Group Discussion Questions

Easiest to just cut and paste your questions below. Create a heading that includes the date, the reading, you team number and the names of everyone on the team, like this:

September 7/"Me and Miss Mandible," by Donald Barthelme/Team 4/Susan, Kyle, Billy and Victoria

And then post questions below that.

February 4/"Deadfall" by Julia Roberts/Group 1/Cody, Kathy, Samantha, John

1. What happened?
2. What’s at stake?
3. What do we know about the protagonist?
4. Why is the protagonist hiking the Appalachian trail?
5. In this piece, a lot of time is dedicated to the ins and outs of backpacking. Does it work?
6. Does the advice from the men hikers and the fear of the women hikers (referenced at the beginning of the story) enhance the story? If so, how? If not, why not?
7. What the is the significance of the title? (“Deadfall”) Is this clearly communicated? Why or why not?
8. Why come back to the tree?
9. What is this story really about?
10. How does setting affect or enhance the meaning of the story?
11. The dialogue is unusual. What effect does this have on the story as a whole?
12. Do we care about the protagonist? Why or why not?
13. What do we learn about the protagonist from the memory (on page 3) of Billy seeing her off in Georgia at the beginning of the hike?
14. Throughout the story, hiking vocabulary is used (for example: deadfall, blazes, thru-hikers) with or without explanation. Did this contribute to or detract from your understanding of the story?
15. What is the significance of the “trail names”? Why won’t the protagonist take one? How does this contribute to the meaning as a whole?
16. How does the point of view function in the story? How would the story change if it were told from first person or third person omniscient?
17. Overall, what worked and what didn’t?

February 4/"Bracelets" by Dietrich Epp Schmidt/Group 1/Cody, Kathy, Samantha, John

1. What happened?
2. What’s at stake?
3. What is the story really about?
4. There were a lot of different threads in this story, a lot of different scenes and time periods. How are they all tied together?
5. How does the author characterize the speaker and his girlfriend?
6. How does this characterization change as the story continues?
7. The title of the story is Bracelets. What is the significance of the bracelets? Do they symbolize something else and if so what?
8. How does the author use rain in the story? What is the significance of the rain?
9. Did the portrayal of the relationship between the speaker and his girlfriend feel genuine to you? Why or why not?
10. Does the dialogue feel genuine? Why or why not?
11. Do you care about what happens to any of the characters in the end? Why or why not?
12. Do the story or any of the elements of the story feel cliche?
13. How does point of view (first person) contribute to the meaning of the story? What would change if it were told from a different perspective?
14. Throughout the story, are the emotions of the characters and the way that these emotions are displayed convincing? Why or why not?
15. Overall, what worked and what didn’t?

February 11/"Polar Bear" by Kathy Michels and "Mother" by Emma Resinger/Group Two Danae, Sam, Meghan, and Matt


1.What moves the story forward plot-wise and character-wise?
2.As the reader are you satisfied with the ending? If so what within this story leads you to this satisfaction? If not what within the story does not lead you to this satisfacation?
3.What is the story about?
4.What is at stake for the characters in this story?
5.Same, on the second page, uses profanity. Do you believe it is in line with his character? Why or why not?
6.What do you think the purpose of the character Maria? Is it a successful portrayal?
7.What expectations does the title set up for the story? Are the expectations met?
8.There seems to be a switch in tone and voice. Do you think it is intentional? How does it serve to the overall interpretation of the character Sam?
9.Does the story have “weight”? Identify this weight.
10.What do we care about what happens or does not happen for/to Sam?

Polar Bear:

1.What is the story about?
2.What moves the story forward?
3.Do you feel the title has more meaning than just it being the name of the ski slope? If so what and how does it connect?
4.What is at stake for the character(s)?
5.Do you feel the conflict was fully development within the story? Why or why not?
6.Does the story flow smoothly?
7.How is Kirsten defined by the story with specifics to sports?
8.What is Kirsten’s relationship her mom? Does the story clearly project this image?
9.Does the language in the story fit the character (s)?
10.Does the dialogue fit the character/relationship?

