Writing the Absurd


writing the absurd

Through a word processor, darkly.

If you turn on to the absurd in life, to the ironic and edgy, the bizarre, the grotesque, if you appreciate authors like Kafka, this is the course for you. We’ll begin with a primer on the fundamental elements of fiction, and then move on quickly to the key techniques of writing absurdist fiction.

We’ll read two classics of absurdist literature, Voltaire’s Candide and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, then move on Albert Camus’s The Stranger, a philosophical absurdist work. (The three novels are available online for free.) Throughout the course, you’ll write your own absurdist pieces and receive plenty of feedback from both your fellow writers and instructor. You’ll engage in discussion boards on these great works of literature, concentrating on the function of absurdism in literature.

Open to beginning as well as advanced writers.

I am confident my writing will consistently improve as a result of the tutoring I will receive from Jack Smith.
—Rebecca Hanley

Writing the Absurd: Course Outline

Week One: Introduction to Absurdism in Literature

Introduction to course. Cover some key techniques of absurdist fiction: satire, irony (including dramatic, situational, and verbal), paradox, juxtaposition, hyperbole, understatement/overstatement, reductio ad absurdum. Brief commentary on some absurdist works of literature, including three which we’ll read in the course: Voltaire’s Candide, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and Camus’s The Stranger. Write a short piece based on one or more techniques of absurdist fiction and get feedback from fellow writers and instructor.

Week Two: Writing Satire

Read first half of Voltaire’s Candide, a satirical work, and in Discussions comment on as many absurdist elements as you can. Drawing upon Candide as a model, begin your own piece of satire on a given world view (aided with lecture notes on this) and receive feedback from fellow writers and instructor.

Week Three: Writing Satire (cont.)

Finish reading Voltaire’s Candide, and in Discussions, continue commenting on as many absurdist elements as possible. Finish your own satirical piece begun the week before and receive feedback from fellow writers and instructor.

Week Four: Writing Absurdist Fiction

Read first half of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and share comments on Discussions. Based on Kafka’s novel, write your first draft of a short piece of absurdist fiction dealing with the fundamental nature of human existence (aided with lecture notes on this), and receive feedback from fellow writers and instructor.

Week Five: Writing Absurdist Fiction (cont.)

Read second half of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and wrap up comments on absurdist elements on Discussions. Complete short piece of absurdist fiction from the week before and receive feedback from fellow writers and instructor.

Week Six: Writing Philosophical Absurdism

Read first third of Albert Camus’s The Stranger and share comments on absurdist elements on Discussions. Write a short piece of absurdist fiction modeled in some way on Camus’s novel. Receive feedback from fellow students and instructor.

Week Seven: Writing Philosophical Absurdism (cont.)

Read second third of The Stranger and continue to share comments on absurdist elements on Discussions. Develop further the short piece of absurdist fiction from previous week. Receive feedback from fellow students and instructor.

Week Eight: Writing Philosophical Absurdism (cont.)

Finish reading The Stranger and wrap up comments on absurdist elements on Discussions. Complete short piece of absurdist fiction from previous two weeks. Receive feedback from fellow students and instructor.

Explore the stranger parts of life in Writing the Absurd. Reserve your spot today!

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Student Feedback for :

Both the expert analysis from Jack and the gracious feedback from other classmates were invaluable to my writing process. Jack pointed out things I hadn't thought of while also giving direction on writing that needed reworking. I'm confident that this course has made me a better writer. Highly recommend it! Keith Murphy

Excellent experience, it guided/forced me to create the structure of the novel before trying to tell the story. Tammera Bollman

Great class! It was fun to experiment with the limitlessness of fiction. Jack is a great teacher—he was very accessible and responded promptly to assignments and questions. Jaki Eisman

Wonderful. Jack delivered fresh perspectives on my writing that I haven't gotten anywhere else. Ian Fossberg

Jack was very constructive with his feedback. I was very lucky to share the course with competent, positive, and constructive students. I learned a lot and enjoyed the process! Jose Di Mase

Jack was great - a perfect combination of praise and useful guidance. He was supportive and encouraging throughout and always on hand to answer any questions. I plan to do more courses with him. Paul Kimm

