My Personal MFA: The Syllabus

Alright! Here’s the ambitious outline I’ve created for myself. Is it going to take longer than a year? Yes, as all good Master’s programs should. Everything is, of course, subject to change. This is especially true if I decide as we go along more time needs to be spent on a particular topic. I’m posting this FULL lesson list in hopes it will help other writers and authors who may want to jump ahead, but feel free to follow along and engage in discussions with me as you so feel inspired!

And like I’ve said before, I wish I would have done this 10 years ago!

I. Beginnings

Lesson #1: Misinformation: Recognizing bad advice

     Readings: Brody pgs. 3-8; Cron pgs. 1-32; Klein pgs. xi-xv; Kress pgs. 1-4; Truby pgs. 1-14 & 418-421

Lesson # 2: What is a story?

    Readings: Brody pgs. 3-8; Cron pgs. 1-32; Klein pgs. xi-xv; Maass pgs. 1-8; Truby pgs. 1-14 & 418-421

Lesson #3: The IDEA

    Readings: Klein pgs. 63-73; Kole pgs. 27-32

Lesson #4: The Premise

    Readings: Cron pgs. 35-52; Klein pgs. 39-55; Kole pgs. 32-39; Truby pgs. 16-38

Lesson #5: The Four Pillars of Story: Character, Plot, Theme, and Setting

Novel Readings for Beginnings (Read one or all): WONDER by R.J. Palacio; ECHO by Pam Munoz Ryan; THE THIEF by Megan Whalen Turner; THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak; WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead; THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

II. Character

Lesson #6. Character: What you think you know

    Readings: Cron pgs. 53-65; Kole pgs. 73-89; Klein pgs. 74-84; Kress pgs. 5-11; Maass pgs. 138-144; Truby pgs. 56-75

Lesson #7. Character: POV & Tense

Readings: Brody pgs. 283-286; Hall Chapter 10; Klein pgs. 238-258; Kole pgs. 62-72; Kress pgs. 158-212; Maass pgs. 125-133; St. John pgs. 70-80; 148-150

Lesson #8. Character: Internal/External Motivations: The Lie, the Line in the Sand, and the Want

Readings: Brody pgs. 9-21 & 160-177; Cron pgs. 67-78; Dixon Chapter 2; Klein pgs. 103-122; Kole pgs. 89-104 & 143-152; Kress pgs. 35-40 & 51-66; Maass pgs. 35-53; St. John pgs. 21-45 & 225-235; Truby pgs. 87-88

Lesson #9. Character: Character Arcs

Readings: Cron pgs. 79-84; Klein pgs. 122-125; Kole pgs. 143-152; Kress pgs. 67-77; St. John pgs. 94-99; Truby pgs. 75-85; 391-417

Lesson #10. Character: Character Design & Lists

    Readings: Dixon Chapter 1; Klein pgs. 85-102; Kole pgs. 104-113; Kress pgs. 11-34; St. John pgs. 46-56, 211-215, & 236-243

Lesson #11. Character: Protagonists and Antagonists

Readings: Brody pgs. 289-292; Cron pgs. 85-95 & 123-146; Kole pgs. 113-130; Kress pgs. 78-92; Maass pgs. 8-34 & 144-166; St. John pgs. 175-202; Truby 85-87 & 88-101

Lesson #12. Character: Character Foils & Writing Yourself In

    Readings: Klein pgs. 127-155; St. John pgs. 58-63 & 216224

Lesson #13. Character: Adding Humor

    Readings: Kress pgs. 93-103; Maass pgs. 167-187

Novel Readings for Character (Read one or all): THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick, THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE by Jacqueline Kelly, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L.M. Montgomery, FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway, MORTAL HEART by Robin LaFevers, SAVVY by Ingrid Law, THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Kimberly -Brubaker Bradley

III. Plot

Lesson #14: Types of Plots

    Readings: Brody pgs. 79-263; Klein pgs. 151-163; Truby pgs. 39-55 & 258-267

Lesson #15. Backstory

    Readings: Cron pgs. 95-104 & 195-208;  Kole pgs. 179-187; Kress pgs. 40-44

Lesson #16. Structure

Readings: Brody pgs. 22-28 & 275-277; Cron pgs. 105-144; Klein pgs. 163-165; Kole pgs. 153-167; St. John pgs. 87-93; Truby pgs. 267-270

Lesson #17. Hook

Readings: Brody pgs. 29-31; Cron pgs. 147-164; Hall Chapter 11; Maass pgs. 54-80; Klein pgs. 273-285; Kole pgs. 40-49; Truby pgs. 381-390

Lesson #18. Act I Beats

    Readings: Brody pgs. 31-40; Klein pgs. 165-188; Kole pgs. 130-143; Truby pgs. 271-288

Lesson #19. Act II Beats

    Readings: Brody pgs. 40-64; Truby pgs. 288-298

Lesson #20. Connect the Dots & the Climax

    Readings: Cron pgs. 165-185; Hall Chapter 12; Klein pgs. 193-201; Kole pgs. 196-201

Lesson #21. Act III Beats

    Readings: Brody pgs. 65-78; Truby pgs. 299-310

Lesson #22. The Megaboard

     Readings: Brody pgs. 277-283; Cron pgs. 187-221

Lesson #23. Subplots

    Readings: Cron pgs. 223-244; Klein 188-193; Kole pgs. 188-196

Lesson #24:  Series

    Readings: Brody pgs. 286-288

Novel Readings for plot (Read one or all): HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN by J.K. Rowling, A NIGHT DIVIDED by Jennifer A. Nielsen, CIRCUS MIRANDUS by Cassie Beasley, SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo, THE SUN AND MOON, ICE AND SNOW by Jessica Day George, THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin, WORDS ON FIRE by Jennifer A. Nielsen