March 2, 2011/"The Scene Beast Is Hungry"/Group Two/


1.Hribal writes, “It’s when our characters are most themselves, the least ‘us’—that is, if we let them go, let them be themselves, let them surprise us—that anything can happen”. First, do you agree or disagree with this claim? Secondly, have you ever found yourself writing and not portraying your character as true to themselves as possible, that you were not relinquishing your control and letting the character emerge naturally?
2.Hribal writes, “if there is no surprise for the writer, there is no surprise for the reader”. Do you agree with this notion? Why or why not?
3.Hribal quotes Hemingway writing “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration”. According to Hribal and your own observations, how does scene fit into this metaphor?
4.How does Hribal connect the narrator’s voice of a story to the overall operation of a scene? Do you agree or disagree?
5.Hribal talks about the development of a scene particularly in O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. What is this development? As a writer what might you find difficult about this process?
6.Do you find the metaphor of the canoe and the river to be a useful one? As a writer, do you find it better to remain in control of the story or put down the paddle and go with the flow, so to speak?
7.Hribal recommends having characters that differ from ourselves: do you think that is a good method of writing? Or do you prefer to write from your own experiences and viewpoint? Is there a good balance to strike between those two to create vibrant characters?
8.How does essay tie in to the exercise that we just finished?
9.How is the “scene beast” needs at odds with the type of dialogue we’ve just been writing, and how are the two similar? How could they be combined?
10.Is a monologue the same as a “scene” Think of the Atwood example in the essay—a monologue that turns into a scene. Could a true monologue engage the reader in the same way?
11.Can a character be honest enough when talking to himself to display the same depth as he does when talking with another character?

March 3, 2011/ Group Two/Sam M., Matt S., Meghan M., Danae C./

Workshop: John Sine Blood and Ink and Samantha Rockler How To Survive Your life

Blood and Ink

1. What is the central conflict?
2. How does the title fit in with the context of the story?
3. The narrator is not named. How does this effect, if at all, the understanding/reading of the story?
4. Where is the perspective of the story coming from? (Who is speaking?)
5. There seems to be a cyclical format in which the beginning is at the end again (it starts with hello and ends with hello) how does this affect your understanding of the story? What do you think is the purpose of this cyclical format?
6. What did you like about the story?
7. How effective did you find the direct address of the reader
8. Did you feel that you had a strong sense of the speaker’s emotions? What about those of the author? Did you sense a connection between the two?
9. What were you initially expecting from this story?
10. What would you like to see?
11. What is this story saying about fiction writing?
12. What did you make of the author’s conversational tone with the reader? Were you bothered by the technique or intrigued by it?
13. What is the story about? The obvious answer seems to be Elizabeth, or is it something else?
14. What questions about the short-story form does the work raise? Does the self-awareness of the piece call the traditional story form into question in a satisfying way?

How to Survive your Life

1. What is the central conflict?
2. What seems to be the “force” moving the story forward?
3. From our reading this week about the “Scene beast” and its “hunger” would you say the “scene beast” here has been fed? Why or why not? If not, what do you think could help quench the hunger?
4. What is the story about? Plot and aboutness.
5. There seems to be two stories. It starts with a boy and ends with a girl. What is the significance of this? Do you find it effective?
6. There is only the mention of a name for the character (s). What do you think of this? Do you find it effective that the majority of the story is told with pronouns (he/she)?
7. What did you like about this story?
8. Who was this story about?
9. What were your thoughts on the foreshadowing in the story? Did it work for you? (hint: killer)
10. Were you surprised to find out that she was going to die in the end?
11. What did you make of the landlord’s significance in the story versus that of the initial male character who’s presented?
12. What does the city of Prague symbolize for the narrating character? Hope? Rebirth? The end?
13. What does the Czech language, particularly as it’s offered by the landlord, add to the story? Do you think it’s a simple product of setting or of more significance?
14. What does the narrator want? Why is she in the Czech Republic?
15. Is the ending a happy ending? Where do you envision the characters going from there? Are you content with that ending?

