2010-2011 Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program Overview & Courses

The Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Western uses a low-residency format that requires students to engage in studies in two ways:

1) on-campus intensive seminars and workshops for two weeks during three consecutive summers, and
2) a plan of non-residency study requiring four academic semesters, during each of which students work one-to-one with writing faculty mentors.  The M.F.A. offers students three concentrations:

  • Mainstream/Genre Fiction,
  • Poetry with an Emphasis in Formal Verse
  •  Screenwriting.

The M.F.A program insists on a high degree of commitment and excellence from candidates, all of whom must maintain a 3.000 course average to complete the program. Any candidate receiving a final grade of “C” in two courses will be placed on academic probation, and a candidate receiving a third “C” as a final course grade will be suspended from the program. Summer courses within concentrations are front-loaded – that is, these courses require students to prepare for the intensive residency experience by completing pre-assigned reading lists as well as preparing advanced assignments to maximize the time for discussion and qualitative analysis during the course of studies on campus.

In the first and second summer residencies, candidates will also complete one credit each summer of CRWR 600 learning or updating online tools mastery, attending faculty and student readings, and meeting with non-residency mentors. Third-summer candidates will earn one credit attending and participating in critiques and readings for cohorts attending their first and second summers.

The non-residency mentoring component of each M.F.A. concentration pairs a students one-to-one with writing faculty mentors. Students can expect to spend a minimum of 25-30 hours per week to complete writing assignments, for which mentors will provide weekly feedback using online tools. Students will also participate in threaded synchronous and asynchronous online voice and discussion boards during each term with other students and mentors. Students will earn 12 credits each semester for this work (six credits for each mentored topic).


Professor Mark Todd;
Assistant Professor Jack F. Lucido;
Visiting Professors Barbara Chepaitis and David Rothman.

Description of the Program

The M.F.A. concentration in Mainstream/Genre Fiction includes instruction in writing for such forms as science fiction, the mystery, narrative nonfiction, and mainstream commercial fiction.  Study includes short and long written forms, as well as exploration of forms for alternative media such as public performance, audio, and internet media.
Students may also elect to study two of these concentrations by increasing the duration of their program to six semesters and a fourth summer residency.

Mainstream/Genre Fiction

Mainstream/Genre Fiction as a Second Area of Emphasis

Poetry with an Emphasis in Formal Verse
The concentration in Poetry with an Emphasis in Formal Verse requires that students achieve demonstrable mastery of a wide range of poetic forms and techniques along with acquiring historical and analytical knowledge about them.  Students who complete the program will also be required to demonstrate their readiness to participate fully in the literary world through public speaking and relevant prose (book reviews, metrical analysis, historical investigation, etc.). This concentration requires passing a comprehensive exam on formal poetry and poetics as well as second-year reading competency in a foreign language.

 Poetry as a Second Area of Emphasis

The concentration in Screenwriting includes instruction in the history and analysis of classical and contemporary screenwriting texts and the resulting films.  The program further includes instruction in writing the visual narrative, three-act structure, and four-act structure, character development, thematic development, conflict, genre, story arc, dialogue, and voice-over.  Although the program emphasizes the Hollywood or independent feature-length screenplay, the curriculum also includes television drama and situation comedy writing as well as screenwriting contests, festivals, and opportunities for marketing the M.F.A. students’ work. A Master’s Thesis Project in the form of a 100-page feature-length screenplay must be completed as a part of the degree requirements.

