Creating Stories

Please note: this is archived course information from 2022 for ENGLISH 311.


Course Content

We explore why humans create stories, why we live surrounded by them, what difference they make to us, how we co-create them when we read or watch them and how we can get more out of them. We aim to become better readers and analysts of stories, and to understand better what it is to be human, both through stories and in other ways, and why and how we learn, discover, question and criticise.

 We focus on some particularly creative stories from before Shakespeare to now.

 We enjoy and examine a range of stories in different media

  • Drama
  • “Classic” and modern novels
  • Short story
  • Children’s story
  • Non-fiction prose
  • Comics and graphic novels
  • Fiction and documentary film

 and from different eras

  • From the sixteenth century to the 2010s—most closer to “now” than to “then”

 and from different regions

  • Europe, North America, Asia, Middle East

We learn about narrative theory and analysis, about the origin of stories, about the telling, imagining, retelling and adapting of stories and about their effects on readers, writers and others.

We consider how stories reflect and affect minds and societies, and vice versa, and how stories can try to challenge the limits or assumptions of storytelling.

 We consider briefly

  • How narrative plays a part in other fields (anthropology, biology, business, education, geology, history, law, medicine, politics, psychology)
  •  How fictionality plays a part in human communication outside works we call fiction

We consider narrative in terms of theory, criticism and empirical research.

As well as reading a wide range of stories, we also have a special focus on two highly acclaimed storytellers, novelist Vladimir Nabokov and comics artist Art Spiegelman, who stretch the boundaries of stories in their own unique ways, but differently each time. 

 Learning Aims and Outcomes

 Skllls and capacities you will develop in ENGLISH 207 /311 include:

  • How to understand, enjoy, analyse, appreciate, compare and evaluate works of fiction of different kinds, levels and eras
  • How to maximise your own creative input into realising in your mind the stories you engage with
  • How to understand and discuss the role of narrative, factual and fictional, in human life and thought, at different ages, in different periods, social roles and disciplines, and in your own life
  • How to understand, assess, critique, extend and deploy key terms and arguments of narrative theory
  • How to understand the role of narrative traditions, models and innovations
  • How to understand human similarities and differences within and beyond narrative, within and beyond particular times, places and cultures
  • How to evaluate the possibilities and limitations of narrative
  • How to evaluate the role of empirical research on narrative

Availability 2022

Not taught in 2022




Primary (required) Reading and Viewing:

Jane Austen,  Sense and Sensibility (1811)

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)

Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin (1957)

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who! (1953)

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (1600)

Art Spiegelman, The Complete Maus (1986, 1991)

Art Spiegelman, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! (2008) (essential parts on Canvas)


Tokyo Story (dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)

A Separation (dir. Asghar Farhad, 2011)

Support (required) reading

Copies of the works by Austen, Egan, Nabokov, Dr. Seuss, Shakespeare, and Spiegelman’s Maus can be obtained through the University Bookstore. Other required reading (such as a source of Twelfth Night) is available through Canvas.

Important class notices will also appear on Canvas. You should make sure you have access to it and can receive notices posted on it in a timely way.

Primary reading

You should aim to get read each set work before the lectures on it. You will find it much easier to follow (and think independently about) the lecture discussion if you have your own sense of the book, and you’ll be able to discover the text’s surprises yourself (especially important in narrative) rather than through spoilers.

In fact, if you can read the novels ahead of the semester, so that you can reread them in the semester, you’ll get more out of the books and the course.

You can follow the order of texts and lectures as they appear on the lecture timetable, or on Canvas.

Recommended Reading

Secondary reading

In addition to the material covered in lectures, I have placed supplementary material on Canvas, and an additional bibliography. You do not need to read most of this material; but if you do choose to read beyond re-reading the set text (which should always be the first priority), these materials will simplify your search. There will also be short lists of recommended secondary material in case you wish to explore further.


Coursework + exam


ENGLISH 311: 15 points


60 points at Stage II from the BA schedule


ENGLISH 111, 207