Start Writing Fiction – Week 1

Coming into 2014, I really wanted to start writing again, and hopefully even achieve something with it. Last year, after completing a writing course, I was on a roll – I entered three short story competitions, thus fulfilling one of my targets after completing the course – but apart from National Novel Writing Month and Camp Nanowrimo, things kind of petered out.

So what about this year? Well, there’s this blog – I think I’ve been maintaining that pretty well. And I did enter one short story competition back in March. But apart from that, I’ve either been scribbling disorganised drabbles, or not writing at all.

So, in the hopes of motivating myself, learning something new, and just having fun, I joined the Open University’s Start Writing Fiction course on FutureLearn.

The first exercise was to write two paragraphs – one containing one fact and three fictitious elements, the other containing one fictitious element and three facts. After rather over-thinking it, as I am wont to do, I eventually just kept it simple:

What to say about San Francisco? Well, you’d be surprised how busy Fisherman’s Wharf is at six in the morning, which was the time I first went outside that day thanks to my jet-lag. It’s warm in June as well, so make sure to wear a T-shirt. Going for a wander down the wharf, I was surprised to turn a corner at the end and come across a large pelican standing on the railing just a couple of metres ahead of me, which certainly woke me up!

At 8:15 in the morning on our last day in Kefalonia, I was sitting and reading inside the apartment. I remember hearing the earthquake before I felt it; a low, ominous rumble. Curiously, I put down my book and headed toward the front door, wondering if some large vehicle were going past – then the whole apartment started shaking. I stood frozen for a moment, not knowing what to do, before my dad shouted “Everybody out!” – and out we all went.

Then there was the task of keeping a notebook and writing down things that you notice, which could be used for subsequent writing. I actually already have two notebooks – one is for scribbling any old thing; the other is smaller and neater, used for potential story ideas or writing tips. But this week, I’ve mostly been making notes on my phone when I’m out and about. While I feel that I do notice a lot of things around me, actually expressing it in writing is harder – I’m much better at dialogue and action than I am at description. (In Nanowrimo, I always look forward to the action scenes as I can just let the scene play out in my head and copy down what’s happening – the result is plenty of words in a relatively short time.) This definitely needs some work.

Then came the creation of characters, which apparently will be a focus of this course. I’ve used a few different ways to try and create complex characters, and I’m often not sure if I’ve succeeded, so this should be good. Here’s what I came up with inspired by someone in a short video provided in the course:

On his head, Harold was wearing a black trilby and thick-rimmed glasses, and he looked several years too young for either item. His squashy coat, which added to his already considerable rotundity, was more appropriate for someone going for a countryside stroll in winter, than sitting at a Cardiff bus stop on a spring day. Blue and bright, it blared out to the eye like a police siren, so even as Harold hunched over in his seat like a curling-up hedgehog, and kept his chubby, clean-shaven face buried in The Guardian, he attracted a few sideways looks from the others at the bus stop. Every few moments, he looked up from the newspaper and gazed from side to side with a quick, jerking movement of his head, biting his lip. Finally, as the bus pulled up, he scrunched up the paper inelegantly and followed the crowd onboard with an awkward waddle.

With Bank Holiday Monday coming up, I’ll be happy to get an early start on tomorrow’s session!


About velociraptor256

Hi, my name's Richard. I created this blog to talk about my interests - and I have quite a few of those. I love zoology in general, herpetology in particular (especially snakes!), writing (have won National Novel Writing Month nine times so far), reading, astronomy, palaeontology, and travel. Thank you for coming to my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you here!
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3 Responses to Start Writing Fiction – Week 1

  1. Jay Dee says:

    Glad to see you there, too! I’ve already started week 2, though couldn’t get to work on the writing assignment in the beginning yet.


  2. It’s interesting to read this while I’m doing the same course. What do you think of it so far? I feel I’ve already learned some useful stuff, both from the assignments and from reading other people’s writing. My main gripe with the course is the number of participants commenting. There are so many comments that I only read a few and rarely see the same person twice, which makes it feel a bit disconnected to me. I had the same problem with another MOOC, but I suppose it’s not surprising when the courses are freely availably worldwide. On the up side, even if you only read a few comments, you get a feel for how others approach the whole business.


    • I’m definitely enjoying it so far – it’s challenging me, and I’ve been learning a few new ways to think about things, particularly this week. (Though I’m not sure about how useful “Emma said that” is for me.) I agree that the way the discussions are laid out isn’t ideal, but I’ve still been enjoying reading everyone’s comments.


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