On-Campus MFA Courses

The official UBC descriptions of all Creative Writing Program courses can be found here

UBC online course calendar

The Course schedule showing dates & times is available through the UBC Course Schedule. Be sure to select the correct term when viewing this, as it defaults to the current term (so in summer it will show summer courses rather than fall/winter courses).

MFA courses are all at the 500-level. During the course of the MFA, students must take at least three credits each in three separate genres (the cross-training component of the degree). We recommend a six credit course in each of the three genres chosen to get the most out of the experience. There are typically no prerequisites for MFA courses (unless noted on the calendar). Once accepted into the program, a student may take any course, in any genre offered.

Optional-Residency MFA courses are separate from on-campus courses. They share the same course numbers, but all sections of the distance education courses are distinguished by a section number beginning with “D”. For example, CRWR 509-001 is an on-campus section and CRWR 509-D01 is a distance education section. See our Optional-Residency Courses for more details.

Expanded Course Descriptions – 2017/18 Academic Year

CRWR 501I-001 – Advanced Writing of Poetry (3 credit, term 1)
Sheryda Warrener

Through encounters with various comtemporary styles and aesthetics, this workshop aims to expand notions of what shapes and modes are available to us when we set out to make poems. Students will prioritize generating new drafts, as well as critical and creative responses to close readings of peer work and supplementary materials ranging across the lyric tradition. A portfolio of 8 – 10 poems at various stages of the draft process is the hard target for the semester; experiential goals include developing a shared language around the tactics poems have at their disposal (such as: turns, leaps, disorientation as a means of connection). A range of alternative approaches to the traditional workshop model will be offered, with emphasis placed on how close reading informs a dedicated practice.

CRWR 501J-002 – Advanced Writing of Poetry (3 credits, term 2)
Ian Williams 

This graduate course reengineers the workshop as more than a site of correction but one of production, exploration, and experiment. Its primary goal is to strengthen capacities essential to the creation of poetry, those of perception, emotion, analysis, truth, and courage, while improving technique. In order to accomplish these goals, a number of artistic and personal interventions will be necessary. As such, there are exercises that may be demanding in ways that are unfamiliar to academic settings, and while you can always opt out without retribution, I encourage you to engage with difficulty while the opportunity is present in the safety of our community. Poetry is a record of those engagements

CRWR 502J-001 – Advanced Writing for New Media: Podcasting (3 credits, term 2)
Bryan Wade

Writers in this mixed graduate/undergraduate workshop who are undertaking this course as an introduction to podcasting will learn about formatting, dialogue, character development, plot and the importance of sound effects and music for this genre. They will be expected to complete several short assignments and for the final project to develop and complete two ten to fifteen minute scripts or produce a short ten minute feature or dramatic piece.

Writers will also be expected to research and provide feedback to the class about recent audio podcast series or shows such as: Chatterbox Audio Theater, Serial, The Kitchen Sisters, The Truth (Radiotopia), Welcome to Night Vale and We’re Alive.

Regular attendance and participation in the workshop are essential for it to succeed.

CRWR 503I-001 – Advanced Writing for Children (3 credits, term 1)
Alison Acheson

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children. –Madeleine L’Engle

This workshop will encourage exploration, risk, and all the rich stuff of apprenticeship. You will become conversant with the many age-groups of literature for children—enough to offer feedback to your peers’ work—even as you focus on the areas that pull you in, gut first. We will review genres, from mystery and fantasy to realistic fiction, and from classic to contemporary picturebook. We will look at the elements of fiction, and the connections between content and form, and between choices and effects…and more…even as we have an ongoing discussion of the challenges of creating for an audience who is not—generally—the purchaser of the story. The development of self-as-writer is also an integral part of the course, and you will be encouraged to keep a process journal and be reflective in your practice.

CRWR 503J-002 – Advanced Writing for Children (3 credits, term 2)
Susin Nielsen

This workshop will delve deeper into the world of writing middle-grade and young adult fiction. Some time will be given to discussion of children’s books as well.

Children’s/YA is a growth market (the number of titles published more than doubled between 2002-2012), and the caliber of the story-telling is rich and diverse. We will discuss what makes a novel middle grade or YA; how to create a fully-realized protagonist who will help you navigate your story; description; pacing; and moral centers vs. moralizing. In advance of the term I will send out a short reading list, and I expect participants to come prepared to discuss.

