Guidelines and Advice for Workshops and Classes

Guidelines and Advice
for Writers’ Village University Workshops

by R.J. Hembree

  • Please do not post your work unless you plan on exchanging critiques with others. The most common complaint about on-line workshops is that they are often unfair by nature (this often happens in off-line workshops too). The reason they seem unfair is because some writers will post their work, receive critiques from others, but not return the favor. Another injustice occurs when the quality of the critiques are not reasonably equal in effort, regardless of experience.
  • Even a beginning writer has something valuable to say. Writers need to have an idea of how readers will react to their work, and, unless you’re writing for specific academics, it isn’t likely that the average reader will read your fiction with the same critical eye an experienced writer. Think of the critiques you receive as a public survey on your work. Some comments will be from writers less experienced than yourself and some will come from more experienced writers. You, as the author, are the final judge of a critique’s value.
  • Do not defend your work. If your work is not understood, then it either needs to be clarified or the person offering the critique wasn’t reading closely enough. Let it go. If one person misreads your work, don’t worry about it, but if several say the same thing, then it is worth reconsidering. Again, our readers will not always read as closely as we’d like. What is important is to understand what they are likely to miss and what parts leave the strongest impressions. Think of a scene from Don Quixote. Most of us will think of our chivalrous hero at battle with the windmill. We may have an equally memorable scene in our own works, and it won’t take an expert to call it to our attention. We want to know what jumps off the page, even in a misreading ... or rather, especially in a misreading. One of the best way to find the most powerful parts of your work is to have someone skim over it and report the results; then go back over it a second time for a closer reading.
  • Use tact in your critiques. We communicate entirely through text while on-line. We don’t have the benefit of vocal shifts, smiles or raised eyebrows to help communicate our thoughts, so we must choose our words very carefully. It is very easy to be misunderstood on the internet. One of the most useful words in a workshop is "consider." Rather than saying, "I think you should change this part because it is confusing,." you could say, "Consider changing this part for clarity." The later wording leaves the author with a better sense of control with additional options. The best critiques inspire the author to look for creative solutions and more effective alternatives.
  • Do not write the work for the author. It is very tempting to inflict our own ideas on an author in our critiques. It’s a natural impulse for writers, but one we should curb if we are to be helpful. So avoid comments that give specific story changes. If there is a characterization or plot problem, it is better to simply point it out and explain why you had a problem with it.
  • Be specific. It is of no value to simply say you like or dislike something. Saying "Awesome!" doesn’t help a writer grow. We need to know why it is awesome so we can do it again. If you don’t like something, try to determine why. For example, if the hero does something you don’t like, it is better to tell the author, "The hero seems to jump out of character at this point. Earlier, on the 14th paragraph, he said this and did that, then in the 30th paragraph this happened. Is this what you intended?" Also be specific about your favorite scenes, lines and descriptions. Especially the most memorable ones.
  • No pain, no gain. Criticism hurts. Anybody that says different needs to have their pulses checked. Some of us can deal with it better than others, but all of us would rather hear a compliment than a criticism. Writers are generally sensitive people; we have to be in order to write. My first workshops in college seemed vicious at the time. "How could these people be so cold and heartless? Don’t they know I’ve got feelings? I’ll show them! I’ll never write again!" I took everything as a personal attack in the big way. "Why can’t these people see what I meant? It’s plain as day to me!" Unfortunately and fortunately, everyone comes to a workshop with a different set of life experiences and can not read our minds. Writing is learning. It is important to know how our own life experiences compare with other’s. This is why we read and why we write: to find how we fit into the grand puzzle. So the pain we feel from the criticism is exactly what we need to find our differences and come closer to understanding our relationship to others, and this helps us to write so that others will understand us better.
  • Posting Limits.
    • Short Stories: No more than three (3) at a time.
    • Novels: No more than three (3) chapters at a time.
    • Poetry: No more than six (6) at a time.
  • Suggested length for critiques
    • Short stories: 500 to 1500 words
    • Novels (per chapter): 500 to 1500 words
    • Poems: 250 to 1000 words.
  • For the Novel in particular, an outline or synopsis should be posted with your chapters. This will help readers offer better quality critiques because they can read chapters with context awareness.
  • Proofread first!!!!! Don’t expect writers to proofread for you. Make sure your work is as error-free as possible before you post it. Of course, there will always be errors; most newspapers have several copy editors go over each story, and they still make mistakes. Do the best you can so readers won’t be distracted from your story or poem.


Things to consider when writing critiques:

  • Characterization - Can you identify with the characters?
  • Plot - Is there a continuous thread of suspense?
  • Setting - Are the sensory details effective?
  • Voice and Tone - Is the narrative voice consistent and unobtrusive (sometimes narrator intrusion is intentional and works)?
  • Rhythm and Pace (sentence structure variations for effect)
  • Theme - Are there identifiable themes, and which are the strongest?
  • Meaning - Find at least one meaning in the work (this could be different for everyone, but is helpful for the writer to know).
  • Conflict - Are the stakes and the conflicts surrounding them clear?
  • Resolutions - Does the story have a satisfying ending?
  • Dialogue - Is the dialogue natural sounding? Is it easy to read?
  • Suspension of disbelief - Are you carried into the story and willing to let it come to life as you read, or do to many things pop-up to remind you that it is only fiction. (some postmodern work plays with the suspension of disbelief)?
  • Clarity - Do the words seem invisible as you read, and do you have enough information to enjoy the story?
  • Opening lines - Does the beginning make you want to read more?
  • Most memorable scenes or moments
  • Best lines
  • Most confusing parts

How Courses Work

All courses run week to week. Assignments must be posted by the end of the course week. For example, if a course begins on Wednesday, it is due by the following Tuesday. Students exchange feedback with each other, so it's always best to post early.

