Writing Fiction: Next Steps with Monique Roffey
Begins Tuesday 7 May for 24 weeks
This course builds on the expertise acquired at an introductory level and introduces more depth and a wider range of reading and approaches to fiction. At this level, you will acquire and experiment with more techniques, broaden the possibilities you’re ready to explore in your writing, and reconnect with finding a sense of play and adventure in your writing.
The course focuses on the short story, but the techniques we look at are equally relevant to the novel.
“I thought the tutor, Monique Roffey, was excellent. She was friendly and helpful and the feedback was constructive and encouraging.” John Collins, January 2018
- To develop your creative practice, and to read and write regularly
- To analyse and deconstruct devices and techniques used in literary narratives
- To develop observational skills, and learn how to use memory creatively
- To study and consider different types of writing
- To practice and enhance your use of plot, character, dialogue, and description
- To revise and edit your writing, and to take work to a finished draft stage
- To find/enhance your writer’s voice and to begin to define the area which most interests you: your ‘territory’
Designed by the University of East Anglia and the National Centre for Writing
Committing to a 24-week course is a big decision for any writer. If you have any questions at all please do get in touch at email@example.com.
Applying to the course
This is an intermediate course and we ask that you submit a sample of your work during application. To apply: please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following:
- A 600-word excerpt – the opening of a short story or chapter that you have written
Emails should have the subject line CWO Application – [Your Name]
Application deadline: Monday 29 April
How it works
The course is divided into twelve modules, each of which introduces a topic, points for discussion, exercises, and an assignment. Subjects include character, plot and structure, point of view, dialogue and setting, defamiliarisation, the unsaid, and how to plan, revise, and redraft your work towards a finished draft. The principal aim of the course is to encourage your progress as a writer, help you improve and refine your work, and to inspire you to build a sustained writing practice. By the end of the course, you will have gained valuable knowledge and insight into the process of writing fiction, through working with a published novelist on your own work.
“Monique was very good. I am grateful to her for her help in improving my writing.” 2018 student
Module 1 – Getting started
This module is an introduction to the course, and to the other members of the group. We begin by focusing on your reading habits, and look at how to put in place habits that will support your writing: how to make a practice of being observant, where to find inspiration, how to make the time to write even a little but regularly, and how to keep a notebook. We also start to think about some prose narratives and how they work.
Openings are key to a narrative: they set a scene, introduce central characters and show us the predicament those characters find themselves in – the situation from which the story will emerge. We will look at some different openings.
Module 2 – Point of View
The perspective or point of view from which a story is told is a fundamental decision for the writer. We will consider how that decision shapes the narrative by looking at excerpts from stories that use different points of view. Who is telling the story? Is the narrator ‘unreliable?’ Is s/he omniscient or just one of the characters in the story? Is the narrative, like Heart of Darkness, framed? How does the point of view chosen affect the reader’s experience? How does it restrict the writer, and what advantages does it offer?
Module 3 – Character
This module focuses on creating believable, surprising fictional characters. We will look at some examples and analyse how they are constructed and developed. How do characters drive the plot? What do they hope for? What do they fear? What might get in the way of their happiness? How can conflict be used to bring out character more vividly?
Module 4 – Dialogue and setting
Like characterisation, dialogue can swing between the sublime and the ridiculous. Writing effective dialogue requires attention and skill. We will look at some examples of both good and bad dialogue. We will also consider the various ways that speech is represented in writing: direct, indirect, and free indirect speech.
A story has to take place somewhere. As with character and dialogue, how you convey a sense of this setting is crucial. We will look at different ways of creating a sense of place, and how setting and dialogue can be woven together to give a sense of your characters’ lives and dramas.
Module 5 – Plot and structure
There are no absolute rules when it comes to writing a story, but it can be helpful to begin by using certain structures. The German dramatist Gustave Freytag identified five stages in the plot of classical drama. The resulting diagram, ‘Freytag’s triangle’, is often used to discuss the shape of a short story. We will use Freytag’s triangle as a tool to analyse a published story, available to you online, and then to help you plan and write part of your own story, paying attention to structure.
“It helped me with creating a writing routine and clarifying many points of the craft. Meeting with fellow writers was also great…I really have learned a lot.” 2018 student
Module 6 – Defamiliarisation
Good fiction changes the way we look at the world, often by removing our sense of familiarity and security. We’ll look at different ways of achieving this, including using surreal elements, as in Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’, employing the tropes of the supernatural and ghost stories, science fiction, satire that works by exaggeration, the concept or idea-based story (‘what if…’), and fiction that uses the technique of defamiliarisation to make us as readers experience even the everyday world around us afresh.
Module 7 – The unsaid
Good fiction works as much by what isn’t stated as by what is. As in life, people in great stories often don’t quite say what they feel, but their silence can be more powerful than words. We’ll look at how to use omission and understatement to create greater impact, how to use non-verbal communication – gestures and ‘beats’ or short descriptions of small actions – to convey a character’s feelings without his or her expressing them in speech, and how you might choose to use symbolic elements or images to convey truths about your characters to a reader, rather than stating them.
Module 8 – Managing time
We’ll look at how to manage the passage of time in a story. Does fiction have to follow a character throughout the period described? How can you make transitions between different time periods? How can flashbacks be used? What about prolepsis (flashing forward in time)? How do different stories deal with periods of time? Some cover years, and others are located in a tiny moment. In this module, you will experiment with managing transitions and with moving your characters around in time.
Module 9 – Revising and redrafting
This module is about how to polish your writing sentence by sentence, as well as ensure that the story as a whole is as good as it can be. We’ll discuss different ways of redrafting, how to use workshop feedback in order to rework your story, and how to re-read your own work closely. You will exchange a piece of work with another member of the group, and give and receive feedback from him or her, then revise your story.
Module 10 – Writing and planning
Writing is a balance of releasing the imagination and being willing to explore, and returning to interrogate your early drafts and bring a shape to them. This module looks at how to identify what is of interest to you in an early draft, and to bring that to light, and how to try rearranging elements of an existing draft in order to find out what is most essential.
Module 11 – Being open to surprise
This module looks at venturing into the unknown – how to take the seed of a story, and allow yourself to explore where it can go, and how to respond when that story takes an unexpected turn. We also look at how you might use unusual elements of text in a story – for example, letters, emails, lists, bills, the narrative of role playing games, characters or events from other fiction or mythology – while making them your own.
Module 12 – Coming to an end
Narrative disturbs us with conflict, and draws us on with the promise of resolution. When we conclude a piece of writing, we end the reader’s journey, and there is often an expectation that things will be concluded in a satisfying way. This expectation can be fulfilled, or subverted – the choice is yours. Should every narrative be tied up neatly with no loose ends, or should it raise questions that aren’t completely answered? What makes an effective ending? We will consider this by reading and discussing examples from literature.
About the tutor
Born in Trinidad, Monique Roffey’s acclaimed novels include The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (2009), Archipelago (2012), House of Ashes (2014) and, most recently, The Tryst (2017), as well as a memoir, With the Kisses of his Mouth (2011). She has been shortlisted for the Costa Prize for Fiction, the Encore Award, the Orange Prize, and won the prestigious OCM Bocas Award, the Caribbean’s top literature prize, for Archipelago. She has taught Creative Writing at universities around the world, as well as for First Story, English PEN and The Arvon Foundation – where she was Centre Director at Totleigh Barton for several years. Monique’s papers are archived in the West Indian Collection at the Alma Jordan Library, University of the West Indies, Trinidad: she was the first female Caribbean author to deposit her papers in their two-hundred-year-old collection.