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Creative Writing MFA

Resources for students and faculty in Augsburg's Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing. Get help with writing Craft Papers and access to publishers, plus sources for Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, Playwriting, Poetry, and Screenwriting.
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What Is the Craft Paper?

Normally undertaken during a student's third semester of long-distance learning, the Augsburg MFA Program's Craft Paper course is paired with the “Mentorship and Critical and Creative Reading” class.

The Craft Paper course asks students to conduct a semester-long investigation on an element of writing, then produce a paper based on their findings. This paper, totaling approximately 20 pages, should cite numerous sources. It can later be used as the basis for the 20- to 25-minute Craft Talk that MFA students deliver during their final residency.

This 1864 image is in the public domain, according to Wikimedia Commons

A Typical Schedule

Your Craft Paper class will likely meet seven times in the course of a semester. Here is how the class is typically structured:

Session 1. Formulate Your Ideas

Provide roughly five topics for a possible paper, using the Moodle forum. If you have already settled on a topic, describe it in some detail, outlining what concepts and texts (at least five) that you plan to cover. This should run to about a page, single-spaced.

Session 2. Write a Prospectus

See below for the structure and purpose of a prospectus.

Session 3. Make a Beginning

Submit the first five pages of your craft paper to your mentor, using the private studio space set up for you on Moodle.

Session 4. Respond to Feedback

Submit the first fifteen pages of your craft paper to your mentor, then respond to and/or incorporate their feedback.

Session 5. Submit Your Completed Paper

Submit your completed craft paper to your mentor.

Session 6. Share Your Craft Paper

After responding to and incorporating feedback from Session 5, post a revised draft of your craft paper to the appropriate forum on Moodle. Read and comment on the papers posted by your peers.

Session 7. Submit Your Final Draft

Submit the final draft of your craft paper to your mentor.

Required Texts & Sources

The required texts will vary from student to student, depending on their interests and the subject of their craft paper. Here are some selected representative texts drawn from one 2014 paper:

  • Aronson, Linda. The 21st Century Screenplay: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Tomorrow’s Films. Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 2010. Print.
  • Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Styles & Modes of Production to 1960. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. Print.
  • Cameron, James. Titanic. Dir. James Cameron. Prod. James Cameron and Jon Landau. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. 20th Century Fox, 1997. Film.
  • Caputo, John D. "In Praise of Ambiguity." Ambiguity in the Western Mind. 15-34. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2005. Print.
  • Currie, Gregory. "Unreliability Refigured: Narrative In Literature and Film." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53.1 (1995): 19-29. JSTOR. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.
  • Dowd, James J., and Nicole R. Pallotta. “The End of Romance: The Demystification of Love in the Postmodern Age.” Sociological Perspectives 43.4 (Winter 2000): 549-580. JSTOR. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.
  • Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. New York: Delta, 2005. Print.
  • Halpern, Faye. "Unmasking Criticism: The Problem with Being a Good Reader of Sentimental Rhetoric." Narrative 19.1 (2011): 51-71. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 27 Mar. 2014.
  • Meyer, Michael J. “Reflections on Comic Reconciliations: Ethics, Memory, and Anxious Happy Endings.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 66.1 (Winter 2008): 77-87. JSTOR. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
  • Shone, Tom. Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer. New York: Free Press, 2004. Print.
  • Williams, Linda. "Mega-Melodrama! Vertical and Horizontal Suspensions of the ‘Classical.’" Modern Drama 55.4 (2012): 523-543. Project MUSE. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

The Prospectus

This section, adapted from a guide on the University of Florida Website, is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Writing a Prospectus

There are many different kinds of prospectuses for different purposes. In the humanities, Ph.D. students are asked to submit dissertation prospectuses to their committees; most research grant applications require them; academic job candidates often include short prospectuses with their application materials; and book publishers request them as part of the process of considering a manuscript for publication. Editors of journals and essay volumes may also request a prospectus of a proposed article. These different kinds of prospectuses differ mostly in regard to the length and detail with which the project is described. Dissertation prospectuses can run anywhere from 5 to 30 pages, depending on the amount of detail requested of the student, while grant and job applications generally require brevity (1–2 single-spaced pages for a job application; 3–5 single-spaced pages for many grants). It is highly likely that before a major humanities project is published, 3 or 4 different kinds of prospectuses will have been written for it.