How to Register for a Course

  1. Go to Menu and select Course Manager
  2. Select Calendar
  3. Select a Course
  4. Select Register
  5. Save

How to Drop a Course

  1. Go to Menu and select Course Manager
  2. Select My Courses
  3. Select a course
  4. Select Unsubscribe

How to View Your Registered Courses

  1. Go to Menu and select Course Manager
  2. Select My Courses
  3. Select a course
  4. Click on course name (some courses may have “Course Page” link )


WVU distinguishes Course pages from Classrooms


  • Course pages contain course information, material and assignments.
  • Classrooms are where greetings, comments, feedback and course assignments are posted.
  • Each Course page has a link to its Classroom. Each Classroom has a link back to the Course page.
  • You can also access Courses under Menu or Classrooms from the Forums.

How to Begin a Course

  1. Go to course Classroom
  2. Select New Topic
  3. In the edit screen, post a greeting or brief introduction for your classmates.
  4. Submit post

How to Post Your Writing Assignments

  1. Go to course Classroom
  2. Select New Topic
  3. In the edit screen, paste or write assignment.
  4. Submit

How to Post Replies, Comments or Feedback

  1. Go to course Classroom
  2. Select student’s topic
  3. Select Reply or Quote (Quote copies the student’s topic to your reply)
  4. In the edit screen, write your reply.
  5. Submit


This two-week class on writing personal essays is for bloggers, essayists, and nonfiction writers and is the first in a series of five classes that can be taken in any order. This one is an introductory course that focuses, through weekly readings and writing exercises, on the question of 'why I write'. The goal of the class is to write two short essays.

Based on the book,Crafting the Personal Essay’ by Dinty W. Moore. MFA01 is first of the MFA Nonfiction Series. Courses may be taken in any sequence. We recommend taking MFA01 first, either with a scheduled class or by independent study.

Course Length: 2 Weeks



Recommended for bloggers, essayists and nonfiction writers.

"Each of us has a miraculous mind full of associations, ideas, and richly remembered experiences." The best writing provokes an emotional reaction, be it laughter, sadness, joy, or indignation. Author Kathleen Norris suggests that what we are looking for, in exchange between writer and reader, is resonance. So, remember, though personal, the essay is never meant to be private. Privacy is for your diary. Essays are for readers."

This two-week class on writing personal essays is for bloggers, essayists and nonfiction writers and is the second in a series of five classes that can be taken in any order. This course focuses, through weekly readings and writing exercises, on memory, capturing gestures, and writing about loss and grief. The goal of the class is to write two short essays.

Course Length: 2 Weeks



The memoir essay is all about the I, not just as a source of insight, but as the subject itself. There is no shame in using yourself as subject, and no need to hide that fact behind some veil of objectivity and erudition. The I stands tall and proud. Memoir essays are simply about what happened in the past. Memoir is not about 'look at me, look at me.' Instead it is about trying to understand the vexing mysteries of human existence.

This two-week class on writing personal essays is for bloggers, essayists and nonfiction writers and is the third in a series of five classes that can be taken in any order. This course focuses, through weekly readings and writing exercises, on writing memoir. The goal of the class is to write and revise a memoir essay.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA04 The Classically Modern Essay

Joseph Epstein suggests that an essayist should attempt to capture the voice of “an extremely intelligent, highly commonsensical person talking, without stammer and with impressive coherence.” Everyday speech without all the stammering should be our goal, with the coherence turned up just a notch. After all, the true beauty of writing is having a good idea and then revising it to sound even better. We clear away the debris to make the heart of our essays stand out.

This two-week class on writing personal essays is for bloggers, essayists and nonfiction writers and is the fourth in a series of five classes that can be taken in any order. This course focuses, through weekly readings and writing exercises, on the use of metaphor and on communicating ideas. The goal of the class is to write two short essays.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA05 The Contemplative Essay

Best-selling novelist Ann Patchett once said, 'Writing is a job, a talent, but it's also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon,' and the contemplative essay is what you might share with that friend.
"One of the pleasures of the contemplative essay, for the reader, is the meandering sense of form, the idea that you are taking a leisurely stroll with an interesting mind."

This two-week class on writing personal essays is for bloggers, essayists and nonfiction writers and is the fifth in a series of five classes that can be taken in any order. The course focuses, through weekly readings and writing exercises, on contemplation of the world within and without. The goal of the class is to write two short contemplative essays.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA050 Flash Nonfiction: Form

"Literary nonfiction examines the deeply human--and offer unanswerable--questions that concern all serious art. The style might range from intellectual to somber to humorous to playful, and the subject matter might be travel, the inscrutability of human behavior, or a moth on a window ledge, but the work itself is individual, intimate, exploratory, and carefully crafted using metaphor, sensory language, and precise detail."

This five-week class is the first in a series of five flash nonfiction workshops. Each week will use readings and writing exercises to focus on different components of flash nonfiction: its history, the miniature, decisive moments, compression, and place. By the end of this course, you'll have written four short flash nonfiction pieces.

Course Length: 5 Weeks


MFA051 Flash Nonfiction: Image and Detail

This five-week class is the second in a series of five flash nonfiction workshops. Each week will use readings and writing exercises to focus on different components of flash nonfiction: the importance of details, memory triggers and tropes. By the end of the class, you will have written five short flash nonfiction pieces.

Course Length: 5 Weeks


MFA052 Flash Nonfiction: Voice, Sound and Language

This six-week class is the third in a series of five flash nonfiction workshops. Each week will use readings and writing exercises to focus on different components of flash nonfiction: voice, sounds, and location. By the end of the class, you will have written six short flash nonfiction pieces.