IV. Setting 

Lesson #25: World Building and Creating Realism

Reading: Hall Chapters 6-8; Klein pgs. 286-296; Kole pgs. 212-218; Maass pgs. 134-137; St. John pgs. 125-140; Truby pgs. 177-184

Lesson #26: Vehicle for Theme and Emotion

    Readings: Maass pgs. 81-90 & 99-116; St. John pgs. 108-117

Lesson #27: The Sensory Experience

    Readings: Hall Chapters 2-4

Lesson #28: Natural & Human Constructs

    Readings: Hall Chapter 5; Truby pgs. 170-177 & 191-219

Lesson #29: Time Constructs

    Readings: Maass pgs. 90-99; Truby pgs. 184-190

Lesson #30: Less is More

    Readings: Hall Chapter 9; St. John pgs. 118-124

Lesson #31. Setting w/ Mad Libs

    Readings: Kole pgs. 206-212; St. Johns pgs. 101-107; Truby pgs. 145-169

Novel Readings for Setting (Read one or all): PAX by Sara Pennypacker, CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi, THE WILD ROBOT by Peter Brown, PAPER CHAINS by Elaine Vickers, AIRMAN by Eoin Colfer, LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott, PRINCE CASPIAN by C.S. Lewis, ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS by Maggie Steifvater, THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig

V. Theme

Lesson #32. Theme: Emotion in Character and Theme w/ Emotion Cheat Sheet

Readings: Cron pgs. 258-267; Kress pgs. 44-50, 105-118, & 119-172; Klein pgs. 11-26; St. Johns pgs. 57-99, 64-69, 168-173, & 203-210; Truby pgs. 114-139

Lesson #33. Theme: What your story is really about

    Readings: Cron pgs. 209-222; Kole pgs. 229-248; Maass 243-253; Truby pgs. 108-111

Lesson #34. Motif

    Readings: Kress pgs. 119-129; Truby pgs. 111-113

Lesson #35. Imagery

    Readings: Kole pgs. 202-206; St. John pgs. 81-86; Truby pgs. 220-257

Novel Readings for Theme (Read one or all): TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee, THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers, CODE NAMED VERITY by Elizabeth Wein, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Kathrine Applegate, CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White, A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeline L’Engle, GOOSE GIRL by Shannon Hale, LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry


Lesson #36. Voice

    Readings: Klein pgs. 258-272; Kole pgs. 218-229 & 239-248; Maass 117-125; Truby pg. 310-319

Novel Readings for Voice (Read one or all): THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman, THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT by Kate Dicamillo, THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern, THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill

Lesson #37. Conflict

    Readings: Hall Chapter 13; Klein pgs. 202-215; Kress pgs. 130-157; St. Johns pgs. 11-20; Truby pgs. 373-381

Lesson #38. Tension

    Readings: Kole pgs. 167-179; Maass pgs. 188-231; St. Johns pgs. 152-167

Lesson #39. Pacing 

    Readings: Klein pgs. 216-237; Kole pgs. 49-62

Lesson #40 The OTHER Element

    Readings: Kole pgs. 239-248

Lesson #41: Rough Drafts: The Fat King’s Draft

    Readings: Cron pgs. 245-258; St. John pgs. 141-148; Truby pgs. 326-372

Lesson #42: Filling in the Holes

Lesson #43: Lay Fallow: The Sleeping Beauty Draft

Lesson #44: Where Ideas Come From

    Readings: Klein pgs. 27-38; Maass pgs. 232-243

VIII. Business of Writing

Lesson #45: Children’s Publishing

    Readings: Klein pgs. 11-26 & 327-331; Kole pgs. 1-26

Lesson #46: Query Letters

    Readings: Brody pgs. 264-269; Kole pgs. 261-272

Lesson #47: Synopses

    Readings: Brody pgs. 270-274

Lesson #48: Agents & Editors

    Readings: Klein pgs. 331-345; Kole pgs. 249-260

Lesson #49: Submitting

Lesson #50: The Writing Life

    Readings: Brody pgs. 293-304; Hall Chapter 14; Klein pgs. 56-62; Kress pgs. 213-216 & 219-222; St. John pgs. 244-245

VII. Revision

Lesson #51: The Craft of Rewriting

    Readings: Klein pgs. 297-327

Lesson #52: Revisiting the IDEA

Lesson #53: Read Through w/ Font Changes: The Prince Charming Draft

Lesson #54: The Love Letter to Your Manuscript

Lesson #55: Character & Plot: Revisiting the Outline and Character Lists. Asking the hard questions.

Lesson #56: Setting & Theme: Revisiting Space, Time, and the Soul. Asking the hard questions.

Lesson #57: Ten Things Exercise

Lesson #58: Cut by Twenty Exercise

Lesson #59: Pass #1–The Evil Genius Draft

Lesson #60: Pass #2–The Little Prince Draft or the ABC’s of Revision (Ambiguity, Believability, Conflict)

Lesson #61: Pass #3–The Ninja Princess or 123 T’s of Revision (Theme Overall, Touchstone Sensory Details, Twist hints throughout)

Lesson #62: Pass #4–The Court Jester (Passive Voice & Concrete Language)

Lesson #63: Pass #5–Stuffy Adviser (Redundancy¬†& Excess or Inappropriate Description)

Lesson #64: Trusted Handmaiden–Alpha & Beta Readers/Critique Partners

    Readings: Kress pgs. 216-219

Lesson #65: The Village Idiot–Incorporating Advice

Lesson #66: Adding Tension & Conflict

Lesson #67: Character Problems

Lesson #68: Voice Changes & Language problems

Lesson #69: Copy Edits and Proofreads

Lesson #70: The Town Crier–The Great Read Aloud

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