Really good. Jack is supportive and enthusiastic and honest. Erica Eisdorfer

Jack's lessons and assignments were just what I wanted—I have generated much new writing and practiced the skill of fictionalizing my 'material' and freeing myself from the confines of writing exactly how things happened. Eileen Wiard

I began the course with ideas and some experience writing from another one of Jack's courses, and I have ended the eight weeks with a solid plot outline. As Jack wrote to me when he sent his feedback, I am ready to write my novel! Resham Karfa

Jack is a fabulous teacher, and his course was perfect for me. The assignments and Jack's guidance helped me gain confidence and set myself free from the "tyranny" of facts, in Jack's words. The experience was very liberating, enjoyable, and productive. Dung-Chi Tran

I moved forward with my story because of Jack's direction and went much further than would have happened without these sessions. Jack's feedback was clear and helped me consider revisions that improve the flow and plot ideas. Jack responds quickly to submissions and questions, which is assuring. Cheryl Israel

I appreciated Jack's thoughtful critiques, both of my work and of the work of my classmates. Jack and my classmates were very helpful. Jack's critiques definitely assisted me in making this a stronger manuscript. Sharon O'Toole

I found the earlier exercises extremely helpful and came away feeling encouraged about my novel idea and excited to continue working on it. [Jack] was accessible and encouraging and gave excellent feedback. I would take another of his classes, perhaps when I am farther along with my project and looking for structure and feedback. I just want to say again how much I appreciated the teacher's attentive and individualized feedback and encouragement. This was my first fiction-writing experience, and it felt like a risk. I was in good hands with Jack. Elizabeth Hawkins

Excellent and beyond. Gordon Pelton

I couldn't ask for a better instructor. Jack shared a wealth of resource materials, allowed us to submit lengthy pieces of work, and gave detailed feedback and made suggestions for improvement. I really enjoyed this course, thanks to Jack Smith's leadership and the class participants. What more could you ask for?

This course was a great educational experience. I look forward to working with Jack more in the future. Cheryl Johnson

Jack was very patient and attentive. His comments were on the mark and he made helpful suggestions. Having a group of intelligent and sympathetic readers, including Jack, was enormously helpful. Especially during this disjointed time, when weekends and weekdays blend together and I'm not able to meet with friends, I found it much easier to make progress. Barbara Ensor

Jack was very encouraging and provided me with helpful feedback. His comments are friendly but also critical, which is important with writing, as too many compliments and not enough critical opinions aren't helpful. The class content was engaging. I've already recommended the class to a friend and will continue to do so. And I'm taking another class at the moment. I've been very happy with my experience. Shay Meinecke

We had a great group: everyone was engaging, and Jack was wonderful. He was very prompt with feedback. He pointed out areas of improvement and was very encouraging, gave positive feedback on areas that were strong. I will take another class with Jack. Sharon Mirza

I came out of the course feeling much more confident than I was when I started it, with pieces in my writing that I can use. I am also happy to have discovered that memoir and fiction are not mutually exclusive but can be blended to create new truths. Sharon Bakar

Jack does an excellent job of accepting each of his students where they are on their writing journey. Anne Virtue

Though I have gained much valuable knowledge from the workshops I have taken at Writers.com, I felt it would be advantageous for me to get private tutoring as well.  After much hesitation, I read several stories instructor Jack Smith had posted on the site.  His stories resonated with me, so I took the plunge and connected with Jack.   It was one of the best things I have done for my writing in a very long time.  Jack is a personable and pleasant fellow whose suggestions and advice were of immeasurable value to the story I submitted for his critique.  Moreover, I felt I received very good value for the time spent on the piece.