Course Length: 6 Weeks


MFA053 Flash Nonfiction: POV and Structure

This six-week class is the fourth in a series of five flash nonfiction workshops. Each week will use readings and writing exercises to focus on different components of flash nonfiction: point of view, structure, and writing the past, present, and future. By the end of the class, you will have written six short flash nonfiction pieces.

Course Length: 6 Weeks


MFA054 Flash Nonfiction: Singular Moments - Against the Grain

This five-week class is the fifth in a series of five flash nonfiction workshops. Each week will use readings and writing exercises to focus on different components of flash nonfiction: beginnings and endings, writing the contrary essay, and walking, gathering, and listening. By the end of the class, you will have written five short flash nonfiction pieces.

Course Length:  5 Weeks


MFA102 Sentence Structures: Propositions, Subtext and Syntax

Poor, thin sentences are the surest way to expose a writer's lack of skill. Knowing all the grammar rules and all the advice given in rehashed, how-to books will not make a better writer -- effective sentences will. We can't rob Faulkner, Hemingway or other greats of their genius. They were exceptional talents. However, we can gain Syntactic X-ray Vision, giving us the power uncover the secrets of our greatest writers, revealing the techniques, conscious or unconscious, behind great sentences. You'll never read or write the same way again.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA103 Creativity and the Cumulative Sentence

In this course, designed by WVU’s administrator, Bob Hembree, he says, “I’m going to show you a trick, one you probably use all the time but didn’t realize it. And, once you know how it works, your writing process will never be the same, your writing will improve, and you’ll even look forward to revisions. Most of all, this creative process will bring vivid images, and great, natural rhythm to your writing. Not the rhythm of a song or necessarily the poet’s, but the natural rhythm of language, like words spoken from a master storyteller’s lips.” Follow along with Bob as he expounds on the cumulative sentence and the possibilities it offers.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA105 Tough, Sweet and Stuffy

The writer is not physically present to his reader. He is all words. The writer has no resources at all for dramatizing himself and his message to his reader except those scratches on paper—he has no bulk, no audible voice on the airwaves, no way of introducing himself beyond what he can make his reader "see" by means of abstract written words in various arrangements. To these words the reader responds much as he responds in a social situation—that is, he infers a person­ality—but he has only words to go on. Therefore, the writer's choice of words as he makes his introduction in prose have an absolute kind of importance and finality. His reader is by no means so ready to reserve judgment, to wait and see, as a new social acquaintance. A reader can shut the book at any moment, at the slightest displeasure. Measured against the ordinary social life of meeting and speaking, the writer's handicaps seem enormous. In what follows, I shall be asking how writers introduce themselves in those crucial opening paragraphs of prose works.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA110 Syntax, Style and Grammar

Beginners and pros alike will find this unique approach to syntax, style, and grammar both entertaining and highly educational. Sharpen your skills in this informative and comprehensive course. A Core Course for the MFA Certification Program.

Course Length: 16 Weeks


MFA112 Writing Better Sentences

Good sentences reveal a writer’s thinking.  The difficulty is matching words to thoughts; they’re two different gears and they never align perfectly. We all experience this, finding the right words to say what we’re thinking.  We do our best to write with precision and hope the reader will take it from there.

The thoughts preceding words are called propositions, a term most often used in the study of rhetoric, logic or philosophy, but you’ll soon see why they’re important in sentence building. Propositions are statements a reader can accept or reject as true. They establish trust or distrust. If sentences come across contrived, incoherent, or lack a sense of conversational rhythm, the reader may decide the effort isn’t worth it and close the book.

Course Length: 4 Weeks


MFA150 Introduction to Flash Fiction

This introduction to flash fiction opens us up to the importance of exercises, how they can limber up our imaginations, teach us to appreciate the value of an overheard conversation or a newspaper story. And how the “What if?” can set a story in place.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA151 Flash Fiction Workshop: Vignettes

In this first of the flash fiction workshops, we study a piece of fiction by Lydia Davis and contemplate the vignette. Author Nathan Leslie takes a new look at what has in the past been considered a four-letter-word, and gives us a taxonomy of flash.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA152 Flash Fiction from Contemporary China

While flash fiction in China can be traced back to 350 B.C. or so, it would take more than two full millennia for it to evolve to where it is today, as a hot, important literary genre.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA153 Flash Fiction - The Myth-ing Link

In this class, Pamelyn Casto gives us a brief definition of flash fiction and how through the study of mythology writers can renew their own store of writing ideas.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA154 Flash Fiction Point of View and Voice

A bit of history on the beginnings of flash fiction and why with flash fiction, no matter how busy you are, literature can be part of your day.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA155 Flash Fiction - One Page Fictions

In this essay, Jayne Anne Phillips talks about how she taught herself to write and where she began back in the seventies, with one-page fictions. What should a one-page fiction encompass and why?

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA156 Flash Fiction - Great Thoughts

Stuart Dybek is known for his strong narrative voice, his lyricism, and his vivid, almost folkloric memories of childhood, many critics consider him one of our foremost writers of flash fiction. Here he shares his process using a “Great Thoughts” notebook and how to capture “lint.”

