WRIT 1122 | Writing: Horror | jesse.stommel@du.edu

Course Description

The horror genre is distinctly rhetorical, working carefully to produce visceral effects in its audience. It’s a popular genre, but also a marginalized one, creating space for writers and artists to ask difficult questions, political questions, personal questions, questions about gender, race, disability, queer bodies, identity formation, history, etc. Horror reveals something about who we are as humans, reminding us we have both outsides and insides, skin and guts, eyes and gray matter, ideas and appetites. The critics of horror are usually too distracted by blood and guts to notice the more radical potentials of the genre.

A class is a process, an independent organism with its own goals and dynamics. It is always something more than even the most imaginative lesson plan can predict. ~ Thomas P. Kasulis

And so we’ll start with a syllabus and schedule, but it will evolve throughout the term driven by our discussions and discoveries. In this class, we’ll approach writing in novel ways, examining and experimenting with rhetorical texts, including film, multimodal composition, games, and other interactive narratives. 

Note: The subjects of this course will lead us through difficult terrain (monsters, slashers, dead things, the walking dead, etc.). Our work will be thoughtful and cathartic, but we'll have to sludge through some gore along the way. (I often refer to doesthedogdie.com, which tracks 80+ categories, offering "crowdsourced emotional spoilers for movies, tv, books and more.")

What We'll Do and How We'll Do It

Our world is increasingly complex, and so we can't know exactly what shape this course will take over the next several months. This is an asynchronous online course, which means you'll work when and how you're able. Not all of us are encountering this moment in the same ways, so each of us will have to make decisions about how we engage. I want to be clear about several things:

  • This course is built to function primarily asynchronously online.
  • We will have some optional synchronous sessions, both online and on campus. 
  • I encourage you to connect with me and your classmates in whatever ways make most sense to you. Ultimately, this is a community, and there are lots of different ways we can each contribute.
  • This course will live on the Web in three places: this site, our Discord server, and wherever you choose to put your work for the course.
  • I look forward to getting to know you as a student, a writer, and a person.

Office Hours

I will be available for virtual office hours as necessary. Just reach out to schedule a video meeting, or feel free to engage via DM in Discord, which is the fastest way to get feedback or questions answered.

Disability Accommodations

I've worked to make this course adaptive and flexible, so that you can find your own way into the work, whatever your context. DU's Disability Services Program guides, counsels, and assists students with disabilities. If you have already met with them, feel free to chat with me about any changes we can make to help your learning. I will certainly offer accommodations. I'd rather we work together to make sure the course meets your needs. You do not need to divulge any personal information in order to have these conversations or to receive accommodations. I trust you. Learning is something we do together. And, of course, I will hold information you do share with me in confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you do not require accommodations due to a disability, understand that some of your fellow students might, and it is important to me that you do not make assumptions about where, when, or how they learn.

Basic Needs Security

What's most important to me is that you feel able to show up fully to our work together. I'm human first. Students are humans first. If you face challenges securing your food or housing and believe this may affect your learning in this course, visit DU's basic needs resource site for support. Please also let me know personally if you are comfortable doing so, because there may be ways I can help. 

You can seek confidential mental health services in the Health & Counseling Center (HCC) and My Student Support System (My SSP). Another helpful campus office is Student Outreach & Support (SOS), where staff can connect you to other campus resources.

I'm decidedly putting these accessibility and basic needs statements at the top of this syllabus, rather than buried with the fine print at the bottom. At this moment, at any moment, our basic humanity is something we need to be leading with.

Course Objectives

Nothing in this syllabus will be set in stone or taken for granted. The outline and objectives here are a beginning, something we’ll treat roughly as the course proceeds. This is not a map, but rather a direction we’ll point ourselves with the goal of vigorously rewriting the syllabus as we go, discovering what we’ll learn together as we learn it, questioning what we’ll do even as we begin to do it. 

