I am just about to start the second week of a Creative Writing MOOC from the Open University – “Start Writing Fiction” on FutureLearn. Week 1 was all about various aspects of writing fiction, in a “Getting Started” kind of mode. It encouraged the keeping of a notebook – which, of course, is the best invitation to go and buy a lovely new notebook. I have even written something in it – some character sketches of people I have seen in the last week. Once you open your eyes to detail, there are a million quirky and wonderful people all around to inspire better character descriptions. So I learnt something already (or rather reinforced what I should have remembered): the value of observation.
We also had to try two blends of fact and fiction: 1 fact and 3 “lies”; 3 “lies” and 1 fact. I found this harder than I thought I would – I don’t usually struggle to come up with ideas but I think I was feeling self-conscious. Most of my writing so far has included real life people or facts, probably in the 1:3 ratio. I am a sentimental person and like to use things from the past as a launch pad, spinning off what I would have liked to have happened or just sprinkling them in as little memories for myself. Some places and people were too good to forget.
The final step was reading some character studies – short excerpts from George Orwell and Zoe Heller – and studying what they were doing. This reminded me of the wonderful book “Reading like a writer” by Francis Prose. Time spent on this kind of study is time well spent in improving my writing. This time it was the different ways to introduce a character – short and pithy vs a subjective observation that tells more about the narrator too. I would have liked to have spent more time on this kind of thing, maybe try writing “in the style of”.
Week 2 is the “Habit of Writing” – it’s not too late to join if you fancy a little tuition and a wide community to chew it over with.
I also had the option this month of doing a day-class for 8 weeks (which costs, not free like the MOOC). I was looking forward to seeing how MOOC vs real life class shaped up BUT it’s proved difficult to make the time and place, I missed the first class…I suspect the MOOC is going to win out in terms of convenience. Isn’t this their major benefit? However I would have liked to meet some new writers locally. Pros and cons…I’m fortunate to have both as an option.