Screenwriting as a Second Area of Emphasis


CRWR 600  Summer Orientation - 1 credit
The first two summer residencies, students will learn or update online tools mastery, attend faculty and student readings, and meet with non-residency mentors. The third summer residency, students will attend and participate in readings as well as critique readings by cohorts attending their first and second summers. Must be repeated three times for credit. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 601  Patterns and Paradigms for Mainstream Genre Writing - 2 credits
Students explore material that to use as the basis for their own writing, selecting folktales and myths as archetypal basis for narrative pattern and character, translating those patterns into contemporary terms and connecting them to personal memory and experience. Work will be both performative and written, with student's drafts or outlines to refine during the year. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 602  Fiction Workshop and Translation - 2 credits
Students workshop current projects and move into activities of skill building in areas that increase the capacity to work with flexibility in a challenging writing market. Areas include public reading/telling, translation of ideas from one form to another, and responding creatively to deadlines and assignments. Discussion includes alternative media for storymaking such as the internet, podiobooks, writing for radio or games, etc., as well as initial exploration of market considerations. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 603  Specific Fiction Forms - 2 credits
Focus on student-chosen work within a specific commercial form such as science fiction, narrative nonfiction, the mystery, historical fiction, other mainstream fiction, etc.  Workshopping within the group and a continuation of building generative writing practices as well as kinds of writing necessary to sell work.  Practice in query letters, writing for grants and fellowships, writing synopses and pitches, and focus on initial post-publication promotion. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 606 What Do You Know About Fiction? - 6 credits
Focus on helping students develop personal skills of observation and reflection to enable them to be aware of the material around them, ready for use in their writing; teaching students to grow areas of personal interest into writing material; and providing assignments that strengthen research skills in areas related to the student’s writing. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 607  The Truth and a Good Story: Research for the Fiction Writer - 6 credits
Practice in research as it is applicable to works of commercial fiction in the genres of science fiction, historical romance, the mystery, and narrative nonfiction.  Focus on specific areas of interest for individual research. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 611  Poetics: Focused Genre Studies - 6 credits
Examination, analysis, and discussion of the poetics of authors from commercial genres such as Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy, etc., depending on expertise of mentor, and experimenting with working within those styles.  Specific reading lists determined after initial discussion with the student regarding individual interests. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 612  Poetics: Narrative Nonfiction - 6 credits
Examination, analysis, and discussion of the poetics of authors from the realm of narrative nonfiction, with a mind to seeing the possibilities of this genre for their own work.  Authors could include Jon Katz, Will Storr, Barry Lopez, Terry Williams, and more.  Specific reading lists determined after initial discussion with the student regarding individual interests. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 616  Fiction Writing for the World, from the Spirit - 6 credits
Examination, analysis, and discussion of texts of world mythology and religion as a basis of archetypes for commercial writing, including an in depth spiritual autobiography, as it connects to individual writing interests. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 617  Fiction Writing in/on Air - 6 credits 
An exploration of the possibilities, challenges, and opportunities of writing for the ear through the world of told stories and podiobooks, including practice and practical application of these venues. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 621  Making Connections in Fiction - 6 credits
A guided exploration of taking work into the world of making connections with editors, agents, and other writers through attending writing conventions, joining on-line groups, and more, preparing students to make the most of these channels for publication. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 631  Scansion Immersion - 2 credits
An intensive review of prosody – how to make meter and rhythm work in the poetic line as well as how to discern that structure in the works of others. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 632  Public Performance - 2 credits
Focus on the quintessence of public speaking, particularly as it applies to the performance of poetry, delivery of lectures, and participation in panels, understanding of the craft of using their voices and their physical presence to deliver creative, critical and pedagogical work orally to the public, and how to participate in conversations with the greatest possible skill and grace. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 633  Poetry and Music - 2 credits
Co-taught by a poet and a musician, this course explores some of the complex relations between these two arts, from theoretical discussion to the practical aspects of writing everything from song lyrics to choral odes to opera libretti. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 636  Metrical Traditions  & Versification I - 6 credits
The first half of a full-year course that traces the development of the metrical tradition in English poetry from the beginning to the present.  Students read poems in all the major forms (Anglo-Saxon Strong Stress Meter, the ballad, classical imitations, blank verse, the sonnet, iambic tetrameter, etc.) along with historical and theoretical commentary.  Students also model such forms and scan their own work and that of others. Students will also trace the development of theories of versification and prosody in English.  Students read a wide range of works, many of them by poets, in which they describe their craft and that of others, and they compare theories of and approaches to metrical poetry.  In this course students are expected to produce a wide range of short essays on various traditions of versification, along with at least one substantial research paper. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 637  History of the English Language  and Teaching Poetry - 6 credits
A two-pronged study, first of the historical development and evolution of English, and second, of a wide range of techniques and materials available to teachers of poetry to communicate much of that history. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 641  Metrical Traditions & Versification II - 6 credits
A second half of a full-year course that emphasizes advanced topics in metrical composition, e.g. stanza forms, longer forms and sequences, narrative forms, nonce forms (including free verse forms).  Students not only practice the forms, but read and scan them along with delving into the history, criticism and theory. The course also selects several major traditions in verse theory and explores them in depth, e.g., linguistic theories of verse; structuralist theories; relations between verse and music; attempt to imitate classical forms in modern languages; etc. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 642  Poetry Book Reviewing and Translation - 6 credits
A close analysis of the best reviews and criticism of the past and present, and practice writing such pieces themselves. Students work to understand translating poetry, studying and comparing translations, reading theories of translation and attempting translations.  Prerequisite: Admission to the program, and proof of second-year, or its equivalent, of reading competency in a foreign language.