You can find the DU University Writing Program's standard outcomes for Writing 1122 here

To these I'll add that we will:

  • Interrogate writing as a practice. We'll write for other audiences, but much of the writing will be for ourselves, helping hone our own approach and processes.
  • Wonder at genre, audience, and intention, working to invent for ourselves the shape(s) and form(s) of academic writing.
  • Consider the intersections between text, images, moving images, games, etc.
  • Experiment with multimodal composition. This is a course about critical thinking and also critical making.
  • Change our mind about stuff.
  • Have epiphanies.

The Work of the Course

This course will be as much about breaking stuff as it is about building stuff, focusing on critical thinking and process more than finished product.

Required Films and Texts

There is not a traditional textbook for this course. We will do some reading and watch some films, but the course will center around what we make and our discussions about what we uncover.

You will need to rent a handful of films throughout the term. There may be a small rental charge for these. Some are also available on streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime. You should plan to spend about $30 - $40 for the term. If that presents a challenge, for whatever reason, let me know. 

The rest of our readings and films will be available openly online.

Weekly Activities

Each week, the course schedule will guide you through the various activities of the week. Watch our schedule and Discord for updates as we proceed.


This is a collaborative course, focusing on discussion and work in groups. The class will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community. And so, you and your work are, in a very real sense, the primary texts for this course. In order for us to work together as a community, we all have to come prepared to participate. If you can’t finish work for any reason, chat with me (and your collaborators) in advance.


You may collaborate with your peers on any of our projects. I've created a channel in Discord called #looking-for-group, which you can use to find collaborators. If you have questions about the various ways collaboration can work, chat with me at any point.

Self-reflection Letters

You'll do lots of writing for this course, some of it short, some long, some rough, some polished, some for an audience, and some of it just for yourself. There will be lots of room for you to decide how much time and energy you want to invest in each of the activities or assignments we'll do. The most important work you'll do is to reflect on your own writing and writing process. Ultimately, this course is not about proving to me that you can write, but about helping you find new ways into your work as a writer.

Public Work

Some of your work for this course may live publicly on the Web within open platforms. If you would like to remain anonymous, I encourage you to use a pseudonym. Think carefully about these choices and chat with me if you have concerns about any of the tools we're using.

Grades and Assessment

"Extrinsic motivation, which includes a desire to get better grades, is not only different from, but often undermines, intrinsic motivation, a desire to learn for its own sake." ~ Alfie Kohn, "The Case Against Grades"

Everyone who participates in our course community and completes their self-reflections will get an "A." Instead of your grade, here's what I want you to focus on: 

  • Actively engage in the work of the course. Writing is ultimately what this course is about, but there will be lots of different ways for each of us to engage.
  • Determine what participation in our community looks like for you – online, in-person, synchronously, asynchronously, on Discord, in our physical classroom, wherever you can best contribute and learn. Listening and reflecting can be just as important as speaking and questioning. Writing is not an independent exercise, so I encourage you to focus a good amount of your energy on helping your peers, reading their work, championing their accomplishments, and offering feedback that pushes them in their own writing process.
  • Reflect on your own work. This course is about process, not product, and so writing about our own writing is the most important work we'll do.

I will not be grading individual assignments, but rather asking questions and making comments that engage your work rather than simply evaluate it. The intention is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you’re expected to. If this process causes more anxiety than it alleviates, see me at any point to confer about your work in the course to date.  

You should consider this course a “busy-work-free zone.” If an assignment does not feel productive, we can find ways to modify, remix, or repurpose the instructions.  


Authorship is a hotly contested topic in the academy. At what point do we own the words we say and write or the images we create? In literature and digital media, creative influence, collaboration, and borrowing are usually acceptable (even encouraged). So, what sort of statement or warning about plagiarism would be appropriate in this class? Let me go out on a limb and say: in this class, I encourage you to borrow ideas (from me, from the authors we read, from the films we watch, from your classmates). But, even more, I encourage you to truly make them your own — by playing with, manipulating, applying, and otherwise turning them on their head. In the end, it’s just downright boring to rest on the laurels of others. It’s altogether more daring (and, frankly, more fun) to invent something new yourself — a new idea, a new way of thinking, a new claim, a new image. This doesn’t give you license to copy something in its entirety and slap your name on it. That’s just stealing. Instead, think very consciously about how you’re influenced by your sources — by the way knowledge and creativity depend on a sort of inheritance. And think also about the real responsibility you have to those sources.


