Start writing fiction: characters and stories
Start writing fiction: characters and stories

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Start writing fiction: characters and stories

Week 1: Starting to write fiction


Welcome to this free course Start writing fiction. Start by watching the introductory video from course author, Derek Neale.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_fiction_vid_1009.mp4
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Derek Neale
Hello and welcome to Start writing fiction. I’m Derek Neale and I teach creative writing here at The Open University. I’ll be your guide throughout the course and each week, I’ll let you know what’s coming up.
We’re going to focus on a skill that is central to the writing of all stories and novels – creating characters. Through course you’ll explore various ideas and exercises to help you develop your own characters and then reveal them to your reader.
You’ll hear from a number of writers – including Michèle Roberts, Alex Garland, and Louis de Bernières as they talk about their own experience of writing.
And you’ll have the chance to share comments and ideas with your fellow writers while sampling how established authors such as Toni Morrison and Graham Greene have written and presented their characters. By the end of the course you’ll have learned tricks such as using a journal to generate ideas, the importance of editing and redrafting and you’ll have started to read like a writer.
You’ll be writing throughout and towards the end of the course you will capitalise on the tools you’ve picked up by writing a more substantial story.
So, welcome to week one! To begin with we are going to look at how keeping a journal can help you capture and develop your ideas. You’ll explore the difference between fact and fiction and take a look at some George Orwell and Zoë Heller characters. And you’ll hear from writers including Tim Pears and Abdulrazak Gurnah talking about how they started to write.
Most important of all, you'll start writing yourself.
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Start writing fiction focuses on a skill which is central to the writing of all stories and novels – creating characters. You’ll hear from a variety of writers talking about how they started and how they created their stories and characters. You’ll learn the benefits of using a writer’s notebook or journal, how to read like a writer and how to edit, as you start writing your own stories.

Derek Neale is your guide through the course. A novelist and short story writer – his latest novel is The Book of Guardians – Derek has recorded many interviews with novelists, playwrights and biographers about their approach to writing. He’ll introduce each week, reminding you of what you’ve learned and mentioning the highlights of the week ahead. The Start writing fiction course map [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   gives an overview of the course.

Each week’s work is designed to take about three hours – but if you want to develop your skills as a writer you may well spend longer than this. Even just a short paragraph can take a while to get right – though sometimes, of course it can work more or less immediately. How long you spend on the writing exercises is up to you – but you will develop best as a writer if you recognise that writing can’t usually be done quickly, it’s something you need to live with and return to again and again. This course is designed with that in mind.

Here’s a run-down of features that have been developed to help you study. The course is designed to run on desktops, tablets and mobile devices; however, some of the material is quite detailed and using a larger screen will enhance your experience. Materials are best viewed running the most up-to-date software available for your device and using the most recent version of the web browser.


From time to time you’ll see downloadable PDFs as links within the text. These are provided to help your learning. They include extracts and information sheets that you may want to save for future reference.


Some of the weeks include a quiz about an extract you will have just read. The final week has a quiz to help you review your learning.

Forum activities

There will be plenty of opportunities to communicate with other learners through forum activities where you can discuss elements of the course.

At three separate points during the course, in ‘Forum assignment activities', you’ll be invited to submit something you’ve written to be reviewed by your fellow writers. This process may seem daunting at first but you’ll soon realise its value for your development as a writer as you review other work and receive feedback on your own.

At various points during this course you will take part in forum assignment activities, submitting your own work and reviewing work posted by other learners. You may also post some of your writing in comments or discussions.

If your writing contains material that might offend, you must put a warning in brackets after your title (i.e. ‘explicit content’) so that other learners can choose whether or not they want to read it.

If you use graphic content of a sexual or violent nature in any of your work, make sure it is not gratuitous, i.e. that it is not there just for sensationalist reasons but as a legitimate part of the work.

At times in this course you are encouraged to make use of your memory and experience in transformative ways. It can be exhilarating to make use of personal observations and history in writing your fiction. But it is sensible not to share writings that are deeply personal during the course unless you are certain that you will not mind them being discussed impersonally and evaluated as artistic products rather than as slices of your life.

In your writing and online discussion it is important not to reveal personal details about yourself that might place you at risk.

As per the Conditions of use of Open University websites, to enrol on an OpenLearn course and participate in the forums, you must be aged 16 or over. Adults can use their own OpenLearn account to supervise under-16s on the course, posting comments on their behalf.

Before you start, The Open University would really appreciate a few minutes of your time to tell us about yourself and your expectations of the course. Your input will help to further improve the online learning experience. If you’d like to help, and if you haven't done so already, please fill in this optional survey.


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