Saturday, 21 June 2014

Course Correction

Well, that's the OU Fiction Writing online course done and dusted. It's been about a week since I last logged out, actually, and I wanted to reflect a little on what I experienced and what I've earned.

As a free course, requiring only three hours a week to complete each module, you quickly confront yourself at the screen. You can race through if you want to, or pause to carefully read - and re-read - about all the essential elements of writing fiction that you think you already know. I suppose it's a little like the notion of there only being seven plots, but the art lies in how each author approaches in and how they are written.

Similarly, the module exercises that are not shared online are a matter between you, your pen and your conscience. Just like a diet or an exercise regime, only you know the truth. Although, of course, eventually, one way or another, the truth will reveal itself.

What struck me at times was how uninspired I felt when it came to producing a character description or a short story. I'd never set out to write a short story to order before (competitions don't count because they're elective). Two of my pieces were set in pubs - possibly the same pub - and now that I think about it, they both dealt with health problems.

My course contributions, in my opinion, only really stepped up a gear for the final story submission that, like other pieces, was reviewed by other writers on the course. Originally I'd planned to wrk with the opening scene of a new book I've been thinking about (after I've completed The Caretaker), but, unsurprisingly, it didn't work as a story at all. What changed things for me was attending an event at a local art gallery, where ideas started attaching themselves to me like limpets and barnacles.

Once one takes the plunge and wears the badge of 'writer' it can be easy to divorce oneself from the fundamentals. However, characters need to live and breathe, plots have to be based in a believable reality, and dialogue has to flow and engage. Most importantly of all, the story needs to matter to writer and reader - they have to care. 

These things do not change because we have books and stories to our names. If anything, it all gets harder because we now know the path that lies ahead.

Newbie writers can be brimming with enthusiasm (or cowering in fear), yet to be tested by the page. We met them in the forum, adding a word of encouragement here and there, or a critique if it was asked for, learning from their untainted perspectives.

Some writers on the course were brilliant; I read comments that were as carefully crafted as the sharpest of prose. Other commenters were mean-spirited, more attuned to a spelling mistake than the impact of the prose itself.

I relearned that:

- Everyone has to start somewhere.
- Feedback is always appreciated, especially at the beginning of the journey.
- People are endlessly fascinating when you take the time and pay attention, and everyone has a story to tell.
- People write for different reasons. Just as some writers I know of dropped out of the course, or didn't start it in the first place, so others used it to carve out dedicated time and space each week for writing.
- There is always room for improvement (as my beta readers know only too well!).
- A good idea drives the story forward. In my own case, one scene led to a character who revealed his backstory, which affected how he behaved and how the plot progressed. I have his story an open ending as a thank you.
- Writing and life are inextricably linked. You cannot write in isolation. Several people on the forum spoke of family crises, bereavement and other issues that compelled them to write.
- Writing can be cathartic.
- Writing can take you to new places if you allow it. My final story (which I plan to pitch to magazines next month after another edit) would not have existed without my going on the course. 

Where has your writing taken you and where might it take you next?







4 comments:

JO said...

I began the course, and gave up - I simply wasn't inspired by it. And I found the number of comments too huge to get involved in.

Having said that, I could see that some people were getting a huge amount out of the course. Considering it was free, and thousands of people were doing it - it was a great opportunity. I just didn't work for me.

Derek Thompson said...

Hi, Jo. It was a curate's course - parts of it were excellent!

There were a couple of really good pdf handouts on characterisation in the second half - let me know if you'd like me to send them over.

I found the vast sea of comments a tad overwhelming too. I just dipped in and out. Now my challenge is to carve out the same amount of time to my own book!

L said...

I am still on final week and after reading your comments can say that I couldn't have put it better myself.

JO said...

That's kind of you, Derek - I've still got the links so maybe I should go back and find them. If they've disappeared I'll come back to you.