Start Writing Fiction: The Final Weeks

The Start Writing Fiction course with the Open University I have been participating in officially ended the week before Christmas. I’ve only just finished in the past few days due to other commitments over the hectic festive period. But here it is. I’ve put my final story in a separate post (which will follow this one), but the rest of the highlights from weeks 7 + 8 are all below.

Week 7

Formulating and sharing technical opinion: In between the various writing exercises we have undertaken through the course there have been plenty of opportunities to read passages by famous writers and encouraged to give our opinion on the techniques and language they use. Here we were asked to discuss in less than 200 words, two novels we had read in the past; one we liked and one we disliked.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is a violent journey across the US-Mexican border, set in the 1850s. McCarthy has a fantastically scrambled and unorthodox writing style interjected with moments of stunning, verbose, flamboyant prose. It was a style that took me a while to get used to, but it combines fantastically well with the world in which we find these murderous, merciless characters. The use of violence will turn many off, but it is not gratuitous; in fact it is vital to tell a story of war and conflict during a time of terrifying hate and suffering.

Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 is a book which I could not finish. Critically acclaimed and considering a must-read, I found I had to force myself to keep reading. Whilst I was reading, I was kept entertained, if a little confused as to exactly what was going on. Characters come and go; introduced, given an amusing anecdote, and moved on. 100 pages in and there was still no real plot, just witty observations and interactions. I don’t want to write it off just yet, and I appreciate that it’s a very well-written novel that a lot of people love. I don’t know, I think I will come back and give it a go in a few months time.

Two very different novels.

Two very different novels.

Editing and reviewing your story: Week 7 gave us hints, tips and encouragement to keep working and editing our short story, which was to be assigned and critiqued by our fellow writers in the final week.

For my first draft, I came up with an outline of a story or scene I thought I could complete within 1000 words. I wrote and wrote, without worrying about spelling, grammar, layout, or even the quality of the actual prose; I just rambled on to get it finished. By the time I had, I was at 1400 words, eek. Have a lot of cutting down to do.
I am satisfied with the way I build my characters and describe their settings and surroundings, but I cringe when I make any attempt at actual dialogue. It always seems a little cheesy and clichéd. I may cut down on speech, or perhaps try something completely different. It might be a bit risky but as it is the dialogue is clearly not working and is far too ‘wordy’.

Editing revisited: Again, another chance to step back and give an account of how the writing and editing process has been going.

I’m happy with the way I’ve described the setting. Point of view is sort of an omniscient narrator, who lingers with the protagonist but also observes other characters.
My issues come, as I’ve mentioned previously, with the dialogue. Having real issues making it believable. Reading the Jazz extract has certainly helped. I may cut down on dialogue for this particular assignment but I will keep practising it, as dialogue is a vital part of interactions between characters and writing in general.

Week 8

I’m going to post my short story as a separate post, otherwise this post will end up far too long. But I will post the feedback for it here.

Your own thoughts: Before we received the feedback from our course mates, we were asked to give a review or general thoughts on our own story.

As with many of you, I found the 1000 word limit quite restricting. There were only two characters in my short story, yet I feel they are somewhat underdeveloped. However there is certainly some clear conflict between the characters that I hope will interest the reader, and this is certainly resolved in the conclusion.
As I’m so far behind I do feel I’ve rushed this last task a little. I’m pleased with most aspects of it; it’s not perfect, and the story lends itself to being a lot longer. But I’m looking forward to getting some constructive feedback on it.

jean's review

Tricia's review

Closing thoughts: I was sceptical of how much I would get out of this course. I thought there was generally a good standard of discussion, and the quality of assignments that I gave feedback on were on the whole impressive. There were quite a few on the course for whom English was not their first language, which made reviewing some of their stories difficult, but there was always a passion and enthusiasm for writing. I saw very little negative comments during the course; almost all criticism was given constructively and taken in graciously.

Most importantly this course has been fantastic in giving me (and I’m sure many others) the confidence to share my work. I’m no longer worried or scared about someone not liking it or receiving negative feedback. It’s all useful and will only serve to make you a stronger writer. For me the next step is to continue to read frequently and write as often as I can; be it short stories or working on a larger project.

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