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Helpful Tips for your MFA Program

 

The Flash Fiction Series
 
Gayle Drakes


To complete the 3-year MFA certificate, 16 credits should come from Foundation courses. You need 32 credits from Foundation courses to finish the 2-year MFA certificate. Foundation courses are required for the Creative Writing certificate—that is also a 32-credit requirement. It may seem like a lot, but there are more than sufficient Foundation courses in the MFA program to reach these targets. Essentially, any MFA courses that are not MFA110, or that are not among the 700 series, can be counted toward credits for Foundation courses. The flash fiction courses, those in the MFA 150–174 series, are included in this category and can help you reach your targets for credits from Foundation courses.

Flash Fiction seems a daunting writing format to many. Especially if someone tends to be a more expansive writers, the idea of telling a story in 1000 words or less may seem terrifying. But a critical part of learning to write lies in exercising the writing muscle. I have found that few formats work that muscle like flash fiction. In flash fiction, the elements of craft come together and gel in a limited space. Flash fiction forces you to convey the story in crisp images, tight sentences, and deep subtext. The readings and exercises in the flash fiction courses allow you to practice and hone these skills. These improved skills are transferred to longer writing forms.

I was not always such an advocate of flash. I admit to avoiding the Flash Fiction series of MFA courses like the proverbial plague. I tip-toed around these courses, doing everything else I could find. I struggled with the idea of trying write short short fiction. I felt I would not be good at it, that it's a format that is too hard unless the writer has some innate talent for it. And anyway, I want to write a novel, so learning about short-short fiction was not going to be useful, right? I eventually began to take flash fiction courses. My only thought at first was that I wanted to be sure I had sufficient courses in all categories of the MFA requirements. But it turned out that I was quite wrong about everything I imagined and thought about flash fiction. Some of these courses I now count among the most impactful I have taken in the MFA program.

There are several in the series that are foundational, introducing and explaining the concept and ideas behind flash fiction. I found MFA150 Introduction to Flash Fiction was a good place to start. But don't think that you must wait for this course to come up in the calendar to dive into the flash fiction courses. These are free-standing courses—each can stand alone because each tackles a specific aspect of writing flash fiction, or a particular bit of guidance for writing better flash stories. Therefore, you can take any course on the calendar at the point you want to. None of the courses have prerequisites.

Each course focuses on a single chapter of the required text and examines a specific element of writing flash. The courses cover the history and craft of flash fiction including Point of View, imagery, smart surprises, load-bearing sentences, and editing and revising flash stories. Some courses also explore sub-forms within the flash format—one-page fictions, fixed-form narratives- and flash fiction from non-western cultures. There is much to delve into among the 26 flash-fiction courses in the series.

All courses in this series use the same text: The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field. It is available in both print and e-book formats. Once you obtain the text you have the material for taking any of the courses in that series and can even explore a bit on your own (though I strongly recommend taking the courses to benefit from the writing assignments and peer feedback).

There are usually at least one or two flash fiction courses on the calendar each month, so you can dive in at any point. All flash fiction courses are 2 weeks long and therefore worth two credits each. The entire flash fiction series amounts to 52 credits in total, more than enough to supply the required credits for Foundation courses for any of the MFA certificates.

 

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