Each student will submit two pieces of writing to be workshopped. As this is an MFA course I will also ask that a synopsis or a very loose, short outline for the rest of the novel be submitted as well (for one of your two submissions). Why? Because the dreaded “middle” – actually creating a compelling narrative to sustain a novel – is where the serious heavy lifting usually comes in. I will also expect high quality and respectful editorial work on your peers’ submissions, both written and verbal. There will be a number of in-class writing exercises as well.

CRWR 505K-001 – Advanced Writing of Creative Nonfiction (6 credits)
Deborah Campbell

True stories, well told, are among the most powerful—and most published—of literary forms. This course is geared toward exploring CNF in its popular forms: memoir, commentary, literary journalism and the personal essay. You will acquire the skills to write in these forms, and learn the habits of a professional writer in the real world. High literary standards are balanced with publication opportunities; students will learn how to write industry-standards pitches to editors and be encouraged to send them out. Most students will go on to publish at least one assignment from the course. Class readings are drawn from the best of national and international nonfiction writing, offering diverse models of this complex and in-demand genre.

CRWR 506K-001 – Advanced Writing of Drama for Screen  (6 credits)
Sharon McGowan

Students are welcome to write short film scripts or feature-length scripts. My goal is to help each student reach their full potential in their work.  Students from this workshop have gone on to make films and work in the industry.  Many fiction writers take this workshop to help them with dialogue and story structure.

We follow the industry model so all projects, whatever length, begin with a pitch in class and then an outline before proceeding to a draft.

We work on story, plot, dialogue, theme and many more elements of the screenplay form. In the workshop I encourage an exchange of ideas and we read the screenplays or parts of them out loud.

There is a minimum page count of 30 pages a term.  In class, we workshop two to three scripts per week.

CRWR 507K-001 – Advanced Writing of Drama for the Stage (6 credits)
Bryan Wade

Writers in this mixed graduate/undergraduate workshop are welcome to write one-act plays or develop the first draft of an original full-length stage play.

We will work on story, plot, dialogue, character development, theme and many other elements involved in the stage play form. In the workshop productive feedback and the exchange of ideas are encouraged. Stage plays (or excerpts) are read out loud, allowing enough time for discussion.

As part of the course, writers are required to submit a short play (ten to fifteen minutes long) for the Brave New Play Rites festival. Now in its 31st year, Brave New Play Rites showcases new student plays in a series of staged readings and full productions. The festival is held annually in March in a theatre venue off-campus. Please note that only ten plays are given live productions; there is an adjudication process in November of the fall term.

Overall, a minimum of eighty (80) pages should be completed. Grades will be based on your written work and your attendance, active participation and the quality of the critical feedback you give to your writing classmates

CRWR 508J-001 (term 2) – Advanced Writing for Graphic Forms (3 credits per section)
Sarah Leavitt

This course is a combined undergraduate and graduate course, designed to give students a strong foundation in comics creation. Because it is a small workshop class, assignments can be modified as needed for students who are already familiar with comics theory and craft. Through readings, lectures, class discussion and workshops, students will:

  • Acquire an understanding of the elements of comics ­writing, drawing, composition, etc and how they work together;
  • Learn about the history and present practice of comics, and be exposed to a wide range of comics by diverse cartoonists;
  • Become familiar with key theoretical approaches to the form and acquire tools to analyze their own and others’ work;
  • Write and draw their own short comics.

Students who have taken the course previously or who are already experienced at creating comics will have the opportunity to further hone their skills and work on ongoing longer projects during the class. Students who are new to comics can find it intimidating, particularly if they don’t think of themselves as “good artists.” In comics class, we build a respectful atmosphere in which students can both support and challenge each other, with thoughtful analysis and honest feedback on the part of readers, and openness and determined effort on the part of the writer/cartoonist.

You do have to draw your own comics for this class. BUT I’m not concerned with whether you can or “can’t” draw, and it doesn’t matter how much experience you have as a cartoonist. The focus for this class is building coherent, compelling narratives with comics and the goal is to push yourself to improve your own work, in your own style, starting where you are right now.