I fully intend to continue working with Jack into the future.  I am confident my writing will consistently improve as a result of the tutoring I will receive from Jack Smith. Rebecca Hanley

I was adrift; writing brings me a great deal of joy and somehow I wasn't able to begin. I couldn't make the dive. Jack's assignments helped me put a toe in. And his responses to my writing helped me tread water. And then: momentum! So I'm very grateful. Erica Eisdorfer

This was probably the best online writing class I’ve taken in terms of what I learned from it and class participation. I found the lessons very useful, and will incorporate them in how I write... Jack was very thoughtful, conscientious, and informative. He did a great job with the class... I would definitely recommend your classes. This was my second class from you, and I’m enrolled in Jack’s May novel writing class...I’ve taken online writing classes from UCLA, Gotham, Writer’s Digest, and Writers.com. I must say I’ve really enjoyed Writers.com. Thank you! Bill Hughes

The weekly assignments for Jack Smith's new course on Writing Autobiographical Fiction served to focus our efforts. A wide range of topics allowed us to probe our memories to create memoirs and then turn them into fiction. This process is an effective exercise and it got my creative juices flowing. Barbara Levin
Jack is a fantastic teacher. He is infinitely patient, doesn't take anything personally, and he is supportive without relinquishing his desire to provide us with detailed, specific, constructive criticism. I of course worked with him longer later and was very impressed with his ability to refrain from taking offense when I did not use one of his suggestions, but simply anticipate why I might be hesitant to do so and offer a solution that could satisfy the need I had which prevented me from making changes to the text to begin with. In other words, he is humble, smart, and flexible; even wise, and that is not a word I use lightly. He seems to find the balance between allowing students their own style and self-expression while correcting everything that needs to be corrected. Finally, I really appreciated in Jack his sense of humor, which is subtle and compassionate. His way of constructing a class and giving feedback allows students to feel encouraged and supported even when he is busy with correcting our text and way of working so we may become better writers. He just kept on making suggestions patiently on where and how I could use an image to help my scene, so that without even noticing, I acquired a good habit and will never again NOT think of using more visuals with descriptions. Same goes for using action instead of telling, or avoiding clichés. I hope you will use Jack for more classes in the future, he is truly a gifted teacher....

Thank you for creating and leading the best online writing website I have tried (and I have tried several). Marcella Agh

I enjoyed [the novella class]. I also really enjoyed the suggested reading. I realized the first week I wasn’t quite prepared. Jack’s suggestion to beef up my outline was the best advice I could have received. It wasn’t easy writing those 3000 words a week, but at least I didn’t have to think “what” I needed to write about. With the outline, it came fairly easy... As for Jack ... I thought he was personable, but with just the right amount of “removed” to make a good reviewer. In my case, he pointed out things I didn’t even think about and he was very supportive. He focused mostly on concept, and in a first draft, I believe this is critical. I have recommended you to other people. I am glad you are there for me.  Anne Jennings

I found the lessons and the assignments to be inspiring and challenging.Jack gave helpful and encouraging feedback. He is a well read and accomplished writer, so his critique and input was astute. I think your offerings are fantastic. There is something for everyone, IMO. As a beginning writer, it's also nice that the classes all seem to be geared towards all levels. I can already see that you get what you put in with the classes, and that's ideal. I would definitely recommend your classes. I immediately enrolled in another class, so yes, I will probably keep taking classes with your site! Debra Barclay

Jack Smith is a very good teacher to work with. So much that I will be taking another course with him in a month! His assignments were clear, his resources useful, and his feedback rapid and helpful. He responded swiftly to questions and gave advice on how to grow for the following week, and overall. Resham Karfa

[Jack] consistently provided detailed, thoughtful and helpful feedback. I’ve taken many courses with Writers.com so my repeated presence says more than any words I can add. Shawn Montgomery

Jack is excellent at gently pointing out how what you've written might not work or might not come across as authentic. His comments and suggestions are clear and very helpful. Reading other students writing and comments on their work gives depth to the whole experience. I really learned a lot from his guidance to me and to the other students. The additional reading materials Jack provided are excellent. Louise Aiello

I was very pleased with the class. Jack gave me great feedback. I think I made real progress on my novel and hope to take this class again in March. Jack is able to point out areas where you need more development as well as compliment your writing when he feels it is good. His feedback was invaluable to me. I've already recommended this course to my writing friends. It was so practical in helping me push through the writing of a novel and it's made me believe that I will actually complete it!  Julia Gentile


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