March 9/"My Good Man," by Danae Carson/Team 3/Lauren, Dietrich, Emma, and Julia

• What is the main goal of the story? (Its “about-ness”?)
• How does the story’s structure (the flashbacks, the mixed perspectives) effect the piece? Do they add or detract?
• What is the style of the narration? Is this effective?
• Is there a sense of foreshadowing in this story and if so, is it effective?
• Does the ending feel abrupt? What other ways could the ending work? Should there be a longer reconciliation scene?
• Do the characters seem equally balanced in the story? Should they be?
• Who does the story say gets the blame for the relationship falling apart (in the past)? Why did she leave? Does that seem well-supported and clear?
• Is the man’s characterization adequate? Consistent?
• The piece has a cinematic feel—what gives it these qualities?

March 9/"Other People," by Matt Savopoulos/Team 3/Lauren, Dietrich, Emma, and Julia

• Is this piece supposed to be humorous? What lends it a comedic element? Does comedy have any effect on the serious subject matter? If so, how?
• Is the narrator separate from the main character?
• Could this be a satire?
• Are we supposed to learn something or take away a moral from this work? If so, what is that moral?
• How does the ending work with the rest of the piece? Is it effective? Would extending the piece or adding additional scenes hurt or help?
• Is the main character adequately characterized?
• Is this a plot-based or character-based story? Or something else?
• Does the law of cause and effect work well in this story? (I.e. when he learns he is in Hell, there is little immediate reaction—should there be?)
• We really get no insight into the man’s previous life. How does that effect the piece? Should we know more about him?

March 25/"Poland perishing, Poland disappearing" by Sam Rockler/"Fable Revisited" by John Sine/Group Two/Sam M, Matt S., Meghan M, and Danae C

Poland perishing, Poland disappearing
1.What is the story about?
2.What is the overarching conflict? Is it successfully developed?
3.There is a pretty strong voice in the pieces does the voice work in aiding in the showing vs. telling aspect of the story?
4.What advantages/disadvantages does the perspective of this story have?
5.How does the epithet in the beginning play into the overall meaning and understanding of the story?
6.How does Scarlett function in the story in regards to the narrator?
7.How does the story resolve the questions raises in the beginning of the story?
8.What is the significance of the locations in this story? Do they hinder or propel the story?
9.As a reader, are you satisfied with the ending?
10.What is at stake for the main character? Do you care about the main character?
11.How is the narrator developed? Is it successful?
12.What is the tone of this story?
13.Who is the story revolving around? The narrator, the unnamed love interest, or Scarlett?
14.What does the narrator want? What is her motivation? (A simplistic question, maybe, but one that I wrestled with for a long time when I was reading it)
15.In what ways does the domestic abuse shape your opinions of the story and, perhaps more importantly, of the characters?
16.What expectations and associations does the epigraph set for the rest of the piece? Did the story live up to those initial promises?
17.What did you like about this story?
18. What is the significance of cigarettes and smoking?
19. Did you feel that the story was resolved by the end?
20.What is the significance of the quote at the beginning? What purpose does it serve? Is it effective?
21.Did you feel that you were well enough acquainted with the characters (most notably the speaker)?

Fable Revisited
1.What is this story about?
2.What is the main conflict in this story?
3.How do you feel about this fable adaptation? Is it successful?
4.How do you feel about it being in play form? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?
5.Since this fable has been “revisited” what is the conflict and was it successfully shown and developed?
6.How does the characterization of the Tortoise and Hare develop? Does it work and is it satisfying?
7.What is the function of the wife in this adaptation? Is her character successful developed and portrayed?
8.Does the story develop enough for the ending we are given? If so how and if not how does it lack?
9.What is the tone?
10.What is at stake for the characters?
11.What did you like about the story?
12.Were you surprised by the ending? Was it funny, offensive, etc? How did you feel about it?
13.How does the modern diction and slang play against the timeless qualities associated with Aesop's fables?
14.What are the benefits and the limitations of the script format? Did you find the form acceptable or would it have been better as straight prose?
15. Could "fuck morals" itself be a moral? If so, then what would that moral imply?