CRWR 646  Narrative Forms in Poetry - 6 credits
Examination, analysis, study, and writing in the narrative genres and modes of poetry, from the ballad to the epic and novel in verse. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

POET 647  The Satirical Tradition  and Dramatic Verse - 6 credits
Examination, analysis, discussion, and writing in all the modes of comic verse, including all the modes of satire (Menippean, Horatian, parodic), to verse-based comic approaches such as light verse, doggerel, children’s verse, and more. Additionally, an exploration of dramatic techniques of verse from ancient Greece through the Renaissance, and to modern writers such as T. S. Eliot and up to the present. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 651  Advanced Poetry Genres in Particular Forms - 6 credits
Based on student and faculty mentor interest, a study of significant forms, group of forms, or poetic genres, with students reading a wide range of examples along with criticism and theory, and also composing their own work in these forms and genres. Topics include the following: The Sonnet and Sonnet Sequences, French and Italian Forms (ballade, villanelle, sestina, rondeau, terza rima, etc.), Classical Forms (Latin and Greek), The Ode, Blank Verse, Elegy and Pastoral , Non-European Forms (haiku, ghazal, tanka, Welsh forms, etc.), Free Verse Forms (Whitmanian versicles, syllabics, loose iambics, nonce forms, etc.). Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 652  Rhyme - 6 credits
An exploration of the theory and practice of rhyming, including all variations on rhyme, from alliteration (“head rhyme”) to perfect rhyme or rhyme riche, slant rhyme, etc., with student practice of  rhyming forms and consideration of aesthetic, linguistic and anthropological theories of rhyme. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 661  Film History and Analysis; the Visual Narrative - 2 credits
Examination, analysis, and discussion of classic and contemporary films from a screenwriting, story, and character development perspective as well as analyses of theme and motif.  Students engage in writing activities and exercises to develop a visual narrative style. All such writing goes toward creating material to fuel the mentoring process in upcoming semesters. The main theme here is: when possible show the story element; don’t have a character say it. Finally the prevailing three- and four-act screenplay structures will be explored. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 662  Story, Conflict, Character, and Genre in Screenwriting - 2 credits
Sharing and workshopping of short screenplays and projects from the previous mentoring semesters. Exploration of  story arc, elements of conflict, character development and arc, with an emphasis on film genre choices and styles. Includes proposals for upcoming mentoring semesters feature-length screenplays, plus an opportunity to practice pitches. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 663  Screenwriting Competition, Representation, the “Option” - 2 credits
Mock or actual “pitch” sessions of the thesis screenplay.  Screenwriting contests researched and entered.  Writers Guild guidelines and application explored.  Agents, options to produce, and independent film potential also explored. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 665  The Narrative in Picture Form - 6 credits
Creation of 15-minute to half-hour short scripts with little or no dialogue, allowing student to develop an individual visual writing style for the large or small screen, where the images tell the story through character circumstance, setting and action not the spoken word.  Feature-length script ideas may emerge here but will not be proposed or developed yet. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 667  Screenwriting Genre - 6 credits
Student are challenged to write filmic stories in three distinct genre categories, forcing a growth and flexibility to create meaning across a spectrum of setting, time and circumstance. Dialog now permitted but still de-emphasized in favor of a more visual narrative. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 671  The First Feature-Length Screenplay of Less Than 90 pages - 6 credits  
A thorough review of the existing works in the style and genre of the proposed piece, and a thorough treatment written. Students generate character biographies and a complete story outline. The production is “pitched” to fellow students along with the mentor. A first draft written and critiqued. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 672  Television Drama and Situation Comedy - 6 credits 
As for the first feature screenplay, a thorough proposal for both is researched and written. The result will be a complete “pitch” portfolio, including a “pilot” episode teleplay for both a television drama and a situation comedy. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 676  The Character Voice-Over - 6 credits 
The works of noir directors such as Billy Wilder and Martin Scorsese are researched and studied as well as Terrence Malick and others. Internal voice over, false voice over and the pitfalls of poor voice over pursued in scriptwriting projects, with voice over and character development emphasized. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 677  Screen Pacing and Tempo, Chronology, Flashback, Flash-Forward and Montage - 6 credits
Emphasis on key techniques through exercises that may be parts of future student works.  Classic and contemporary films examined for these components to trigger students’ writing. All of this writing activity will go toward forming the final screenplay project (the Master’s Thesis Screenplay). Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 691  Screenwriting Master’s Thesis Project I - 6 credits
A feature-length screenplay, intended for Hollywood or independent production, proposed including a thorough review of the existing works, treatment, character biographies, and generation of a complete story outline. A first draft of approximately 120 pages written and critiqued. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 692  Screenwriting Master’s Thesis Project II - 6 credits
Completion of the screenplay. Several drafts written and developed with the mentor. Following industry preferences, the screenplay should target approximately 100 pages. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 694  Capstone - 3 credits
Working with a faculty mentor and responding to mentor readings and workshop suggestions in order to complete one long work of fiction or narrative nonfiction in the form of prose or script, as well as beginning the process of seeking publication or production of the finished work; or preparation to submit 60-80 pages or original poetry, including either one review of a poetry book and one historical essay or else one review and one work of translation, totaling 10-15 pages, and an analytical project; or final feature-length screenplay (Master's Thesis Project) due, and a public reading of an excerpt performed or else a self-produced sequence from, or trailer for, the screenplay. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

CRWR 697  Special Topics - 6 credits 
Working with a faculty mentor to research, develop, and structure own particular areas of interest into a written work in preparation for the final project. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.