Amazing Tales: An Introduction to Writing Science Fiction with Ian Nettleton
Commences on Monday 21 January for 12 weeks.
If you’ve always loved the ideas, excitement and endless potential of science fiction, this course will help you write your own SF and deepen your understanding of the genre.
This course is for people interested in writing short science fiction tales, whether newcomers to the genre or with some experience. You will explore where great science fiction story ideas come from, learn how to create fantastical worlds and memorable characters, and how to develop the plot and emotional content of a story. Using short stories and excerpts from novels, film clips and artwork, this course will ultimately help you to draft and complete a short science fiction story of your own.
Listen to expert tutor Ian Nettleton discussing world building in science fiction on the NCW Podcast from last term:
This course will teach you how to:
- Generate and develop ideas in the science fiction genre
- Use your memory and imagination in developing your story
- Weave your observations and sensory perceptions into your writing
- Create vivid characters, no matter how outlandish they may be
- Structure a plot
- Grasp the essentials of writing authentic dialogue
- Describe setting and place, especially given the importance of this aspect in the science fiction genre
- Begin the process of negotiating characterisation within plot
- Read like a writer
Designed by the University of East Anglia and the National Centre for Writing.
The course is divided into six modules, each of which introduces an aspect of the craft of writing science fiction. Your knowledge will be developed through writing exercises, the analysis of samples of writing and discussion with your tutor and fellow students.
The modules are posted fortnightly. It is suggested that you stick to this schedule, but you may work through the course at your own speed, providing you complete it within the three-month duration of the course.
Module assignments are between 500 and 1,000 words. Your tutor will give you written feedback on every assignment you submit, but only the third and final assignments will be assessed for your Certificate of Completion.
Module One – What is Science Fiction? Generating Story Ideas
Was Frankenstein the first science fiction tale? Or can we go back further, to the floating island of Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels, or further still, to The Odyssey? An introduction to the variations of the genre, from hard science fiction to alternative realities to space opera, and what the genre shares with fantasy. Where does a good science fiction story come from? We look at how childhood experiences can lead to writing fiction, the importance of appealing to the reader’s senses, and the use of the question: ‘What if?’
Assignment One: Start a journal, including a dream diary and develop an idea into a scene
Module Two – Characters and Caricatures
A super-intelligent computer takes over a ship and begins murdering its crew (2001: A Space Odyssey). A man forms a messiah complex in a post-apocalyptic world (Station Eleven). We look at naming your characters and will complete an exercise in backstory, focusing on the importance of knowing more about your character than you reveal. We’ll also look at examples of effective characters in science fiction in this week’s short story.
Assignment Two: Introduce a created character to a plot and create a scene
Module Three – Point of View in the Genre
What’s the point of life when all its ills have been solved (The Time Machine)? And if everyone’s a vampire/all fertile women are there to provide offspring for the rich/everyone but you loves Big Brother, how do you survive as an individual (I Am Legend/The Handmaid’s Tale/Nineteen Eighty-Four)? We’ll explore the various narrative points of view in relation to genre: the stranger in a strange land/character familiar with his/her world.
Assignment Three: Experimentations with point of view, noting setting details of a familiar or unfamiliar place
Module Four – The World of Your Story is Another Character
The world is dying and a man and his son must carry the fire of morality across a landscape where people have lost all moral sense (The Road). Giant worms swim in the sands of a desert planet (Dune). The Nazis won the war (Fatherland and The Man in the High Castle). England is under water (The Drowned World). We’ll focus on the importance of making a place real/verisimilitude – researching, being economical, noting small details – with a look at standard science fiction settings, from the ‘secondary [fully imagined] world’ to the ‘alternative reality’. We’ll also have a discussion of observations recording in your writer’s journal and how these might be used to create a plausible fictional setting.
Assignment Four: Create a setting, introduce a character and attempt to reveal the character through the setting
Module Five – Plotting your Story
All humans are dead – can robots form a new society (Who Can Replace a Man?)? A sinister carnival ship lands in a simple farming community on Mars (A Game of Unchance). We’ll have a discussion of the classic plotline, and the use of situation as plot in science fiction. We’ll apply a character to a plot – how his/her choices will affect the outcome – and we’ll begin creating the outline for a short story.
Assignment Five: Work on and complete a draft of the beginning of your short story
Module Six – Style/ Editing and Rewriting
We look at the appropriate style for writing different kinds of fiction. We look at the importance of editing and rewriting a story and we’ll begin workshopping stories: in groups, you will be asked to read through and make helpful comments on where prose work submitted by other students is effective, and where it might be improved. This will be followed by group discussion. We’ll also discuss getting your work out into the market.
Assignment Six: Submit your short story (maximum of 2,000 words) for detailed comments and general feedback from your tutor.
Your Certificate of Completion will be sent to you on the successful completion of your final assignment.
About the tutor
Ian Nettleton is from the north of England but he has lived in Norwich for two decades. His novelette, Falling Star, was published in a science fiction anthology, Angles, in 2008 and his novel, The Last Migration, was runner-up in the inaugural Bath Novel Award 2014 and the inaugural Bridport Prize Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award 2014. He is represented by Sue Armstrong of the Conville and Walsh literary agency. He has a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of East Anglia and teaches creative writing at the Open University (undergraduate and MA) and the University of East Anglia. He is currently editing a literary thriller set in Queensland, Australia, called Out of Nowhere.