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Independent Study: Outlines & Visual Aids to Generate or Revise Prose

"Drawing helps us to really see." - Flannery O'Connor

If you need to add structure to your writing practice or writing work, need help turning an image into a scene or a scene into a story, can hear a character's voice in your head but can't see them in the context of their story, or just feel jaded by old revision techniques, then this independent study is for you!

In this course, you will learn how to borrow techniques and tools from the visual arts. While outlines might seem constricting or old-fashioned or uninspiring, instructor Cinelle Barnes will guide you using outlines, illustration, and other visual tools to add focus, depth, form, structure, and texture to prose through videos and written craft material you can work through on your own time. Plus, drawing is just plain fun! Your writing practice can always use more playfulness and joy!

If you’re an editor or writing teacher, then you know that clear communication is really important when working with students or clients. Sometimes, an editorial letter is just not enough and line/margin notes aren’t sufficient to create collaborative energy, actionable steps, and a work rhythm. I use these shapes, visual aids, and outlining techniques when trying to help a student or client add the following to their work:

• Shape or form or contour

• Texture

• Rhythm

• Unity

• Balance

• Emphasis or Focus

• Energy, element of surprise, or a palpable attitude

No artistic skill is necessary; if you can draw a triangle, a square, a circle, some arrows, spirals, and stick figures, you’ll be able to use these methods.

Inspired by Flannery O'Connor and other writer-artists, this independent study will be very visual and generative. You will learn five techniques focused on birthing new ideas, problem solving and untangling thoughts, and expanding an image or scene into a story. You will watch four demo videos, receive access to two handouts and several essays, and have an opportunity to do a guided revision.

The five "techniques" are:

- Outlining an inciting incident

- Outlining a fragmented essay or short story using repetition, illustration, and index cards

- Outlining a main character's emotional arc

- Outlining an ensemble's or supporting characters' intersecting arcs

- Outlining scene vs summary using geometric shapes

You will need paper and pens or pencils, or a drawing tablet, to successfully complete the work in this independent study. You will get a chance to practice each of the five techniques. Be prepared to revise your old work and ideate new projects.

Cinelle Barnes

Cinelle is a formerly undocumented memoirist, essayist & educator from the Philippines, and is the author of MONSOON MANSION: A MEMOIR and MALAYA: ESSAYS ON FREEDOM, and the editor of the New York Times New & Noteworthy book A MEASURE OF BELONGING: 21 WRITERS OF COLOR ON THE NEW AMERICAN SOUTH. She has an MFA from Converse College. Her writing has appeared or been featured in the NYT, Longreads, Electric Literature, Buzzfeed, Literary Hub, Hyphen & CNN Philippines, among others. Her work is anthologized in A MAP IS ONLY ONE STORY. She’s a contributing editor, instructor & writer at Catapult.


"The instructor provided a wealth of information, not only about content around the topical area but also about the process. Her incorporation of her own writings in the workshop was powerful and greatly enhanced the class. I bought her book MONSOON MANSION immediately afterward!"

former student

"Cinelle deals with extraordinarily difficult material with a very sensitive audience and is mindful while remaining instructive and sharing her story and experience - nice job!"

former student

"Well organized, though-provoking, thorough. Explained boundaries and strategies AND modeled them. Clear, relevant, humane. Excellent teaching of a sensitive topic. WOW!"

former student

"Cinelle, your feedback is incredible. Thank you! Your notes resonated with me and I am so grateful!"

nonfiction author responding to feedback on nonfiction MS

"Cinelle Barnes has compiled the most diverse portrayal of the contemporary South I've read to date. These beautifully-written, clear-eyed essays present the American South through the eyes of its Black and brown voices and expand the reader's view of belonging to or hailing from the region. I love this collection and its depictions complicate the South in ways that mainstream America sometimes refuses to believe about our ugly/beautiful South. A MEASURE OF BELONGING is a major contribution to the canon of Southern literature and each of the writers give of themselves fully. It is a book for our times. Welcome to the 21st century!"

Crystal Wilkinson author of THE BIRDS OF OPULENCE

“I write because I am the last to remember,’ Cinelle Barnes tells us in her essay ‘Why I Write Memoir.’ MALAYA is a sensitive, vibrant book that will help so many of us remember and reflect on the stories we shouldn’t forget. Barnes’s deft writing crosses gaps in time, understanding, and experience, illuminating important truths about our country and culture while also allowing us to bear witness to her own fight for healing, justice, and belonging. MALAYA is a book we need, and Cinelle Barnes is a writer to treasure.”

Nicole Chung author of ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW

"Reminiscent of both Jeanette Walls’s memoir, THE GLASS CASTLE (2005), and Sandra Cisneros’s seminal novel THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET (1984), [MONSOON MANSION] is a story of a tragic childhood told in a remarkably uplifting voice. Barnes imbues scenes from her interrupted childhood with an artistic touch that reads like literary fiction. Luminescent and shattering, Barnes’s first book is a triumph: a conquering of the past through the power of the written word.”

BOOKLIST starred review