It is my commitment to you that I will not submit any of your papers to Turnitin. Plagiarism-detection software like Turnitin monetizes student intellectual property and contributes to a culture of suspicion in education. I trust you. I trust that your work is your own. If you have questions about how to properly cite sources, let me know. If you want to know more about Turnitin and how you can protect your own intellectual property, here is an essay with info.

Inclusive Community

While some of the work for this course will be done independently or with a small group, think of all your peers as an audience for your work, as well as a source for feedback and encouragement. Draw on their expertise. This class will be as much (or more) about you teaching yourselves and each other as it is about me teaching you. Because of this, it's incredibly important to me that we create an inclusive community that is respectful of our differences and offers space for the boundary-setting necessary for positive relationships to form. Our diversity is reflected by differences in race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, religion, nationality, and other cultural identities and material circumstances.

Discrimination, Harassment & Gender-Based Violence (TITLE IX)

Discrimination, harassment, and gender-based violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, class, age, appearance, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The University of Denver is committed to providing an environment free of discrimination on the basis of sex (gender) and other protected classes, such as race, color, national origin, age, and disability. The Office of Equal Opportunity & Title IX (EOIX) is responsible for responding to and investigating reports and complaints of discrimination, harassment, and gender-based violence. In addition, all non-confidential University employees are considered “responsible employees” and required to report such incidents to EOIX. For more information, please visit the Office of Equal Opportunity & Title IX website.

DU Writing Center

The Writing Center provides writing support for undergraduate and graduate students at all levels, on all kinds of projects, and at any stage of the process: from generating ideas to learning new editing strategies. Consultants take a collaborative approach, working with you to help you develop your writing in light of your specific goals and assignments. To make an appointment for a free, 45-minute consultation, call 303-871-7456 or go to MyWeb > Student > Writing Center. Visit the Website (www.du.edu/writing/writingcenter/ ) for hours and additional information.

Teaching Philosophy

Critical thinking is like eating, something lively and voracious, something that drips and reels. It isn’t (and can’t be) virtual. And yet, somewhat paradoxically, we must increasingly find ways for this work to happen online. We must bring our subjects to life for both ourselves and our digital counterparts. Learning must fire every neuron — must touch us at the highest levels of consciousness and at the cellular level. No matter where it happens, this is what learning must do. It must evolve — and revolt.


Here’s what we’ll spend our time doing this quarter. The schedule will evolve as we proceed. Watch regularly for more details, added activities, and stuff might change or move around as our conversation does. You can use justwatch.com to find where any of the films we'll be watching are streaming or available for rent.

Week 1: March 27 - April 2

First, read and watch: 
Leigh Whannell, The Invisible Man (2020) (Amazon Prime for rent)
Film Riot, "5 Shot Types Every Filmmaker Should Know"

Then, do some stuff: 
1) Sign up for our Discord server, using the invite link I added to Canvas and sent by e-mail. Here's a quick getting started guide for Discord, if you haven't used it. Discord will be an extension of our classroom and where you'll be sharing your work for the course and engaging with the work of your peers.

2) Make a short (less than a minute) video introducing yourself to us. This can be super simple (shot on your phone, no editing, etc.). Share your video in the #who-are-we channel in Discord.

  • Don’t tell us your major, unless you have a story about it
  • Don’t tell us what you did over the holiday break, unless it involves giant snakes, parachuting, a unicorn, or it will be documented in a viral video
  • Don’t tell us where you grew up, unless you’re going to show pictures
  • Do tell us what moves you, what you care most about
  • Do tell us what you hope to get from taking this course, but only if you can do so in a limerick
  • Do tell us where you are
  • Do give us random facts we can come to know you by
  • Do click here and answer the first would you rather question that catches your eye

To share a video in Discord, upload to YouTube (or any other site where videos live) and share with a link. Or click the little + to the left of the message box in Discord, select a video file you created, and add a title or hello in the message.