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA157 Flash Fiction - The Story in the Title

The title to a story is the frame that surrounds it, holding to together. Follow along as Michael Martone shares the many ways a title can and should affect your work.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA158 Flash Fiction - Opening Up Your Writing

The opening sentences of short stories have a vital role to play in setting the color or tone of the work, even more so in flash fiction. Using simple statements, small sentences all introduce characters to whom something is happening. Just straight storytelling. And flashes are just that – storytelling. A strong, effective beginning starts a process that leads to a strong story.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA159 Flash Fiction - Smart Surprise

Jennifer Pieroni seeks stories with smart surprises. She shares how to select those surprises and come up with a story that is so uniquely your own that you just might surprise yourself.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA160 Flash Fiction - Making Flash Count

When flash fiction writer Randall Brown thinks of his favorite writers he likes to think they begin with the idea of brevity, a very tiny space, and think of how largely they might fill it. Follow along and find out how to find in compression what cannot be found otherwise, to view the constriction of time and space as a need for urgency and profundity.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA161 Flash Fiction - Using Images for Inspiration

Lex Williford talks of attempting to write 40 stories in 40 days and how images are his source of inspiration.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA162 Flash Fiction - Staying True to the Image

Author Robert Shapard shows how images can be useful in writing flash fiction. And how by focusing on the image that prompted the story in the first place has helped him write come of his best work.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA163 Flash Fiction - Meta-Narrative

Stace Buzko shares strong advice for any storyteller. Get on with it, and shows how flash is “about the moment—a flashpoint.” In this exercise we see how to find the flashpoint in our own work.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA164 Flash Fiction - A Short Short Theory

Pulitzer-prize-winning author, Robert Olen Butler, lays out his theory on short stories, and discusses this most important fact:  A short short story, in its brevity may not have a fully developed plot, but it must have the essence of a plot, yearning.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA165 Flash Fiction - Getting the Lead Out

Steve Almond’s work is known for its conversational style and brutal honesty—especially in the exploration of sociological and sexual interactions—and for his ability to provide uncanny depth in very short spaces.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA166 Flash Fiction - Prose Poetry

While plot is vital in flash fiction, Kim Chinquee shows that event is not the only necessity of plot. The surrounding elements procure it. How do we distinguish flash fiction from prose poetry?

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA167 Flash Fiction - Put Yourself in Danger

This short essay by Deb Olin Unferth asks important questions about flash, such as: What is the essential element of "story"? How much can the author leave out and still create a moving, complete narrative? If I remove all backstory, all exposition, all proper nouns, all dialogue – or if I write a story that consists only of dialogue – in what way is it still a story?

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA168 Flash Fiction - Flash in a Pan

Sherrie Flick talks about how time can be manipulated in flash fiction.

 Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA169 Flash Fiction - Expose Yourself

We begin with an essay by Mark Budman, where he discusses the Mobius Strip and how Flash fiction is reincarnated brevity.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA170 Flash Fiction - Load-bearing Sentences

Pia Z. Ehrhardt discusses how flash fictions contain joist-like sentences; sentences that carry the load of the story and how to define them in your own work.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA171 Flash Fiction - Editing and Revising

In his essay, Rusty Barnes introduces his process, "COAPing with revision" (Cut/Order/Add/Polish)

And shows how it I readily adaptable to personal and creative writing.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA172 Flash Fiction - Fixed-Form Narratives

Essay by Bruce Holland Rogers. Fixed-forms, or constraints are a fun and productive way of creating a story. Join us as we discover how opting for a constraint may be the spark that sets you off on a path to successful flash fiction.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA173 Flash Fiction: Doing More with Less

Beginning with an essay by Julio Ortega we discuss how flash ‘can only be resolved by sudden revelation, as wonder. Flash fiction is a fictional truth—an epiphany.’

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA174: Writing Flash Fiction

“After a flash an image burns on the eye, the visual echo of the moment.” Using an essay from Ron Carlson, we’ll discuss what it means to write fresh, honest fiction, without clichés and old hacks. How to capture a moment and write on past its original intent.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA201 Discovering the Rose in the Rubble

It's up to us to tell the story of the event, experience, or quest as honestly and accurately as possible, to call up and appeal to the emotions of our audience. Whether the audience is moved to laughter or tears depends on how it came to pass, in success or in failure.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA202 Triggers

Triggers are everywhere; they’re also idiosyncratic, one person’s method will never instruct another on how to find a trigger. However, they do share some common characteristics. We can learn by looking at these shared traits. A trigger may be so buried in the story that no one, but the author, could ever guess its source. Where do stories come from?

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA203 The Mask of Fiction

As writers we are told to write what we know, but what we know is not all there is to us. We are also, in a way, what we don’t know. We may be at our best when we write what we don’t know. In essence, we are all liars, with grand and noble purpose, but liars nonetheless.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA204 Fiction Writer's Apprenticeship

To write well, we must think critically and independently. What are the “rules” of writing? Are there actually rules at all? If so, how might we break them, with style?

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA205 Developing Characters

Characters are the beating heart of a story. But how do we create realistic characters, ones that will evoke an emotional response in our readers? The seeds of a character are all-around us; it is how we collect and nurture those seeds, how we tend them and form them as they grow that will allow them to evolve into the round, full creatures that are often consistent, sometimes surprising and always full of quirks and complexities.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA206 Minor Characters

Minor characters can add color to a story, tell us things about the main character that we might never know otherwise, but if we’re not careful, they may steal the limelight. We need to remember that while we are each major characters in our own lives. To the rest of the world, we are strictly minor characters all the way.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA207 Settings and Characters

Most writers have a good understanding of how interior settings may show the character, but characters in an exterior setting may not have the same connection. In fact, the only reason to pay attention to place, to an exterior setting, is the faith, the belief that they are one--intertwined. Place is character; character is place. A character’s perception of their surroundings says much.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA208 Difficult Characters

If we want to make the reader care about characters that are bad, immoral, selfish, mean or obnoxious, we must make them capable of change. Whether they do or not may remain to be seen. They must have an uphill battle, a cross to bear. If we want to fuel the plots of our stories, make our characters believable, we must make them contradictory.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA209 Point of View Basics

