Thursday, 26 April 2018

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Creative Writer - A ReadItTorialThis tom

Once again I found myself enrolling for the fantastic FutureLearn / Open University "Start Writing Fiction" course recently, in order to try and jumpstart my own flagging writing.

I'd attempted the course once before, got about half way through before realising that the short story I'd been working on was, for want of a better description, utter tripe. Like having the rug yanked out from under me, it more or less caused a complete collapse of interest in completing the course and as the end of course deadline approached, I was like a rabbit in the headlights, unable to pull one final effort out of the bag in order to finish.

This time though, I vowed things would be different.

The course (which is repeated a few times a year, and is WELL worth going on - go check out does get you into several areas that children's picture book writers, middle grade writers and YA writers all have in common as typical writer 'problems':

1) Character building. The course REALLY pours it on when it comes to characters, and it needs to really because our characters underpin, define, direct, star in and are crucial to the development of our stories. The course really gets you thinking about the sources for characters. Do you draw on yourself? Your own experiences, your own characteristics and traits? Your own emotional responses to situations? Is it not just more fun to make the whole thing up and create characters that are wholly unknown to you or drawn from decent amounts of research? I really admire how this part of the course has been structured and if you do the course for any single reason, do it to partake of the excellent character building stuff for sure.

2) World / Situation Building. Of course characters are fine but without a setting or a stage, where are they? What are their  motivations? What external forces direct or shape their actions? I've long been in total awe of anyone who can construct a book 'world' from scratch, possibly why I am most drawn to science fiction and fantasy, where anything is possible. Again the course delves into worldbuilding in great detail and starts your thinking and writing processes off by getting you to observe the world around you, seeing how you can subtly tweak and perhaps totally reinvent it for your own storytelling aims.

3) Secondary / supplementary characters (I always, as a lapsed videogamer, refer to these as "NPCs or Non Player Characters" - Sometimes I get completely carried away with the creation of NPCs to the detriment of the key character or characters in a piece. Again the course gently reins this in, asks you to give your characters a lifespan, a curve all of their own to follow, perhaps sometimes only defined by a few key traits or entirely defined by their interactions with your main characters.

4) Advice on reading. Yes indeed, as much as you may think you can write, if you don't read - and read a lot of other work in your chosen field or genre as well as researching well outside of that field, you're going to end up making a lot of mistakes or perhaps constructing stories that just don't hold water, won't pass muster and won't get an agent giving them a second glance.

As different as the main 'kid / youth' definitions are to read, they are very similar to write for and you really have to pay heed to the above, and many other storytelling elements in order to draw up a story. Critiquing other people's work is also covered in the course, and it's got me thinking about how I do this (on the rare occasions I'm brave enough to offer to read other people's fledgeling manuscripts). Criticism, knockbacks, rejections are all part of the writing process, and of course a more important part of the polishing, editing and refining process and those are the stages that most writers will probably tell you that they truly hate the most.

This time I completed the course early, doing pretty well in the tests / quizzes and written assignments aside from throwing it all away at the end with a bit of a crappy 1000 word story for critique / assessment. It was worth doing though and I'd thoroughly recommend it to others if you're struggling with any of the basics, or just want to freshen up your writing a bit.