They offer short introductory courses on a wide variety of subjects from art to science and are run in conjunction with universities from all over the country.
The course I’ve been taking is called ‘Start Writing Fiction.’ Presented by author and academic Dr. Derek Neale, it is a free course provided by The Open University (with whom I also did my BA a while back) and runs for eight weeks.
The course covers the basics of writing fiction for the very first time, but it does assume a fairly good knowledge of English on the part of students – it isn’t a beginning literacy course. The course is based on the premise of keeping a writer’s journal (in other words, a notebook), and also the idea of creating characters and gleaning plot out of the process of their development.
I found this character based approach really interesting, as I had always tried to imagine an interesting situation or theme and then attempted to fit my characters into it. As you can imagine, this approach usually failed, leaving me with unformed characters and plot holes. By developing the characters over time and fleshing out a back-story for them, you can really give your writing a sense of realism and depth.
The character development side of things draws heavily on the work of Josip Novakovich, particularly his book Fiction Writer’s Workshop. I would recommend getting hold of a copy if you want to learn in depth. The short fragments from Novakovich’s work left me wanting more, so I got hold of cheap 2nd hand copy online.
The course is on week 7 now, and I am actually only halfway through week 6 because of work commitments. Part-time study will always be affected by work, but it is possible to catch up, at least.
Over the weeks, students are required to sketch out characters and develop a basic plot that will be used to form a short story. Each student has to write their complete story and submit it at the end of Week 8. I doubt anyone would fail the course if their story wasn’t particularly inspiring – it’s more about having a go and learning how you can write fiction as opposed to making it seem impossibly difficult.
There are video and audio segments to help inspire and inform you as you go through. Audio interviews with authors such as Alex Garland (The Beach) really help to demystify the process of writing fiction. They show that there is more than one way to tackle it, and no approach is really wrong. I always thing a creative subject should be taught by someone who is successful at it (such as a published author) rather than a teacher who has never actually had a work in print. This course addresses that concern well.
There is a student forum built into the course website that allows for discussion with other students. Each point in the course has it’s own discussion section to keep things relevant. This is a big help as it reminds you that others are taking the course with you, rather than it just being an isolated experience.
I am learning a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses and I can see myself writing (and completing!) fiction that is publishable as a result of this course. I recommend it, but do bear in mind that it is for learners of varying levels. You may find the first weeks a little easy, but believe me, it gets tougher towards the end.
According to the course summary on the Future Learn website (see below for link) there is some kind of certificate available upon completion. If I receive one, I will be sure to post a picture of it on here.
Below are links to the Future Learn hompage, and also my course’s summary page. Why not have a go?