Start writing fiction 7-8: reading and reflecting

Weeks 5 and 6 were on character, which I skipped – OK I could have tried to translate some of it into place as character, but this didn’t feel like a hugely productive exercise.

Week 7 was on reading as a writer. How can reading help develop the ‘habit’ of writing? See read what you want to write, a bit of a truism, but which ties in with close reading techniques. Learning to read as a writer helps you to improve and learn regarding your own writing skills – for example book reviewing reveals how voicing text appreciation and learning text analysis skills can really help accelerate writing development.

Learning from reading

Your opinion about what you read is important and you now have the skills necessary to be more analytical in assessing why you prefer one story, or novel, over another. Choose one book you have read and liked, and one you have read and disliked. In 100 words, say why you think a particular book you have read works; again, in 100 words, say why you think another book does not. Note especially:

  • how effective the characterisation is in these books
  • whether these books make you want to read on – why or why not
  • how and why you consider a book or passage in a book ‘works’ or doesn’t ‘work’.

Are there any aspects in your own work that tally with elements you enjoyed reading in the published novels?
Are there any aspects that you noticed about published novels where the writing was seen to be ‘working’ that are relevant to your writing?

Reading as a writer

Noticing details about the construction of language, plot and story in what you read will help form your own writing taste and style.

  • How long is the short story or novel?
  • Are there chapters? Sections? Parts?
  • If it’s a short story, how is it structured?
  • When and where is it set, do/how do these things appear to matter, and how are they conveyed?
  • From whose point of view is the story being told? Is it the story of one, or more than one of the characters?
  • Is there dialogue? If so, what kind?
  • Is the language modern, plain, elaborate, colloquial?
  • Are there short or long sentences?
  • Are the sentences ‘properly formed’, or broken down? For example, ‘Get this. Bravery. That wasn’t even in it. Heroism? Maybe that was nearer the mark.’
  • Would you say that the story was a ‘page-turner’?
  • Is it full of ‘researched facts’?
  • Is there much ‘internal’ psychological or emotional detail, or is most of the novel or story taken up with ‘external’ events or description?
  • How do you learn of the main characters?
  • Are the minor characters sufficiently clear or too flat?
  • In your opinion, is it clearly aimed at a certain type of reader?

Identifying the techniques and methods of other writers will influence and help your own style.

Week 8 was on sharing and reflecting “on the main tools you’ve picked up during the course and how these helped you turn characters into short stories”.

The quiz:

  • What are the rules for using your writer’s notebook? – There are no rules.
  • How should you start writing? – Write every day, even if you don’t think you’ve got anything to say. Looking through your notebook is always a good idea.
  • Why should you read the work of other writers? – To help you to learn how to do it yourself.
  • Should you share your writing with fellow writers? – Yes, because they can help me to evaluate my work, and analysing their work will help me to evaluate my own.
  • Editing essentially means reflecting on what you have written and redrafting it as many times as you have to. See Waste Effect’s review of The work of revision for more on this.
  • What does ‘learn through writing’ mean? – Do as much writing as you can and learn by doing it. The only way you can learn to write is by doing it!

Not convinced the creative writing course model is for me unless I can find the ideal Venn diagram, but lessons learnt on keeping a journal/notebook (using a combination of Fargo and blogs for now), writing every day, the importance of editing/rewriting and research. Still stuck on establishing rituals, a place to write, moving from notes to narrative. New discovery: research notes!

Bumping three ideas:

  • keep ideas floating – find a possible story you might be able to draw out of your notes, research elements for this idea and develop your journal notes
  • develop ideas – imagine more detail, do research, ask some ‘what if?’ questions
  • note down a menu of your overall concerns that are likely to be your overall subject matter or material and develop this over time to include detailed descriptions; match your concerns with the ideas in your notebook

What of the MOOC itself? Still getting the impression that FutureLearn is less intellectually rigorous than it might be, and remain untempted by the discussion facilities. Activity tailed off as ever – 247 tweetsin last 30 days, 55 in the last seven, bloggage less as the weeks went on. Here’s a final thought from Clare Hooper in Experiencing a MOOC: “the sheer volume of people participating on the course made it difficult if not impossible to feel you were part of a real community”.

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