CRWR 509I-001 (term 1) / 509J-003 (term 2)- Advanced Writing of Fiction (3 credits per term)
Keith Maillard

The purpose of this workshop is to help students write excellent fiction—either stories or the beginnings of short novels. Many fiction workshops move toward polished final draft far too quickly and encourage feedback that is largely editorial. We will not do that. We will explore the writing of fiction anywhere on a spectrum from the earliest exploratory stages to polished final draft. This approach cannot work effectively unless the workshop environment is warm, supportive, and safe, so I encourage a non-competitive and collaborative approach.

Editorial feedback is not appropriate for story ideas in their earliest stages when they are often incoherent, vague, and fragile. Feedback at this stage should be emotion-laden free-associative responses designed to encourage the author and spark creativity. Early drafts will take shape only gradually, and students will be encouraged to resubmit them, often in entirely new drafts, until they begin to cohere.

As a story moves closer to completion, higher degrees of editorial feedback become appropriate. A final draft should receive a meticulous line edit. During the course of the year, students will be required to bring at least one of their stories to this stage.

In order to provide feedback that is most useful to the writer, workshop members need to engage with the story as it is emerging rather than talking about the story they would write if they were writing it. This is often difficult to do. I will always ask “what is it?” about an emerging story. I want us to explore how the story fits into the ongoing development of fictional genres and to identify the other voices with which the story is in dialogue. Because we will have real authors in the room (as opposed to the “implied” authors sometimes studied in the English Department), we will ask them about their intentions. We will not favour any genre over another.

Because he has had an enormous impact upon how I write and teach fiction, I will, from time to time, mention the great Russian theorist, M. M. Bakhtin, but I will expect no one to read him. I will also discuss the three-act structure often employed by screenwriters. Don’t worry about your grade. If you are passionately interested in your own writing, you will get a good grade.

CRWR 509I-002 – Advanced Writing of Fiction (3 credits, Term 1)
Timothy Taylor

This workshop is designed to nurture writers at advanced stages in their development of various fiction projects. In a supportive and encouraging environment, fiction will be shared and critiqued, and discussions encouraged to draw out collective insights into the successes and potential improvements possible in submitted material. Students should expect to actively participate in discussions about characterization, the use of dialogue, narrative structure, tone, thematics and other areas. There will also be, as time permits, the inclusion of work by better known writers – Mavis Gallant, Richard Ford, Janet Frame, Wells Towers and others – which will be used to stimulate discussion and critique.

CRWR 509J-004 – Advanced Writing of Fiction (3 credits, term 2)
John Vigna

This 3-credit workshop will focus on deep revision (process, technique and practice) in your work and will accommodate all forms of adult fiction writing. Class will consist of short craft lectures and group discussion about the various aspects of writing and the sustained writing life. The primary topic will be the techniques and tools of revision. We’ll focus on structure, point of view, character, prose style, voice, image patterns, transitions, place & setting, facility of exposition, scene vs summary, dialogue, best & worst use of description, beginnings, endings, use & misuse of flashbacks & dreams.

The goal is for each writer to push themselves out of their comfort zones by looking deeply at their own work and taking risks in style, theme, subject, etc, while working toward their own artistic intention. You will submit at least one substantial revision of a story either workshopped or discussed in consultation with the instructor. This is a writing, reading and discussion intensive course.

CRWR 514I-001 (3 credits, term 1) Advanced Writing for Television & Web Series
Jennica Harper

Transparent, Enlightened, Vice, The Office:  the parade of diverse and exceptional half-hour series produced during Peak TV is inspirational.  In this workshop focused upon half-hour series, writers will create a concept, outline/beat sheet, and first draft of an original pilot.  Be prepared to work in mini writers’ rooms, from time to time, to experience the collaborative process, to watch TV and keep a journal, and to read several professional scripts.

514J-002 (3 credits, term 2) – Advanced Writing for Television & Web Series
Martin Kinch

Breaking Bad, The People vs. O. J. Simpson:  American Crime Story, Olive Kitteridge:  the brilliance of one-hour TV series now challenges both the intimacy and scope of the novel, and sometimes the one-hours are winning.  In this workshop focused upon one-hour series, writers will create a concept, outline/beat sheet, and first draft of an original pilot.  Be prepared to work in mini writers’ rooms, from time to time, to experience the collaborative process, to watch TV and keep a journal, and to read several professional scripts.

