal.

And notice that the original title for  “Casablanca” is “Everybody Goes to Rick’s.”

Read “The One Left Behind” for tonight

October 5, 2017

I had it on the syllabus, but it may have escaped your attention. This story embodies the classic magazine feature form. It starts as late as possible. The theme is developed in the first half. Deep in the story the writer goes back to the boyhoods of the two brothers and then returns to the present. That’s the chronology.

Writing the narrative proposal: Due next Wednesday, October 11.

October 5, 2017

We will discuss this tonight.

Write a short proposal for your project that demonstrates your knowledge of the principles of narrative writing. Base it on the checklist of principles below and send it to me by email. Write it in the order of the checklist. Make it no more than two pages. This is a summary, a draft, an outline. This is a percentage of your grade in the course.

 Checklist for Narrative Proposal

Name and email address

Title (write a strong title that embodies the theme of the proposal).

Start as late as possible.

Set the story in time and place. Where and when? How does the place shape the story?

Describe the main character. What is her or his problem or need?

(For the character description, use the research questions about profiles in the Blundell handout, “Planning and Execution.”)

Short descriptions of other characters and their problems or needs.

Write a tight chronology for the story, or a timeline.

Write a main theme statement (Blundell’s term) or what in films we call a “log line.”

If you could reduce your story to one word, what would that word be?

Feel free to use any of the other instructional pieces on the Art of Narrative blog.

If you feel lost, follow the six-box form for fiction in the instructional pages.

Send it by email. We will discuss

Class cancelled for Berryhill tonight

September 28, 2017

Dear Writers,

I’ve come down with a bad cold that makes me unfit to teach tonight. Please pass the word when you see this. Mr. Tanaka will teach as usual. Keep on with your proposals. I will get back to you online.

Michael Berryhill

Schedule is updated and planning

September 21, 2017

Because this is a writing course, the schedule can’t be rigid. I want to adapt to your needs as writers. Check the calendar in the Syllabus below. Here’s what you need to do: plan plan plan. We need to focus on what it will take to write this project. What questions will be answered? What form are you going to use? Is this going to be a story, a movie, a blog, a video, a podcast, nonfiction or fiction?

If it’s nonfiction you must plan the reporting. You can’t improvise the reporting. You must have a plan, and then be flexible when the plan doesn’t work out. That’s when you write a second plan.  As the folks in NASA said during the ’60s, “Plans fail, but planning never fails.”

Analyzing “All Aunt Hagar’s Children”

September 19, 2017

First let’s identify some of the elements of story telling.

Jones quickly sets the story in time and place: Washington D.C. just after the end of the Korean War.  I can’t overstate how important it is to establish the story in time and place. Notice how he does it.

A couple of notions from Aristotle: nutrition and locomotion.  Food is really important in this story. It is a thread throughout. Notice the different ways he uses it. Alcohol and Kool-aid are important as well. As for locomotion, note his Ford car and its problems. And walking when the car isn’t working.

The character’s need. What is it? Is it to go to Alaska and find gold? What is beneath that need? Define the story within the story.

On the surface, this is a detective story. The narrator is trying to figure out who killed Ike.   But what is the story really about? What is the story within the story? It’s about women, isn’t it? A 24-year-old war veteran who still doesn’t know much about women. Notice the different ones throughout, including the woman he has seen die and what she says.

Who is Hagar? She is mentioned very briefly, a throwaway line. But if it’s the title you can bet that the author means it to tie the story together. And what is the significance of the words the dying woman said?

You could say his superficial need is going to Alaska to find gold. You might say his need is to run away from these women. But the need within the story is to figure out what the words of the dying woman mean.

I should say one other thing. This is a complex story, a masterful story. If I were looking to write a story, I wouldn’t try to write one so complicated, at least, not for the first time. But if I wanted to write one so complicated, I would ask myself, as a I ask you as writers, a  simple question you must answer, about your stories as well as this one, and which  which is complicated to discover: What’s the story about?

Instructional materials

September 8, 2017

Here is a condensed version of instructional materials, 59 pages. Sorry for the delay. I suggest you download and browse and see what interests you the most.

Instructional Materials

Art of Narrative: Fall 2017 Syllabus

September 7, 2017

Fall 2017
Thursday, 5:30-8:00
MLK 119

Michael Berryhill
713-313-7528 blog address for Art of Narrative:


Teaching Philosophy:

I approach this class as an editor working with writers. I want each of my writers to come to me with story ideas and approach how to develop them. I want to see your writing as soon as possible to get an idea of how best to help you. I have lots of handouts and stories to work with. We will be using my blog for the semester and everyone must post comments about the reading and writing process.

Course Description

The Art of Narrative is one of three foundation courses for the graduate degree in  Professional Communication and Digital Media Production. During the course of the semester, we will review the foundations of narrative story-telling in nonfiction, fiction and movies. The primary emphasis will be on nonfiction prose. We will review research questions, main theme statements, narrative, scene, dialogue, background, description and observation. We will look at various approaches to opening a story. I will give you selected readings for class discussion.