3) Watch some of the videos of your peers, respond, add reaction emojis, etc. There are three sections of this class, all of which will work together in this Discord server.

4) You'll need a space online to share your work for this course. A couple options: (a) Use your own personal site or blog, if you have one; (b) Sign up for a free account on Medium; (c) Prepare to publish anywhere else (Google Drive, WordPress, Tumblr, etc.), as long as you can post regularly and share your work with the class via hyperlinks. Feel free to leave your full name off of your site (or use a psuedonym). 

5) Look ahead to the work for next week and get started.

Week 2: April 3 - 9

First, read and watch:
Jordan Peele, Get Out (2017) (Amazon Prime for rent)
"Excerpt from Get Out: The Complete Annotated Screenplay"(spoiler alert)

Then, do some stuff:
1) Write a short essay (of 500–1500 words) analyzing a single frame from The Invisible Man or Get Out. I recommend pausing on the frame and writing with it on screen. Include a still of the frame in your post. (As an alternative, you could consider a single cut, the juxtaposition of two frames next to one another in the film.)

Consider framing, lighting, camera angle or technique, props, performance, setting, sound, dialogue, symbolism, etc. Start with basic elements of the frame: what's on the right, what's on the left, what's large in the frame, what's small? Is this a closed frame or an open frame (is the image self-contained, or does it point to a world beyond its edges)? What meaning can you draw from the shot or scene? Why is it so important to the film? How do specific elements of the shot/frame support or complicate your answers to these questions? 

There is no right way to do this work. The key is to keep looking and keep writing about what you notice. This isn't a formal essay, so you don't need a thesis, but you might end up with one. At this point, you're dumping the LEGO pieces out, sifting through them, and seeing how they fit together, but not necessarily building anything yet.

2) Publish your post wherever you will be doing the work for this course (a blog, Medium, Google Drive, somewhere else). Tag your post with #writinghorror. Share a link to your work in the #our-work channel on discord. Make sure your work is viewable by anyone with the link.

3) Find posts by a few of your peers and add comments. Respond to comments.

Week 3: April 10 - 16

Join an optional live chat of this week's film in the #barbarian channel on Discord at 7pm Mountain on Thursday, April 13. We'll all hit play at the same time, and chat via text as we watch. Or, if you can't make it, no worries, just watch on your own. Barbarian is currently available for rent on Amazon, but it's also streaming on HBO Max.

Zach Cregger, Barbarian (2022) (there will be an optional synchronous virtual screening of this one – watch here for details) (HBO Max streaming) (Amazon Prime for rent)
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: "Chapter 3" 
Noel Carroll, "The Nature of Horror"
(Optional): Jesse Stommel, "Why Horror?"

Then, do some stuff:
1. Write a brief response to either the piece by Noel Carroll or the one by me wherever you're doing your work for this course. Consider the question "why horror?": Why, as a culture, do we watch horror films? Why is the genre so intensely popular? Why do otherwise seemingly normal people make these films in the first place? Why do you watch horror films? Why did you sign up for a class about horror? What about our current historical moment is impacting the kind of horror being released and becoming popular? What does talking about the horror genre have to do with writing? Share a link to your response and highlights in the #our-work channel on discord. 

2. Respond to your peers there.

3. We'll be working on creative non-fiction pieces over the next few weeks. Skip to next week for more details on the creative non-fiction essay. Start by trying to write a first sentence.

Week 4: April 17 - 23

First, watch:
John Carpenter, Halloween (1978) (Amazon Prime for rent)

Then, do some stuff:
1. Write a 6-word horror story. Here's the gist. Share your story in the #six-word-stories channel on Discord.

2. (Optional): "Pity Poor Flesh: Terrible Bodies in the Films of Carpenter, Cronenberg, and Romero." This piece has some of my own thoughts on Halloween, but also about the horror genre more broadly. Feel free to read if you're curious.