April 8/"The Road Through Gordon" Kathy Michels/Group 3/Lauren, Dietrich, Emma, Julia
• What happened in the story? Is it realistic? Believable?
• What is the point of the story?
• Does the small town play a significant role in the story? If so, how?
• What is the relationship between the two brothers?
• What is their past/history? How much do we know about Ryan’s life before the story takes place?
• Do we need more backstory on the two brothers?
• Are any of the characters foils?
• How does Jeff’s characterization contribute to the plot? Does it assist or detract?
• How did Ryan get the marks on his face?
• How does the absence of imagery about the accident itself impact the piece?
• Does the ending feel complete?
• Is there a “moral” in the story? What the reader supposed to take away from the ending?
• Has anyone grown or changed in the story?
• Is the tone of the piece appropriate to the content? (esp. the moments of humor)

April 8/"Career Advancement" Matthew Savopoulos/Group 3/Lauren, Dietrich, Emma, Julia
• The beginning of the piece pokes fun at statistics and judgment; does this continue through the rest of the piece? How does it impact the story?
• How does the introduction of the audience (“you”) impact the piece? Does the introduction’s placement (near the end) matter? How so?
• Is the voice believably female? Why or why not? Were you convinced of the female narrator?
• How do the comedic and ironic elements of the story affect the piece?
• Is the narrator sane? How is sanity or insanity developed?
• What is the main character’s motivation for intending to go on a shooting spree? For writing the letter? Is this well-supported by the piece?
• What is Ashley’s relationship to Mr. Norwood? Does it matter? If so, why?
• Does the story seem plausible? Does it need to?
• What does the title refer to?
• How does Ashley’s age work in the story?
• How much of a role does Andrew play in her psyche? Is he adequately important in the story to merit a closing “fuck


Sam, Megan, Danae, Matt
22 April, 2011

Lauren/Julia Discussion Questions

1) What did you like about the story?
2) How did you feel about the form? Did the footnotes work for you?
3) What do you make of #25 lacking a footnote?
4) Did you get well enough acquainted with the characters?
5) For whom was the story written?
6) What are the limitations and merits of the footnote form?
7) Does this work paint an accurate picture of John’s merits and flaws?
8) What can we infer about the speaker, from knowing all of these things?
9) What can we infer about John from his “quirks”?
10) How many nerd stereotypes does John manage to embody at once?
11) Is the story (list) about the narrator, or John? Whose story is it?
12) What are we supposed to get out of the list that tells us what is going on in this relationship thats important?
13) How did you feel about most of the story being in the footnotes?
14) Does the end (especially without a footnote) resolve and if so how do you feel about the resolution?

1) What did you like about the story?
2) How does the mother/daughter relationship drive the plot?
3) What's the story's conflict and how is it resolved?
4) What do the mirrors symbolize? Are they simply mirrors? What did you get from that?
5) What does the "line that was right" do for the story, more specifically the speaker?
6) How does the speaker’s self-image factor into her life?
7) Consequently, what do you think the self-portrait looks like?
8) What exactly is an “art person” and how would they differ from “normal” people?
9) Is the husband’s “servitude” important in the scope of the story?
10) What sort of relationship do you think the narrator and her daughter have?
11) Who is the narrator and do you feel anything for her?
12) What happens in the conclusion and do you feel it is sufficent?
13) Do you feel like there is something more going on with the narrator that you would perhaps like to be less latent or am I dumb?
14) Is it important to ask why the narrator is thinking back to college advising at this point in her life?

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License