Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Seton Hill

19 June 2005

This is a mini survival guide for the MA in Writing Popular Fiction at
Seton Hill. Updated December
2002 to reflect changes in the process.


During your time in Seton Hill’s program, you’ll have five residencies.
The first four start off new semesters; the last finishes your

Each residency consists of some lectures specific to where you are in the program plus:

  1. Writers’ workshops — an instructor-led small group.
  2. Modules — classes you attend. Each residency has 4 modules. There
    are five residencies and eight “core” (aka required) modules. Of the remaining twelve modules, you need to complete several in your genre; the rest are electives. While initially people were teaching
    modules, this was changed: now graduates give an hour-long lecture
    during a critique workshop time.
  3. Guest speaker — a famous writer in residence.
  4. Faculty Meetings
    — where you work with your advisor formulating a study plan for the
    semester. Prior guest speakers included Octavia Butler, Christopher Curtis, and Donald Maass.

Core modules are offered once each year apparently. The list includes:

Showing, Telling and Style Lecture and brief
workshop on the necessity of concrete detail. Survey of examples from
various written sources and student workshop on writing with more
impact, avoiding having to “tell” of action and making the
reader “see” it instead: the difference between “he
stood up with a sense of great excitement” and “he exploded
from the chair.
Characterization and Dialogue Since
character is at the heart of all fiction, including popular fiction,
writers must improve their characterization skills, creating original
characters who still fit within the realm of popular fiction. The role
dialogue plays in character development will be covered too, via
lecture, literary examples, and in class writing exercises.
Novel Structuring and Synopsis Writing
Recommended for first-semester students, who will need to have a
synopsis by the beginning of their second term.
Conflict and Plot Without conflict there can
be no fiction. Conflict is the generating engine of the plot. How have
successful writers of the past and present used it? How can it be
developed and polished to a fine art? Discussion and in-class writing
will focus on this fundamental principle of fiction.
Point of View An examination, in both theory
and practice, of why an author prefers first or third person narrators
in certain settings or with particular characters. The class will
discuss why and how authors achieve special atmosphere by using an
unusual point of view. Students will experiment in class with changing
point of view and the choice of narrator.
Using Personal Experience/Setting Where does
your story take place, and how can you bring it to life? Whether your
setting is a street in your hometown or an alien planet, the key to
vivid setting is personal, sensory experience. Students will learn to
pay closer attention to their own experience and their senses in this
experiential workshop on creating vivid settings.
Research for Writing A survey of the most relevant and important texts and sources for the details of background that come up in writing. How to use libraries, the Internet, how to interview authorities, how to research “on location,” how to keep up-to-date — and how to keep track of all
this data.
The Business of Writing Knowing your market, knowing the editors, knowing which publishers want what. Query letters, cover letters, rejection notices. Preparing, packaging, and sending the manuscript. Legal considerations, agents (are they necessary?) and how to get them, handling rejection, what to do when you’re accepted, keeping track of your rights, the IRS. The nitty-gritty of what
occurs after you’ve finished the manuscript and want to submit it.

The Fifth Residency

The fifth residency has some special quirks worthy of mention:

  1. You must produce a “thesis” and present it as your defense.
    Your thesis consists of one or more book-length manuscripts (depending
    on your genre — the requirements for children’s writers differ). The
    defense consists of an hour-long presentation to students, faculty and
    select onlookers (loved ones, etc.).
  2. Because your novel needs a second reader, it is due one month earlier so that there’s sufficient time for critique and revision.
  3. You must teach during your final residency. Fortunately,
    this is only an hour-long lesson. You and your advisor should work on ideas; naturally, you’ll have the ability to watch other people’s presentations.

At Home

After you get home, the bulk your semester’s work begins. The
following are notes from fellow student Ron:

As first-term students, we will be required to send in two manuscripts.
After that, we will only need to submit one per term. In the final
residency, we have the option to submit or not. Once the first –
fourth residencies are over, and we return home, we can do the rest of
the course work on-line.
This work consists of doing a book journal, submitting a certain number
of pages to our mentors and critique partners each month, critiquing
our partners’ works while they and our mentors critique ours, visiting
the threaded discussion board, and participating in the monthly on-line
chat room discussions.
Now a little about each requirement. We will be assigned a mentor
sometime during the residency. The two of you will sit down and decide
on a term contract–things that you will need to complete before the
end of the term in order to pass. This includes reading and writing.
You will probably get a reading list from your mentor. This list will
contain a selection of books dealing with the craft of writing (called
“how-to” books at SHC), as well as a number of books from your chosen
genre. You decide the books that you want to read, and then keep a
journal of them.
In the journal, you talk about what you liked about the book, what you
didn’t like, things you learned, how you might apply what you learned,
or not, to your own writing, and so on. The journal gets submitted to
your mentor before the end of the term.
You will also be assigned to a critique group at the beginning of the
term. This is a group of two or three other students with whom you will
correspond during the term. You will share your manuscript writings
with them, and they will share theirs with you. You look at each
others’ work and offer comments and advice about the writings. The
manuscript pages that you send to your critique partners also get sent
to your mentor for critique. A word of warning–save the critiques of
your partner’s work. These critiques need to be sent to your mentor by
the end of the term to show that you have been providing feedback to
your partners.
Students are required to visit the page and provide regular postings on
the message board (on the website). Every month the college has a
one-hour on-line chat. Students are required to attend the chats. There
is a room for each genre, and one for just general discussion. The
college says that you have about 20-30 hours of work each week. This
time consists of reading, writing your drafts, and corresponding with
students and faculty.
If you don’t understand something, ask. Ask your mentor, the faculty,
other students, anybody, but ask. Everyone is very helpful and willing
to share any information that they may have. Your thesis is your
By the end of the fourth term, you are to have a publishable manuscript
completed. It doesn’t have to be published, as going through the
submission process could take some time, but it does have to be in
publishable form. That is, all the revisions need to be done, and it
has to be in the proper format, ready to be sent out.

Getting There

The nearest major airport is Pittsburgh (PIT), though there are shuttle
flights to Latrobe (LBE). The formal name for Latrobe’s airport is
“Arnold Palmer Regional Airport” and the airport’s web page can be
found here. You may get a
better fare booking through to Latrobe; you can also book the
connecting flight separately. US Air
is the only commercial carrier currently flying there.

From either airport, you can use a shuttle service to get to the school
or you can rent a car. Pittsburgh offers cars from most major services;
Latrobe offers Hertz, Budget and National.

Special note that, if you fly into Latrobe, you should not book the
early morning flight out unless you rent a car. Yellow Cab of
Greensburg opens at 7 a.m., too late to guarantee arrival at the
airport on time. also, they charge $20 from Greensburg to the LBE,
where Majesty (the van service) charges $36 to Pittsburgh. Ya might as
well go to Pittsburgh unless you have a compelling reason to fly out of

Staying There

Unless you’d like to freeze to death, you’ll have to stay somewhere. At
times, the campus may be available, but for the January residency, the
school has selected St. Joseph’s Center. However, you’re free to stay
elsewhere and a listing of nearby motels and hotels is provided.

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