A prospectus should answer the following questions:

  • What is the subject of the study? How is the subject defined (is there any special use of terminology or context)? What are the main research questions the study aims to answer?
  • Why is the author addressing this topic? What have other scholars written about this subject, and how is this author's approach, information, or perspective different? What need or gap does this proposed study fill in the scholarly conversation? What new approach to a familiar topic does it propose to offer? What will be the study's original and special contributions to this subject?
  • What are the main sources that will be used to explore this subject? Why are these sources appropriate?
  • What is the proposed organization of the study?
  • Does the author have any special needs in order to complete this study? In particular, does s/he need funding to travel to archives, gain access to collections, or acquire technical equipment? Does s/he have the special skills (languages, technical expertise) that this project might require?

Organization

  • Title: It should be informative and helpful in pinpointing the topic and emphasis of your study.
  • The body of the prospectus: This section should concentrate on addressing questions 1-3 above. The goal of this section is both to describe the project and to "sell" the reader on its potential interest and scholarly significance.
  • A chapter breakdown: This can either be a formal section, in which each chapter is described in turn in about a paragraphâs worth of text, or it can be done more narratively, in which the whole project is outlined as a more seamless story. Either way, it should address question #4, above.
  • For grant applications, if applicable: Provide a brief paragraph at the end addressing question #5.
  • For dissertation prospectuses: A bibliography is usually required.
  • For book prospectuses: A table of contents is usually requested.

Some Further Considerations

Think about your audience. Your prospectus should be meaningful and interesting to an intelligent general reader.

In most cases, prospectuses are being reviewed because people are considering entrusting you with something: the freedom of advancing to candidacy; a job; grant money; a book contract. They need to know if their trust will be well placed, and that you are a good bet to follow through on your proposed work. Questions that often arise in this regard are as follows:

  • How interesting and important is this study? (Will we have helped make an important contribution if we support this work?)
  • Is the study feasible? Can it be done in a reasonable time frame?
  • Can this author produce an excellent dissertation or book? (Nobody wants to back a shoddy effort)

Your prospectus should address the first of these concerns head-on and show the reader exactly why your project is important, interesting, and, if possible, relevant to broad (human/social/political/cultural) concerns.

The second two questions are a little tougher to address. Often, they emerge because the project appears to be too broad or ambitious in scope or not yet completely formulated. Or perhaps the readers have concerns about the author's scholarship. If you are concerned that your prospectus describes a project that appears too big to be successfully completed, this might be a signal that you need to reconsider your project's structure. As for the scholarship issue, you can best address this by making sure to show that you are completely in charge of the scholarly apparatus of your project: you know what you're talking about in regard to the scholarly debates, and you give sufficient (and the right) citations. (A negative example: if you say you're the first person to study a particular topic, you had better be right!)

The Annotated Bibliography

For each source you consult, you will write a brief paragraph — also known as an “annotation” — that summarizes the source, evaluates it (what do you find interesting or insightful about it? disagreeable or questionable?), and proposes how it might be useful to you.

For more details on annotated bibliographies in general, see the Purdue OWL — the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.

Here’s an example. Let’s say I’m writing a craft paper on the divide between literary and genre fiction, and I’ve read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven to use as one of my examples.

St. John Mandel, Emily. Station Eleven. New York: Penguin Random House, 2014.
This bestselling novel is dystopian in its content but literary, graceful, and evocative in its style. On the first page of the novel, an actor playing King Lear dies on stage of a heart attack; but the real tragedy is the pandemic that sweeps the globe that night, destroying civilization as we know it. Weaving together the threads of multiple characters from that night, the novel moves forward and backward through time in a way that is powerful without feeling pat. The questions that propel us through the narrative: will these people survive, and how did they get here (who are they? Where do they come from? How do their stories connect?). Art is also very important to the novel, and the mantra of the story is the phrase painted on the caravan of the Traveling Symphony: Because survival is insufficient. In my craft paper, I will argue that the reason the novel has baffled critics who want to categorize it as either “genre” or “literary” fiction is because it is both: on the one hand it asks the same questions of plot that a generic sci-fi novel might ask (for example: how do people survive when civilization is destroyed?), but also the same questions of philosophy and humanity that a literary novel would illuminate (what constitutes a good life? A good death? What does civilization even mean?). I intend to use the novel as an example of contemporary fiction that combines a compelling, tension-filled plot with the hallmarks of literary prose: a thoughtful structure, well-drawn characters, and language that is vivid, often bordering on poetry.

The Paper

Examples of recent craft papers can be found on the MFA community Moodle page, which Augsburg MFA students have access to.

Citation and Style

Formal papers in the Creative Writing program use MLA style.