While we may each have a propensity or preference for a specific point of view, it is important that we use all the tools in our toolkits. The story varies greatly depending on the narrator. Successful fiction requires an understanding of these various points of view.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA210 The Art of First Person

Point of view may be the single most important decision a writer makes. When using first-person point of view we allow ourselves to inhabit or be inhabited by a variety of characters, we become that character. But once we’ve decided on this point of view there is still another decision to be made: Central or Peripheral. The narrating “I” of the story will set the tone and mood of the piece, determine what information the reader is given and even establish the order and sequencing of events.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA211 The Art of Third Person

Third-person is the most common point of view, it also has the widest range of variance. Will you give the reader a wide-angle view of your protagonist’s world? Or will you zoom in for a close-up angle that draws your reader deeper and deeper into the consciousness of the character; allowing them to experience the world through her eyes?

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA212 What is a Plot?

‘The Story Spine’: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___, was created by Kenn Adams in 1991 and has been reproduced in various forms throughout the literary world. According to John Barth these steps can be more appropriately defined as Incremental Perturbations. How many perturbations are needed? And how many are just enough?

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA213 The Art of Sequencing

Writers are master manipulators of time. Story time, with its own laws and effects may move in any direction. Determine when and how to use this to your advantage by employing flashbacks, flash-forward, slow-motion, looping and even reverse order to bring your story to its natural conclusion.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA214 Describing and Withholding

Writing concrete descriptions should be the beginning writer’s first goal. It is all too easy to be seduced by the sound of language, to forget what Edgar Allen Poe coined as “The Single Effect Theory” or the unified effect. Knowing how and when to release information is an acquired skill. Through draft and revision, we intuit the real beginning of our story. Much depends on the story we wish to tell and the unified effect we wish to reach by story’s end.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA215 Inflection, Tone and Pitch

Inflection, the tone in which something is said, it the lifeblood of a story and its subtext. Actors on a stage have the advantage of speech. Writers must know how to use inflection and tone to show the reader their intent. We will study Francis Ford Coppola's movie, The Conversation. To see how inflection provides context.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA216 Voice and Style

There is the voice of the story and the voice of the author. Style is the way the words take on an identity on the page. On both the macro and micro level of storytelling, the most important thing is how language is used. A writer’s voice and style are things that evolve over time, not things that can be imitated or bottled for personal use.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA217 Magical Realism, Rules and How to Break Them

Magical realism does not refer simply to the oddities and eccentricities of human behavior, nor to the sometimes-astonishing world of nature causes and effects, nor to the surprising acts of coincidence and fate that occasionally appear to be directed by an unseen authority. To understand how magical realism works in fiction, think instead of radios mysteriously broadcasting the intimate conversations of strangers.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA218 Adding Humor to Fiction

The only quality all humor shares is the unexpected. It surprises us by subverting the commonplace. Incongruity is the basic, and in some sense, the only, technique of the humorist. By examining a list of humorous devices we’ll learn how to create the unexpected in our writing.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA219 The Purpose and Practice of Revision

A writer working on revision can be likened to a sculptor who takes a lump of material and by employing various techniques, coaxes it into a cohesive form. But the real work comes once that form has taken shape; when the process of subtraction becomes necessary. We remove those spots that distract from the beauty of the story at its essence, by listening closely to what it wants to be.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA220 Editing and Polishing

While there are general definitions of what makes “good sentence,” in prose writing you must listen just as much to what your story is telling you, and even requiring you as a writer. Through the use of punctuation in standard and even unexpected ways, you can make your prose sing.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA231 Art and Artifice

The job of the writer is to do all that he can to maintain the reader's interest through literary elements. We’ll discuss techniques designed to do just that. Including emotional bombshells, surprises, layered subplots, building suspense, transitioning in and out of flashbacks without disrupting the mood of the story, and more.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA232 Backstory

Backstory can be the source of what propels a character to make the choices they did. It can reveal their deep-set fears. A vital tool in every writer’s toolbox that gives insight into the character and creates a deeper connection with the reader.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA233 Cliffhangers and Thrusters

Thrusters and cliffhangers are two devices that drive a story and thus the reader forward. A Thruster pushes the story forward by placing clues, asking questions, etc. A Cliffhanger is a specific thruster that ends the scene or chapter by interrupting the action so that it continues into the next scene.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA234 Epilogues

After the falling action or denouement an epilogue (to say in addition) may be used to suggest the impact of the climatic events. Epilogues can be used for several reasons. Separated from the story by time and place, it comes from a different perspective.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA250: How to Hook the Reader

We think in story. It’s hardwired in our brain. Our brains constantly seek meaning from all the input thrown at it, yanks out what’s important for our survival and tells us a story about it based on our experiences. So, what does that mean to us as writers? That we can now decode what the brain (aka the reader) is really looking for in every story.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA251: Story Focus

A story is designed, from beginning to end, to answer a single overarching question. As readers we instinctively know this, so we expect every word, every line, every character, every image, every action to move us closer to the answer. In this class we’ll discover how the synthesis of three important elements help you to focus in on the point of your story.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA252 Emotions and POV

Letting your reader know how the protagonist reacts internally to everything that happens might be one of the most important and yet most overlooked elements of story. In this class, we’ll decode how to convey thoughts in first and third person, expose the sins of editorializing, take a look at how body language never lies and rethink the old adage “Write what you know.”