3. Work on your creative non-fiction essay. You'll be working on this for the next couple weeks. The finished essay should be around 750 - 1500 words. (I leave the word count range really broad on purpose, because I want you to find your own way into this work. This is a guide only – I certainly don't want you to add words just to meet a word count.)

According to creativenonfiction.org, the creative non-fictiongenre is "true stories, well told." There's lots more to read there. One of the things that distinguishes creative non-fiction from other sorts of narrative writing is that you're not only telling a story but also reflecting upon it in some significant way. Your story can be about you, or about someone else. It can be about factual truths, emotional truths, historical truths, personal truths, etc. How you get at those "truths" is up to you. You can use just prose, a mixture of prose and images, a branching choose your own adventure style narrative, or whatever else feels right. At the point that you begin playing with form, word count may become irrelevant.

And, one more thing: since this is a horror class, whatever you do, make it scary.

Week 5: April 24 - 30 

First, watch:
Stanley Kubrick, The Shining (1980) (HBO Max Streaming) (Amazon Prime for rent)

1. Share the first page from your creative non-fiction essay in the #our-work channel on Discord. Think carefully about your first sentence and how you're working from the very first words to draw in your reader. Here are some examples of first sentences from literature with a bit about what they're doing and how they're doing it.

2. Respond to the first page / opening sentences of your peers. Leave comments on at least 3 - 4. Look for folks who haven't gotten any responses yet. If you need help from me, reach out with a DM on Discord. In addition to finishing your creative non-fiction essay next week, you'll also be writing midterm self-reflection, which will give you an opportunity to check in with me about where you're at in the course so far.

Week 6: May 1 - May 7

Finish your creative non-fiction essay, then take time to think about and work on your midterm self-reflection. There are no new films for this week, but there is some recommended reading that might help as you think about how to evaluate your work for the course.

First, submit your Creative Non-fiction essay to the #our-work channel. and respond to the work of at least several of your peers. Do this as early in the week as possible.

Then, write your self-reflection
Write your midterm self-reflection (click here). Read some or all of this stuff, as you think about your self-reflection: Nancy Chick's “Metacognition”, Alfie Kohn's “The Case Against Grades”, and/or Audrey Watters's “The Web We Need to Give Students”.

Week 7: May 8 - 14

First, read:
Four entries from Writing Commons"Rhetorical Situation,""Ethos,""Pathos,""Logos"
Joseph Williams, Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace"Understanding Style" and "Correctness"

Then, do some stuff:
Choose one of the readings below and write a brief response, analyzing how the piece uses ethos, pathos, and logos to make its argument. Also, find a single sentence (or two) where the piece breaks and/or invents grammatical rules to rhetorical effect. Share in the #our-work channel

Audre Lorde, "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action"
Henry David Thoreau, "Where I Lived and What I Lived For"
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own: “Shakespeare’s Sister”
Pierre Bayard, "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read"

Then, watch
These are some horror films that I particularly recommend and a few that were recommended by other folks in the class. Choose one of these and watch at some point this week.

Candyman (2021), The Invitation (2015), The Thing (1982), Donnie Darko (2001), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Halloween (2018), A Quiet Place (2018), The Birds (1963), Monsters (2010), The Beach House(2019), Hereditary (2018), Us (2019), Annihilation (2018), 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Scream (1996), King Kong (1933), Psycho (1960), Smile (2022)

Looking forward:
Here are some details about the final project for this course, which you'll be working on for the next several weeks. At this point, just start thinking about what ideas and questions you have.

Illustrated Argumentative Essay. This project will be the culmination of everything you've done in class thus far. The goal of this project is to investigate one of the important subjects of this course. You will start by choosing a specific issues or topic that has arisen for you during the semester. You are welcome to incorporate literary analysis and personal anecdotes into this piece, but you are invited to move beyond that by incorporating research about your subject as well. Both your written and visual elements will clearly support and contribute to an argument, whatever that might be.

