Get started with your own fiction writing, focusing on the central skill of creating characters, with this hands-on course.

332,308 enrolled on this course

Start Writing Fiction
  • Duration8 weeks
  • Weekly study3 hours
  • LearnFree
  • Extra BenefitsFrom $59Find out more

Discover the rituals and approaches that successful fiction writers use

On this online course, established writers – including Louis de Bernières, Patricia Duncker, Alex Garland, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Tim Pears, Michèle Roberts and Monique Roffey – will talk about how they started writing.

You’ll consider the rituals of writing and keeping a journal; learn how to develop your ideas; reflect on your own writing and editing; hear writers talk about their approach to research; and start turning events into plot.

You’ll also have the opportunity to review the work of fellow writers and receive comments on your own, learning to read as a writer and respond to feedback.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds Nowadays, when people ask me what I write about, I say, food, sex, and God. And that just about sums it up. I think your characters find you in the same that your ideas find you. I think they settle on you. Start Writing Fiction focuses on a skill that is central to the writing of all stories, creating characters. Through the course, you’ll explore various ideas and take part in exercises to help you develop your own characters. You’ll start writing your own stories, learn to read like a writer, and how to edit.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 seconds You’ll hear from a number of successful authors, including Michele Roberts, Alex Garland, and Louis de Bernieres, as they talk about their own experiences of writing. There seem to be two different types of character. There’s the type that just turns up at your shoulder like a ghost and insists on being written. The other kind of character is the sort that you invent more or less from scratch or creator as a composite of various people that you’ve noticed or come across. You’ll see how established authors such as Toni Morrison, Graham Greene, and Kate Atkinson, have written and presented characters in their novels.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 seconds By the end of the course, you’ll have learned tricks, such as the importance of redrafting and using a journal to generate ideas. And, most important of all, you’ll start writing yourself.


  • Week 1

    Starting to write fiction

    • Introduction

      Fiction is all about characters. Make the best of everything you already have and know – your unique ‘material’ and ‘equipment’ for creating characters.

    • Keeping a notebook

      Start your own ‘writer’s notebook’ to collect facts and fictions, observations from everyday life, things you find fascinating or amusing and things you imagine. Start seeing the world as a writer.

    • Other writers

      Why start writing? Listen to some established writers explain their reasons and compare them to your own. Start your own writing journey by developing a character from your observations.

  • Week 2

    The habit of writing

    • Do it your way

      How do you write? What inspires you? Where do you like to write? Do you set aside a regular time to write? Find encouragement, tips and tricks to discover what works best for you.

    • Observation and imagination

      Learning from other writers is important for every writer, not just those starting out. Each of us see the world from a unique perspective and observing and describing every detail will give a fresh insight to your writing.

    • The blank page

      A blank page can seem daunting. Prepare by taking time to do some research and to review your notebook. Then start – but remember, sometimes the best inspiration comes after the first few pages.

  • Week 3

    Writing is editing

    • Reflecting on what you have written

      Most writers spend as much, or more, time editing and redrafting their work as they do writing first drafts. Once you have a first draft, you can rethink what you’ve done, improve on it and change whatever you like.

    • Editing your work

      Editing is an important part of the creative process. You will see some hints and tips for editing your work and when to look at the big picture and when to look at the detail, and share your edited writing.

    • Writing is your training

      Without writing, a person can’t ‘become’ a writer. Create something new from an idea in your notebook, share it, then use your critiquing skills to give your fellow writers feedback.

  • Week 4

    Building your story

    • Keeping a writer's notebook

      What have you written in your writer’s notebook so far? Find out how other writers use theirs and how you can develop a ‘notebook habit’.

    • Character and plot

      A plot is not simply a story. It’s a succession of events with causality highlighted. Making use of the handy question ‘What if?’, you will now be developing your own plots.

    • Ideas for stories

      Ideas for the starting points for stories can come from many different directions. Even ordinary situations can seem extraordinary by a new or surprising insight.

  • Week 5

    Creating convincing characters

    • Character and conflict

      ‘Character is plot, plot is character’ – you will now consider how welding conflict to your characters will help you to develop a great plot.

    • Types of character

      Stereotypes can be helpful when we start thinking about creating characters. Developing characters, giving them unexpected contradictions and conflicts, helps to create characters that are living people, not just caricatures.

    • Sources of character

      Exploring various sources for new fictional characters – where do they come from and how are they developed?

  • Week 6

    Developing and portraying characters

    • Revealing characters

      There are different approaches to both developing and portraying your characters. By trying these various methods, you the writer can discover more about them.

    • Portraying characters

      Analysing and discussing Scott Fitzgerald’s’ portrayal of character, you will come to further develop a character of your own. You’ll also experiment with different ways of portraying character to work out what works best for you.

    • Writing a first draft

      Start to plan your short story, based on a central character. Remember the techniques and methods you have learned so far and put these into practice as you write.

  • Week 7

    Reading as a writer

    • Learning from reading

      Writing without reading is to write in the dark: it might work, but it’s an unnecessary handicap. Reading should be an important part of your writing career. Find out how to read as a writer, and learn from what you read.

    • Reading as a writer

      Noticing details about the construction of language, plot and story in what you read will help form your own writing taste and style.

    • Learning from fellow writers

      It is much easier to give criticism than it is to receive it. As you prepare to ‘workshop’ each other’s writing, remember the goal is to create a better piece of writing.

  • Week 8

    Your final story

    • Sharing and reflecting on writing

      Submit your story then take time to learn from your fellow writers. Read and comment on the final stories of your fellow writers and make notes in your journal.

    • Reflecting on your own writing

      Learning from others’ successes and failures is one of the great benefits of studying creative writing in a group – it accelerates your development as a writer. There are tremendous benefits from commenting on each other’s work.

    • Carry on writing

      Now you’ve started writing fiction, where will it take you? The only way to develop as a writer is to keep doing it. Find out about courses and qualifications you can study with The Open University.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Apply and learn to write fiction and generate stories by creating characters
  • Investigate notions of writing from your experience and from research
  • Explore using a writer’s notebook to develop ideas and increase observational awareness
  • Identify and realise the importance of other authors and works to develop your skills in reading as a writer
  • Develop your awareness of editing, in developing your vocabulary of style and presentation
  • Identify and realise the importance of exchanging work and critical comment with fellow writers

Who is the course for?

This course is intended for those with an interest in starting to write fiction or improving their fiction writing, and does not require any previous experience of studying this subject.

Please be aware that participation in this course involves reviewing work posted by other learners. You may find some material used in these stories is of an adult nature (e.g. language, sex, violence) and although captured in context, may offend. Learners on this course are instructed to place warnings at the top of their work to indicate use of such content.

Recommended for learners age 16+.

Who will you learn with?

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.

Who developed the course?

The Open University

The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning, with a mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.

  • Established1969
  • LocationMilton Keynes, UK
  • World rankingTop 510Source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020

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