CRWR 515J-D01: Advanced Literary Translation (3 credits, Term 2)
Rhea Tregebov

Days held TBA. This course is held online and is open to on-campus and Optional-Residency MFA students.

This workshop is intended to provide students with the opportunity to practise and study literary translation into English. Prerequisite is proficiency in a second language. Students will translate poetry, fiction, playscript or literary creative non-fiction from the work of published literary authors of their choice (selections with the professor’s approval). During this workshop, participants will have the opportunity to discuss and critique students’ translations. In addition to the workshop discussions, the course will include required texts and recordings on topics such as the linguistic underpinnings of translation and on various approaches to translation. In addition to contributing translations for workshop, students will be required to hand in assignments on these topics. Part of the value of the course is the opportunity it provides for students to learn aspects of literary craft and technique as they become evident in the process of translation (and revision).

CRWR 550J-001 – Teaching Creative Writing (3 credits, Term 2)
Nancy Lee

This hands-on practical course introduces students to the rewards and potential challenges of teaching creative writing. As a foundation, we explore the fundamentals of teaching writing and the practices of planning, programming and performance necessary to thrive and inspire as a creative writing instructor in a variety of settings: continuing education, college and university, and specialized workshops for specific groups. We will examine our philosophies and theories around creative writing pedagogy and familiarize ourselves with a variety of teaching methodologies, including: working with writing exercises, workshopping creative work, developing course reading lists, and guiding students through creative process. Other topics include the perils of workshop, how to support diversity in the classroom, how to mediate sensitive topics and deal with difficult classroom situations, and finally, how to find work. Students will leave the course with a concrete set of teaching tools including a teaching philosophy, course outline, syllabus and a bank of writing exercises.

CRWR 555K-001 – Advanced Writing of Non-Fiction II  6 credits)
Deborah Campbell

This creative nonfiction workshop welcomes all sub-genres of nonfiction (narrative features, personal essay, lyric essay, memoir, rhetoric) grounded in research components such as interviews. Through lectures and assignments you will explore and develop research strategies and story-telling approaches for your long-form feature or book, turning the results into compelling nonfiction. The intent of the course is not to narrowly define what you do, but to send you into the wilds with street smarts. Class readings are drawn from the best of national and international nonfiction writing. Assignments will move from shorter pieces that build your skills to a final long-form assignment. You will also learn to write book and story proposals and gain an understanding of the publishing landscape and the editor-writer relationship. Pieces written for this class have been published in all of the major national publications and won regional and national literary awards.

Prerequisite note: although the UBC system will send a warning about this course requiring a prerequisite, you can ignore this and continue to register. You do not need to have taken a previous nonfiction course to take 555Z.

CRWR 570I-002 (term 1) – Advanced Special Projects in Creative Writing: “Craft” (3 credits, term 1)
Keith Maillard

Ours is a multi-genre program, and this is the only course we offer in which all genres are considered. You may submit in any genre and may even submit pieces that defy genre definition. This is a workshop in which to try new things–to be inventive, experimental, and daring–but you will not be forced to be experimental, and if you wish to submit in the traditional genres, thats okay too, and many students in the past have done exactly that.

Here is the perfect chance to consider genres that are not your specialty. If, for instance, you have never written a poem in your life, you will still need to consider poetry because poems will be submitted, but there will certainly be poets in the workshop and you will learn from them. By the end of the year you might want to write a poem yourself. The same goes for any other genre.

In previous workshops students have submitted short stories, novel outlines and chapters, poems, song lyrics, scenes from stage plays or screen plays, comic book scripts, young adult fiction, research-driven non-fiction, personal essays, and memoirs. They have also submitted drawn comics, sound pieces, blog posts, website designs, scripts for mixed media, and mash-ups between narrative prose and photography. We once spent an hour walking in circles around the big tables in the seminar room staring at the poems laid out there, each of us deciding the best order for a sequence. What it comes down to is this: if you’re working on something that excites you, no matter what it is, bring it in and let us see it.

This workshop is called craft because its about making things well. The idea that brings it all together is a simple one: all genres inform each other.

Enrolment Note

We use the UBC enrolment system through the Student Service Centre for all workshop enrolment. Thesis enrolment must be carried out directly through the program secretary, Pat Rose, with the prior permission of your thesis advisor.