The visual component can take any of a number of forms, including but not limited to graphic art, video, photography, interactive narrative, a web page, etc. The other component of the final project will be an argumentative paper. The length of this paper depends, to some degree, on the nature of your visual work. You are encouraged to think outside the box in how you approach this paper, and feel free to weave your written and visual components together

You can develop your final project from one of the other papers or responses you complete during the term, broadening its scope or reinventing it in some way. You may also collaborate on this project.

Week 8: May 15 - 21

First, play:
Play LIMBO for at least an hour (it’s on multiple platforms for $4 to $10)
Kevin Wong, “The Most Depressing Theories On What Limbo Means” (lots of spoilers, so you may want to play the whole game first)

Then, do some stuff:
 Join a one-hour optional live discussion in the #limbochannel on Discord at 7pm Mountain on Sunday, 5/21. We’ll chat about gaming more broadly, but we’ll focus on LIMBO, so make sure you’ve played before the discussion. And feel free to continue playing as we’re chatting :)

Or, if you can't make it to the live discussion, write a short post about Limbo, reflecting on the game or a specific moment from the game (wherever you're doing your work for the course). Share your post in the #limbo channel on Discord. Think about how the technical properties of film, video games, and writing are different and/or similar? How does the form/container of these three media influence the content? If you've missed any of the short writing assignments we've done throughout the term, feel free to do both this activity and also come to the live discussion.

Keep thinking about your final project (described in the material for Week 7). We'll start sharing ideas and the beginning of our work next week.

Week 9: May 22 - May 28

Start by sharing a bit from your illustrated argumentative essay. Remember to look back to week 7 for a full description of the final project. Share one of these things in the #illustrated-essay-workshop channel on Discord and offer feedback to several of your peers:

  • The first sentence. When giving your peers feedback, tell them whether the first sentence grabs their attention, what it suggests about the rest of the work that follows, how they might improve it to better set you up for the rest of their essay.
  • A plan or outline with specific questions for how you build upon that sketch, plan, or outline. When giving your peers feedback, tell them what you see working especially well and suggest how they might expand or refine their plan 
  • A sketch, draft, or beginning of the visual component of your illustrated argumentative essay. When giving your peers feedback, give them your impressions, tell them what you see, how it makes you feel, what it makes you think about.

Make sure to give your peers feedback by Sunday, so they can begin incorporating that feedback. And reach out to me with a DM on Discord if you have questions.

Week 10: May 29 - June 4

Early in the week, share your draft or work-in-progress in the #illustrated-essay-workshop channel on Discord with specific questions that will help you get useful feedback. Visit the #illustrated-essay-workshop channel and offer feedback to several of your peers.

By this point, you should be as close to finished as possible with your illustrated argumentative essay, but drafts might look like text, images, video, a sketch, or some other work-in-progress.

Finish and share your illustrated argumentative essay by the end of the week in the #our-work channel.

Optional: If you've missed one of the short writing assignments this term, or if you just want to take a break from your other work, watch a recently released horror film in the theater or on streaming. Write about the film wherever you're doing your work for the class and share a link in the #recent-horror channel. You can also use that channel to recommend other films you've seen recently.

Some of my recommendations for horror films released in the last year: M3gan (2022), Evil Dead Rise (2023), Scream VI(2023), and Knock at the Cabin (2023). If you're into that kind of thing, Evil Dead Rise is literally the bloodiest horror film I've ever seen. Plus, it's super entertaining.

Week 11: June 5 - 8

Watch here for more details

Two things to do by Thursday this week:
1. The Writing Program asks all students in WRIT 1122 to complete a brief portfolio. Click here for the full instructions.The gist: Cut and paste into a single file (DOCX, RTF, or PDF) two samples from the work you did for WRIT 1122. (No need to revise further.) These can be major or minor assignments, whatever you think represents you best as a writer. Then, write a short introduction that describes your work and how it uses rhetorical strategies to meet your goals. You can use links in the document at will to multimedia components. The instructions ask you to e-mail me your single file, but I'd prefer you send it to me via a DM in Discord

2. Click here to complete your final self-reflection.