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA253 What Protagonists Want

In a story, plot-wise, what all other considerations bend to is the protagonist’s external goal. In this class we’ll zero in on how to find your protagonist’s goal, the difference between her internal and external goal, how to dig deep to find her inner issue, and discover how to create external obstacles that have meaning.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA254 Protagonist Inner Issues

Stories are about people dealing with problems, but if you don’t know what’s broke, how can you write a story about fixing it?  Outlining can be an intuitive, creative, and inspiring process that even pantsers can embrace when it’s done correctly.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA255 Story Is in the Specifics

In this class we’ll discuss the difference between the specific and the general, why the writer often comes up short in that area and why giving too many details is just as bad as not giving enough.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA256 Conflict and Change

We don’t like change and we don’t like conflict either. So, most of the time we do our best to avoid both. This isn’t easy since the only real constant, is change, and change is driven by conflict. Story’s job is to tackle exactly how we handle that conflict, which boils down to this: the battle between fear and desire.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA257 Cause & Effect

Since the brain analyzes everything in terms of cause and effect, when a story doesn’t follow a clear cause and effect trajectory, the brain doesn’t know what to make of it. Action, reaction, decision—it’s what drives a story forward.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA258 Undermining Your Characters' Best-Laid Plans

This class will explore why you’re doing your protagonist a favor by setting her up for a fall; how to make sure your protagonist’s trouble builds, and why some writers find it impossible to be mean to their characters. Plus, a checklist of 11 devious ways to undermine your characters’ best-laid plans.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA259 Setups to Payoffs

Readers’ cognitive unconscious assumes that everything in a story is there on a need-to-know basis, so they take for granted that everything you present is part of a pattern. A story setup is a break in a pattern. So, it’s vital that your setups have a payoff in the end. We’ll examine how unintended setups derail a story and take a look at simple setups that pay off big time.

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA260 Flashbacks, Subplots, and Foreshadowing

Memories are for navigating the now. In fact, the memory of everything we’ve done, seen, and read affects, and is affected by what we’re about to do right now. The questions is, given that all these memories and decisions are influencing your protagonist as she struggles with her issue, how do you, as a writer, weave it all together?

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA261 The Writer's Brain

In the workshop phase of this series, we’ll examine the deceptive thrill of finishing a first draft; discuss why seeking no-holds-barred-criticism is crucial; explore why rewriting is an essential part of the writing process; and discover a painless way to toughen our hide before heartless strangers begin attacking the very essence of our being (read: critiquing your work).

Course Length: 2 Weeks


MFA400 Nonfiction: Telling True Stories

This eight-week course consists of readings and writing exercises that focus on components of crafting true nonfiction stories, including journalistic research, literary storytelling craft, ethics, and editing, ending with a two-week workshop. The goal of the class is to write a proposal that includes the characters, a scene, a potential story arc, and the theme for a nonfiction story you feel strongly about.

Course Length: 8 Weeks


MFA403 Contemporary Writing Strategies

This eight-week course has 6-weeks of readings and writing exercises that focus primarily on components of writing craft for nonfiction writers and journalists, including structure, clarity, resonance, and voice, and a two-week workshop. The goal of the class is to develop a completed story, article or blog post.

Course Length: 8 Weeks



MFA404 Writing for Online and Print Markets

This 16-week class teaches the craft and conventions of contemporary journalism from the responsibilities of the journalist to guiding principles to the varieties of articles that are possible to write. The goals of the class are to draft, revise and workshop an article, a feature story, an opinion article, and a blog post.

Course Length: 14 Weeks



This is the first course in the Reading for Craft series in which students study short stories of literary quality to learn craft and apply what they learn to their own writing. In this course we will study short stories by Stuart Dybek, Rick Moody, and Jamaica Kincaid to see how using limitations can free you to write outside the box.

Course Length: 2 Weeks



This is the second course in the Reading for Craft series in which students study short stories of literary quality to learn craft and apply what they learn to their own writing.  In this course we will study “The Last Words on Earth” by Nicole Krauss to learn how to create a strong character voice and emotional filter.

Course Length: 3 Weeks


MFA505 The Homage or Tribute Story

This is the third course in the Reading for Craft series in which students study short stories of literary quality to learn craft and apply what they learn to their own writing.  In this course we will study short stories by Raymond Carver, Nathan Englander, John Cheever and Richard Ford and take a stab at writing our own homage or tribute story.

A homage story is an allusion or imitation by one artist of another as a way of paying tribute to the original writer.

Course Length: 3 Weeks


MFA700 Narrative Design

An in-depth study of story evaluation and form. Sharpen your critical reading skills as we look into both linear and modular story designs. Weekly discussions covering Plot, Character, Tone, Dialogue, Suspense, Point of View, Imagery, Time-Management, Description, Design and Symbolism. The final three weeks are devoted to Workshops. Based on the book: Narrative Design: Working with Imagination, Craft, and Form by Madison Smartt Bell

Course Length: 16 Weeks



MFA702 Subtext

We see and use subtext every day. It exposes motivation, guilt, fear, insecurities, intelligence, ethics, strengths, and weaknesses. It is the truth beneath the surface. In this course, we study the 11 ways in which subtext is expressed and how we can take advantage of those techniques to give depth to our characters and strengthen their stories. Based on the book, The Art of Subtext by Charles Baxter.

Course Length: 8 Weeks


MFA703 Maps of the Imagination

Writing con be considered as a two-act production. The first one of exploration and discovery, where we create worlds and characters, scribble notes, make assumptions; the second consisting of presentation, where we apply our knowledge, sharpen the manuscript and employ our skills and talent toward creating a document that has an effect on others. At some point in that journey, we turn from the role of discovery and take on that of a guide.  Based on the book Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Tuchi.

Course Length: 8 Weeks



There is real time and there is story time. This course, based on the book, The Art of Time in Fiction, by Joan Silber, discusses the many methods of showing the passage of time in writing. We’ll discover how those methods are used in some of the classics--novel length and short stories--and how to apply them to our own work.

