Phrases MFA’s Need To Know

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Are you getting your MFA? If so, congrats! And also (Is everything okay?). Getting an MFA is a big move and hopefully not something you decided to do because you saw all of your friends from college were getting married and you also wanted to be doing something. Before you hop back into the classroom, familiarize yourself with the current MFA lingo that every student needs to know.

  1. To piggyback off of that

This phrase, predominantly used by white male-identifying MFAs, can be used in a few different ways. If you want to say something a colleague of yours JUST said, but make it seem like you were having an original thought, you can use this phrase and simply repeat what was previously stated.

Example:
Erin: The twist at the end really got me.

Chris: Yes, and to piggyback off of that, great twist.

This phrase can also be used to make someone else’s idea better. For example,  if someone were to give a half-assed note, you can use this phrase to clarify their note and actually make it a note worth giving.

Example:
Luke: The barn scene was scary.

James: And to piggyback off of that, I think the specificity of your scene descriptions really enhanced the elements of fear and suspense, especially in the barn scene.

2. This really resonates with me

This is personally one of my favorite phrases, as I love talking about myself and making other people’s art about me. This phrase is the perfect way to segue into a personal story while still somehow sounding academic. If something crazy happened to you this weekend or you had an emotionally charged childhood that NOBODY ever asks you about, use this phrase to dive into personal storytelling. Find one word in your classmates work that you can connect to your story and you’re golden!

Example:
(Patrick brings in a beautiful short play about two ski lodge employees who realize they are soulmates.)

Me: This really resonates with me because I went to a ski lodge once with my family and they were out of skis so I had to use a snowboard but I had never used a snowboard before and I didn’t know how to balance and I kept falling! Eventually I got so pissed off that I just sat in the car, but the thing that was really frustrating, like even more frustrating than having to snowboard, is that if we had just called ahead we could have reserved skis and I suggested we do that! But everyone just gave me a hard time about “over planning things” and it sucked so yeah, your screenplay really resonated with me.

3. This note might be prescriptive

This phrase, predominantly used by female-identifying writers, is used when someone has a problem in their piece and you have a solution for it, but you don’t want to “over step” by offering a direct solution. It’s a way to apologize for having a better idea than the original writer, because you want to help them, but you also need to protect their ego. It is also regularly followed by “but do whatever you want” or “but it’s your story, what do I know.”

Example:
(Greg pitches a movie about cats that are played by dogs.)

Carrie: Okay. Ummm. This note might be prescriptive but I think the cats should be played by cats because having them played by dogs doesn’t actually inform the story or contribute to the narrative in any way… but also it’s your story, what do I know.

4. Here’s a pitch

This phrase is most commonly used when a word from someones project sparks a completely irrelevant, but usually exciting idea, for a totally different story and its just so good you have to share it.

Example:
(Lisa shares a dramatic piece about coming out to her conservative parents)

William: Okay. This might be random but, here’s a pitch. I really liked how you described all the vases in the house and I’m wondering, what’s the story like from their point of view? Like wouldn’t it be funny to hear a story from a vase? I don’t know, man, could be funny.  

If you find yourself in class and you can’t remember any of these key phrases, just say “I was confused by the tone” and then lean back in your chair. Best of luck and happy writing!

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