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Holly Van Houten

Students will receive instruction from Holly Van Houten, who has decades of experience preparing young writers with the skills they need to succeed. In addition to teaching Literature and Writing at The Huckleberry Center for Creative Learning, in Valencia, California since 2009, Holly taught in the USC Freshman Writing Department for 10 years, while completing her Ph.D. coursework in English and American Literature.  Holly has also taught in the English departments at Pepperdine University, California State University, Northridge, and California State University, Long Beach. She has helped young scholars become confident writers for over 30 years and has successfully prepared students of all abilities for college-level writing.

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Creative Writing:  Short Stories

Live/Online Class

Class Series:  The Writer’s Path to Critical Thinking


Ages 13+

There’s no better way to hone your creative writing skills than to write short stories.  Short stories must be tightly plotted – focusing on one incident, one setting, a small cast of characters and generally, a short span of time.  This allows writers a chance to focus on one main concept and develop their strategies and story-telling techniques.  Although we’ll be creating fiction in this class, the techniques we learn will be quite useful (in fact, invaluable) in expository and argumentative writing as well.  The ability to outline quickly and efficiently is especially crucial for timed writing tests. Organizing ideas into a cohesive whole is essential for good writing of any kind, and students will enjoy learning to wield this useful tool through creative writing. 


To help inspire our own writing, we’ll also be reading classic short stories.  We will look at the techniques a variety of famous authors use to create their plot/conflict, characters, dialogue, setting, mood, descriptive details, and point of view, providing an opportunity for students to gain valuable literary analysis skills as well.  We’ll be learning from the masters – O. Henry, Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, H.H. Munro (“Saki”), Eudora Welty, Willa Cather, Hans Christian Anderson, Flannery O’Conner, Ernest Hemingway, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Anton Chekhov, Frank Stockton, Jack London, Ambrose Pierce, Kate Chopin, Edgar Allan Poe, Guy de Maupassant, Katherine Mansfield, Langston Hughes, and many, many more! 


Students will read and discuss their stories in a workshop format.  Each week we’ll begin by hearing the stories students have written for that week and then we’ll focus on a particular element of storytelling (character development, plot, setting, writing dialogue, etc.) and work on ways to incorporate different skills and techniques into future stories.  The workshop structure of this course will provide students with an audience to make their writing more meaningful. They’ll receive feedback from each other, as well as from me in class and learn revision techniques to help improve their writing skills.  Students present their writing orally in class so that they can learn about the reactions their writing elicits from others and receive helpful feedback to aid with the revision process.  These workshops not only allow students an important opportunity for feedback but allow them to be immersed in the writing of their peers as well.  This requires each student to sharpen his or her own analytical skills as they consider how others may improve their stories.  Each Quarter, students will write 3 original stories and critique dozens more in class – a process that will improve their writing by leaps and bounds. 


Students will also participate in numerous creative writing games and exercises designed to be inspiring, useful, and entertaining! Some examples include composing “literary Facebook pages” for famous characters (and for their own) and interviewing those same characters in a “Talk Show” format to dig out detail and nuance. We’ll work with humorous writing prompts, write pop tune lyrics, play “Word Karaoke,” play a comic-strip writing game, and send “voicemails from the future.”


In this class, we will be implementing technology to help us work on the Writing Process. Our classes will take place each week through live, interactive, and engaging online sessions, and we will utilize a variety of tools to enhance our classroom discussions and encourage collaboration (breakout rooms, polls/quizzes, discussion forum questions, video access, and screen sharing for our intensive essay revision sessions). The Zoom video platform will allow us to meet like a regular classroom for lecture and discussion purposes as we immerse ourselves in wonderful literature and the process of writing literary analysis essays. The class will also utilize Google Classroom for assignments, discussion forums, and work-sharing both during class sessions and outside of class. Taking advantage of the incredible, collaborative power of Google Docs will allow us to share ideas and revision techniques far more efficiently. This class will be a great opportunity to enjoy some wonderful literature and practice essential literary analysis and writing skills.


Holly Van Houten

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