Course Length: 8 Weeks


MFA706 The Difficult Imagination – Part One

What is innovative writing? In this three-part course we will question the assumptions of traditional concepts such as temporality, characterization and scene. Look at various suggestions for rethinking and/or expanding on those notions. We will visit a few important concerns/trends/obsessions in current writing (both on and off the page); hone critical reading and editing capabilities; and discuss marketplace realities. It’s all about taking chances, looking at writing in alternative and sometimes surprising ways, and trying to move out of our comfort zone to discover what may lie on the other side.  Based on the book, Architectures of Possibility by Lance Olsen

Course Length: 14 Weeks


MFA706 The Difficult Imagination – Part Two

Based on the book: Architectures of Possibility by Lance Olsen. You must have taken Part One of the series to participate in this course.

Course Length: 14 Weeks


MFA706 The Difficult Imagination – Part Three

Based on the book: Architectures of Possibility by Lance Olsen. You must have taken Part Two of the series to participate in this course.

Course Length: 14 Weeks


MFA707 Art of Reading (and Writing)

We all know how to read, but how many of us know how to read well? This course is designed to enhance reading skills, sharpen retention and inspire confidence. Upon its completion, you should be able to dive into almost any work of fiction, from classic to contemporary, with greater confidence and enthusiasm and recreate the techniques covered, in your own work. You’ll have learned the art of reading and writing.

Course Length: 8 Weeks


MFA750 Writing Literary Fiction - Part One

This series is based on Alice LaPlante’s book, The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing.  Beginning with a thoughtful discussion on the definition of Literary Fiction, thereafter, each session will include weekly readings, essay writing, discussions, and exercises and a Workshop during the last two weeks.

Course Length: 8 Weeks


MFA751 Writing Literary Fiction - Part Two

This series is based on Alice LaPlante’s book, The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing.  Each session will include weekly readings, essay writing, discussions, and exercises and a Workshop during the last two weeks. You must have completed Part One to take this course.

Course Length: 8 Weeks


MFA752 Writing Literary Fiction - Part Three

This series is based on Alice LaPlante’s book, The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing.  Each session will include weekly readings, essay writing, discussions, and exercises and a Workshop during the last two weeks. You must have completed Part Two to take this course.

Course Length: 8 Weeks


MFA755 Writing Linked Short Stories or the Novel-in-stories Part 1

This is the first in a two-part series of courses on writing linked stories, the novel-in-stories, or short story cycles. This is an advanced course. You should already know how to write a short story and have a few under your belt.  This is NOT a course on traditional novel writing.

Course Length: 8 Weeks


MFA801 Six Memos

At the time of his death, Italo Calvino was working on six essays setting forth the qualities he valued most in writing, and which he thought would define literature of the coming millennium. This course covers the five lectures that he completed. He assigned a “memo” to each of these characteristics and drew from his vast knowledge of myth, folklore and classical as well as modern literature, giving us a complete course on writing that has become only more relevant today.

Course Length: 8 Weeks


MFA802 Introduction to Metaphor and Workshop

Another course designed and led by WVU’s administrator, Bob Hembree, based on his own work in metaphor with reference to works by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson published in the book Metaphors We Live By.

“In this course, I will ask you to set aside things you were taught in school. Our common understanding of metaphor is of a poetic phrase like “Juliet is the sun.” We were taught adding a “like” makes it a simile: Juliet is like the sun. In this course, we’re not working in the domain of English classes.  With conceptual metaphor, simile is equal to a metaphor. In fact, fables, parables, myths, novels and even history can serve as metaphors. Metaphor is anything that describes one thing in terms of another. Our understanding of the world is built on metaphor—it’s physical. Our brains are wired for it.”

Course Length: 8 Weeks


L116: Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf is considered a pioneer in the use of Stream-of-consciousness as a narrative device. Students will read three of Woolf’s well-known works, Haunted House, Kew Gardens and Mark on the Wall, and have the choice of writing a review, an analysis of a specific element of fiction or a biography of the author. Text Provided.  

Course Length: Two weeks

L134: Banned Books: Huckleberry Finn

Ernest Hemingway called it, "one book" from which "all modern American literature" came and contemporary critics and scholars have treated it as one of the greatest American work of art. Yet in 1885 it was banned from the shelves of the Concord Public Library. This class offers students the opportunity to read and openly discuss the book, and two essays, On Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and The Struggle for Tolerance: Race and Censorship in Huckleberry Finn. Texts provided.

Course Length: Two weeks


L143: Brave New World

Although not well received in its time, this book has fascinated readers for decades. In this course we will examine the characters and social elements that make up the fabric of Huxley’s fictional world. We’ll also discuss the impact Huxley’s book has on contemporary society. Text Provided.

Course Length: Three weeks


L200 Proust & Flaubert

Students will read The Madeleine Episode from In Search of Lost Time, Proust - Portrait of a Writer, Flaubert - A Simple Soul, and The Lemoine Affair. Students have the choice of writing a review, an analysis of a specific element of fiction or a biography of the author. Text Provided.

Course Length: Two weeks



L210 Daisy Miller - Henry James

This novella depicts the traditions of polite society and what it’s like for a young girl who doesn’t fit the mold. Students participate in selected readings and topic discussions, and have the choice of writing a review, an analysis of a specific element of fiction or a biography of the author. Text Provided.

Course Length: Two weeks


L211 Poe and Hawthorne Short Works

A study of two authors. Students read, "Single Effect Theory" and "The Oval Portrait" by Edgar Allan Poe; "Wakefield" and "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, then participate in topic discussions, and write a short response essay. Text Provided.

