DIY MFA Reading List

I like reading about writing. I like catching up on what I didn’t take in school back when I had the chance. Here are my favorites of my Do It Yourself MFA journey that I started in 2013:

Saunders puts his Russian writers lectures from Syracuse into book form. He says its from his love of the Russian writers, but I also believe there’s some of it being public domain offerings where he could put the full short stories into his book? Either way, I agree and disagree with some of the political criticism this book got, but looking at it purely for the joy of reading and crafting short stories, it is pure gold. 

Grandiose title, but an excellent compressed spin through all the major elements of fiction with good examples and reading list.

Deep dive into structural alternatives to Aristotle’s Poetics. Another excellent generator for the reading list.

A compressed almost reference guide of the shapes narrative can take followed by an A to Z section on various components.

Sometimes known as the screenwriting teacher, McKee’s books are actually dedicated to all forms of Storytelling. This trilogy is a DIY MFA of its own. If I had to pick one favorite it would be the dialogue book for the best examples of his theories and a mixture of dialogue with story fundamental too. But if you only read one, it would have to be the original Story one. 


This is a great series published by Graywolf Press that includes even more than the ones listed here. Each one is a class of its own with in depth exploration of the topic at hand including samples and reading lists.

Crazy title, but a great essay collection. The first two chapters are worth the price alone. The first is a class on novel concepts we used in a week long novel class at Iowa Summer’s Writing fest, and the second is one of the best essays I have read on short story theory.

Another crazy title, but another great essay collection. Again, worth it alone on the strength of one essay, here a 60 pager on the “Anatomy of the Short Story.” An even better coverage than the one in Copula Spiders.

Eight “lectures” documented by his wife after his death based on material he taught at Breadloaf.

I prefer this one to Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. He sometimes runs the risks of suggesting there is only one right way to do things and he knows that one way better than anyone, but On Becoming a Novelist has good material for the elements of a novel as well as the mental approach to committing to novel writing.

Excellent scope including chapters on Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Narration, Character, Dialogue, Details, and Gesture. Dives into specific examples to explore different ways the greats have written before. Somewhat limited in terms of writers she uses for sampling, but definitely one that has changed how I read and revise.

Great class on Design of Short Stories which encompasses , many elements in his context: Plot, Character, Design, Theme, Imagery, Point of View, Dialogue, Tone, and Time Management. Presents full short stories with notes and then discussion of each element after.

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