For class readings we will read some masterpieces of journalism, many of them available online. Students will be asked to find examples of good writing for discussion.

Each student will write at least 3000 words, either as a long form article or story, or as shorter papers. I will work with each of you in an individual way to see that your writing assignments reflect your strengths and witnesses. It’s very important that you submit drafts for revision. And we will see if we can adjust your writing assignments to help you in developing your master’s project.

One-on-one consultations: every student must meet at least twice with me, once to discuss the reporting, and once to discuss the rough draft. Make this a priority.

I’ve prepared handouts and will give them out the first day.  Everything in the handouts is available in the right hand corner of the blog. For those of you who prefer to read digitally, it’s all there. But I think there is something useful in being able to mark up and annotate a piece of writing. There’s nothing wrong with keeping one foot in the analogue world. Studies have shown that writing by hand can improve memory and understanding. Mark up the stories. Figure out how they are put together. This is important. Send comments to the blog. This is graduate study. Class participation counts.

Important requirements: reinforce

Subscribe to the blog:

Post at least four comments about the reading and problems on the blog.

Learning  Objectives:

Goal 1: Understand and identify the elements of narrative writing.

Goal 2: Define the difference between essay and narrative writing

Goal 3: Write a 3000-word narrative.


September 7 Introductions and dividing the class. Story ideas. The instructional materials. How to write a story pitch.

September 14 Bring story pitches for discussion.

September 21 Discuss Edward P. Jones story, “All Aunt Hagar’s Children.” Think in terms of the character section of the instructional sections, and the Six-Box Model for fiction. Stories are often about a character’s need. What does the narrator of the story need?

September 28 Planning the research and writing a pitch. The character’s need

October 5 Feature structure Read “The One Left Behind”

October 12 Proposal due: present and discuss in class. Have a research plan.

October 19 Mythic structure 

October 26 Screen play structure 

November 2 Rough draft due

November 9 Reading assigned as needed

November 16 Reading to be assigned

November 23 Thanksgiving

November 30 Reading to be assigned

December 7 (Last day of class) Final draft due

December 9-15 (Final exam week)







A story or an essay?

September 7, 2017

Here is a story by Edward P.  Jones, a wonderful writer, explaining in the New Yorker how he became a writer. A lovely little story. We might discuss whether it is an essay or a story or a combination of both. I’m printing it here in full. Notice the story starts with time and place.  There is a long story by Jones , “All Aunt Hagar’s Children” that  I want you all to read. It’s kind of a detective story, but it’s not really that.


In my first months as a college freshman, I cared more than anything about a young woman with whom I’d gone to high school—Sandra Walker, a thin, brown-skinned woman who might not have been pretty enough for the rest of the universe but was more than pretty enough for me. She was at college in Atlanta and I was in Worcester, Massachusetts. I had never kissed her, for she was true to someone else. I don’t think I’d even so much as touched the back of her hand, but I cared for her, and the only way I knew how to express what I felt at that point in my life was to write letters, and write letters I did. Three and four and five a week I wrote. All of them were more than five pages long and many went to fifteen pages—so thick once they had been folded that I had to reinforce the envelopes with tape. I had always written legibly, but the fear was so great that Sandra Walker might not be able to decipher even one syllable I had written that I began printing everything, and to this day the only cursive writing I do is my signature.

Things like that get in the blood, and they become who you are. I never received a strongly positive response from Sandra, but the crumbs, the letters sharing with me only the minutiae of her life, were enough to keep me writing—September and October and November. There wasn’t much beyond the crumbs. Imagining as best I could what a young woman at the front door of the rest of her life might want to hear from a young man, I put all the hope I had into each letter, using the limited language of an eighteen-year-old who knew books of mathematics but not much else. It is amazing the little shacks of life we can build when it seems that so much is at stake. Before it was all over, the letters—from what I can remember, for I have not seen any of them since the day I sent them off—became grand and fanciful creations about some marvellous future that Sandra Walker and I could have. It was a world of fiction, of course, a place conjured up in my imagination, because, as my mother could have told Sandra, I could barely take care of myself and would not have known what to do with, first, a girlfriend, and then a wife and all the children we were supposed to have.

But I was alone in the wilderness in Worcester, away from Washington, D.C., my home, for the first time, and I needed some shack of life. I know now that had I been someone who knew only how to paint pictures, I would have done that. I would have made my case with painting after painting, wrapping them with care and sending them off to Atlanta. Or if I had known how to carve little figures in wood I would have carved Sandra and me and our happy future in oak or maple or whatever wood I could salvage in Worcester. Or I would have weighed poor Sandra down with volumes of poetry or tapes of songs with her name in every title.

I learned, once the world became larger than Sandra Walker and me and Worcester, Massachusetts, that we are born with few tools with which to build our little shacks of life, and we are born with even less knowledge of how to use those tools. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had it in me to write those letters, those stories, to Sandra. I was able to crawl into December, and I woke up one day and knew, without a letter from Sandra, without anyone telling me so, that wherever in the universe Sandra Walker would end up I would not be there with her. I made peace with that, and I think I had a sense that I wasn’t really eighteen anymore, but fast going on twenty.