Course Length: Two weeks


L230 Italo Calvino Short Stories

Students will read four of Calvino’s works, discuss his techniques and write an essay on either the author himself or the readings. Text Provided.

Course Length: Two weeks


L231 Paul Yoon Short Stories

Yoon’s first book, ONCE THE SHORE, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book and a Best Debut of the Year by National Public Radio. Students will read two short stories and discuss the author’s ability to create linked stories separated by time. Text Provided.

Course Length: Two weeks


L232 Kevin Moffett & Nam Le Short Stories

This four-week class consists of readings from the works of both authors, topic discussions, writing exercises and a response essay. Text Provided.

Course Length: Four weeks


L233 Chekhov Short Stories (Form and Setting)

In this two-week class students will read two of Chekhov’s short stories, “A Journey by Cart and “In Exile” followed by the essay, "Chekhov and Form" by Ehud Havazelet. Exercises include discussion and a response essay considering in particular, Chekhov’s form and ability to use setting to forward the plot and enhance his characters. Text Provided.

Course Length: Two weeks


L234 Barth and Borges (Form and Content)

Each week of this two-week class students will read a short story and Paris Review interview with the author. Response essays concentrate on the author’s form and creativity, with particular focus on content. Text Provided.

Course Length: Two weeks


L235 Hemingway Short Stories (Dialogue and Exposition)

Students read “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “Mr. and Mrs. Elliot”, The Art of Fiction No. 21, and “George Plimpton Interviews Ernest Hemingway”. Then write a response essay paying particular attention to the author’s use of dialogue and exposition. Text. Provided.

Course Length: Two weeks


L236 Faulkner Short Stories (Setting and POV)

Readings include two of Faulkner’s greatest works, “That Evening Sun go Down” and “Dry September”, combined with a Paris Review interview with the author and a Transcript of Faulkner's visit of John Coleman's Writing Class at the University of Virginia in 1957. Assignment is a response essay on his use of setting and point of view. Text Provided.

Course Length: Two weeks


L237 Ray Bradbury Short Stories

Students read “The Veldt”, “A Sound of Thunder”, “The Pedestrian”, and the Paris Review, Art of Fiction No. 23. Assignments include discussion on Bradbury’s foresight and how his work is as relevant today as it was when written, and a response essay on the author, the stories or his use of craft.  

Course Length: Two weeks


L300 A Lesson Before Dying (Ernest Gaines)

A Lesson Before Dying, is Ernest J. Gaines' eighth novel, published in 1993. Gaines also wrote “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman” and “Native Son”. This is a 4-week class. Students will participate in topic discussions on Gaines’ use of point of view and setting and write a short response paper.

Course Length: Four weeks


L301 If on a winter's night a traveler (Calvino)

Students read Italo Calvino's “If on a winter's night a traveler”, a postmodern and experimental work, both comedy and a reflection on the difficulties of writing and the solitary nature of reading. Exercises include participate in topic discussions, and writing a short response paper.

Course Length: Four weeks


L302 Middlemarch

“A study in provincial life” - themes include the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education. Often held as one of the greatest novels of all time. Students will read the novel over a period of eight weeks, and participate in weekly topic discussions, and write a short response papers.

Course Length: Eight weeks


L303 The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, written by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald was first published in 1925 to mixed reviews. It sold poorly; in the first year it sold only 20,000 copies. Fitzgerald died in 1940, believing himself a failure and his work forgotten. A sad beginning for a novel that has gone on to become part of American high school curricula and today is widely considered a literary classic and a contender for the title “Great American Novel.” Students will read the book, participate in weekly discussion and write an essay in the final week of class.  

Course Length: Four weeks


L304 The Death of Ivan Ilych

This book, considered one of Tolstoy’s best, discusses themes including the artificial life vs. the authentic life and the inevitability of death. His use of reversal and the contraction of time and space make the book a good study for all writers. Student will read the book and participate in weekly discussions as well as writing an essay.

Course Length: Four weeks


L305 Things Fall Apart

Achebe’s novel shatters the stereotypical European portraits of native Africans. His strong use of symbolism in many forms and ability to write about a known world without resorting to stereotypes makes it an excellent study.  Students will participate in weekly discussions and write a final essay.

Course Length: Four Weeks


L306 Swann's Way - Proust

In Search of Lost Time previously also translated as Remembrance of Things Past – is a novel in seven volumes, this, Swann’s Way, originally “Volume One”, contains a number of themes, such as the nature of time and the power of memory, have both fictional and philosophical implications in the novel. Students will read the book, participate in weekly discussions and write response papers.

Course Length: Eight Weeks


L307 Mrs. Dalloway

A study in Woolf’s use of point-of-view. Virginia Woolf combines interior with omniscient descriptions of character and scene. Mrs Dalloway was published in 1925; the First World War ended November 11, 1918. Along with reading the book, students participate in weekly discussions and write a response paper.

Course Length: Four Weeks


L308 One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1982 was awarded to Gabriel García Márquez "for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts". Students read the book, participate in weekly discussions and write a short response paper.

Course Length: Six Weeks


L309 Their Eyes Were Watching God

This novel has come to be regarded as a seminal work in both African-American literature and women's literature. TIME included the novel in its 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. Students read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, participate in weekly topic discussions, and write a short response paper.

Course Length: Six Weeks


L310 The Moons of Jupiter

Students read The Moons of Jupiter short story collection by Alice Munro along with the provided material. Students will participate in weekly topic discussions, write short response papers and submit a final writing project based on their weekly response papers and discussions. Course credits may be applied to MFA Literature requirements, or Theory and Criticism requirements for WVU's 3-Year Fiction MFA.

Course Length: Six Weeks

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