Thursday, July 24, 2008

A question about submitting one short story

Hi Chidelia,

My short stories are longer, so I only submitted one short story to MFA programs as my writing sample. I did this and was accepted into one out of two of the programs in which I applied. Keep in mind, though, that my short story reached the 25 page maximum.

Two things to consider: People who read applications have to go through hundreds and hundreds of MFA applications. They put page limits and word limits for a reason. From my experience, they won't read anything, no matter how rich and wonderful it is, anything past the word limit/page limit. They might also be upset that you did not follow their stipulations.

However, I also think that it's important not to go too under the page maximum. I would recommend offering another piece to get closer to the limit. Your writing sample should reflect that you are willing to write A LOT throughout your program.

Hope this helps!



pablo said...

I have a 17 page story and and two 10 pagers. My favorite is the single 17 pg story, but I'm afraid to submit it to the programs that ask for 20 pgs.

Any thoughts?

Lizzy said...


If those are the stories you've got, go with the 17 pager for programs that have a 20 page limit. Always send your best work. Sure, ideally you want to give them at least two of your pieces. But you have to work with what you have, too, within a set of limits created for you. Always send your best work.

Jennifer said...

Can you cut a couple of pages from the 17 pager and write something new that is on the shorter side?

Just a thought, we have lots of time before apps are due.

malcontent said...

I applied last year with one long story and one medium-length story. The long story was easily my best work and the medium-length story was weaker. I sent only the longer story to schools with a low page count limit, thinking that would be fine. However, out of the thirteen schools I applied to, I was rejected at every last school that recieved only my longer, stronger story. Abnout half of the schools that received both stories admitted or waitlisted me. I only applied to schools that accepted less than 5% of applicants.

So, in my experience, one strong and one mediocre story will get you farther than one story alone. It may have helped that my two stories were very different in mood, setting, characters, and so on. Good luck. I know I agonized over what to send when applying last year.

Lincoln Michel said...

I know someone who got into a pretty good program submitting only one story. So it can be done. I do imagine two stories is better though.

Eric said...

RE: malcontent

I actually have a question regarding the subject that malcontent brought up. Is it anybody's experience that their portfolio is weakened by submitting two stories that are similar, and don't necessarily show a large breadth of writing? I'm currently lining up my manuscripts, and I find myself in a weird dillema. Maybe I'm overthinking this, but two of what I believe are my strongest stories are somewhat similar. They're written in first person, are similar in mood and tone, blah blah. That's not to say they're exactly the same, but it's enough to make me wary (but then, what's applying to an MFA without being horribly paranoid?).

So should one consider weaker, but varying manuscripts to highlight style and even perhaps enhance the stronger story? Or is it better to simply send your best (good writing is good writing)?

malcontent said...

I wouldn't recommend sending a demonstrably weaker manuscript on purpose. I ended up sending a story I wasn't confident in because I felt that a novel extract would not be as competitive, and novels are where I focus my energies. I simply didn't have anything else.

In my particular situation, my longer story was a slow-paced and detailed historical piece from a first-person male point of view. My shorter story had a female protagonist, a much faster-pace, more experimental language, and a very different setting. I think it helped me to show different pieces because my first story was so specific to a time and place. However, other people might be better off showing a more cohesive body of work. There's no perfect answer.

I was told that my stories stood out partially for what they weren't. Admissions commitees apparently receive many stories about the death of a grandparent or a college girl breaking up with her boyfriend. I'm not saying these types of stories are automatically unworthy, but they can be seen as typical and rather hackneyed.

I agree with what others have said: send your best work. In my case, however, it seems that two stories were better than one, even if I had doubts about my second story.

Raysen said...

People keep mentioning page length (e.g., 20 pages, 25 pages), but no one mentions line spacing. If the line spacing is double spaces, then your 20-page short story is actually only 10 pages single-spaced. I don't know about the rest of you but I'm having difficulty cutting down my short story to under 20 pages (double spaced).

Lincoln Michel said...


I think that double spaced is assumed for all applications.

Raysen said...

Well, that's not good news for me. LOL!

Justin Heinze said...

Hi - I have two stories that I believe are my best work, and, at 14 pages each, they are perfect for the 30 page limit which many of the programs I am interested in ask for. The problem is, these stories are written in a vastly different voice. This analogy does not exactly keep up, but for the sake of this post, imagine one is JD Salinger imitation, and the other is a Cormac McCarthy imitation. Tremendously different styles. Do you think this is a problem? Will programs have a hard time discerning my 'voice' if my stories are so different? Thanks very much for any and all help and comments!

King of Eggplants said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
King of Eggplants said...

It would seem, at least to me, that the application process is biased in favor of short story writers, or this just another one of my many paranoid delusions? I don't write short stories. Frankly, I cannot write short stories. I write "novels." That said, what is a "novelist" supposed to do when a program asks for a maximum of 15 double-spaced pages (which is little more than typing your name on the page) or when a program explicitly requests two short stories? I have tried editing some excerpts of my novel-length manuscripts so that they could be feasibly read as short stories, but I just feel the result is unsatisfactory, at least to me....Thoughts? Speculations? Exhortations?


Anonymous said...

Hi Seth & everyone -

I'm relatively new to the MFA search. Finishing up my undergrad at Temple University next May, and pursuing the nonfiction MFA for fall 2010 admission.

Anyway ... a question about the writing sample. Many programs say something to the effect of write 20-25 pages or 30 pages maximum. Others say, like Penn State, simply say "30 pages." Am I correct in assuming this is a maximum number of pages, and that 22-25 pages (via one or two stories) would suffice? Or is 30 the minimum?

Sorry if this is a) a stupid question and/or b) already been answered in a previous post. As I said, I'm new to the search and this blog.

In advance, thanks.

Ross Markman

Hayaller Dillenirken said...

Hi there!

ı'm trying to apply Creative Writing MFA Programs in Canada. I realized that, one of the university want 3 different sample but I have 2 writing sample which could be sent. And with synopsis, they are 40 pages. And page limitation is 25 to 40. I'm writing a non-fiction now, it will be 2 pages.
What can I do about it? Moreover I'm an international student. Is there anybody who study Creative Writing as an international student?

Thanks everyone.