Last month I shared news on the How Writers Write Fiction MOOC out of the University of Iowa. The short six-week course is over now, and I wanted to provide an overview of the topics covered for those who might have missed it.
In week 1, the topic was voice and identity. In the assignment, we had to write a scene or short story in which the main character is a female child.
"Consider who you want your character to be, and how you want her to show your readers who she is, and how much you want her to consciously know about who she is. Consider how the people around her might speak to her or describe her; consider what she might understand or not understand about how they relate to her and how they relate to the world."
For this assignment, I used a scene from Plastic that I had recently revised for publication. I wanted to see how readers would react. The feedback was very positive, which was gratifying.
In week 2, the topic was desire and point of view. The instructions for this assignment were more precise:
"Write a scene or a short story as follows:
I could have chosen another piece from Plastic for this assignment, but I felt eager to move on to the next book. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and didn't finish the assignment before the due date.
In week 3, we discussed the cast and plot. The assignment consisted of writing a short story or long scene centered on four female characters. I started working on this one and then had to set it aside, but I used the writing for the final assignment, combining the two topics.
In week 4, the topic was immersion or three-dimensional setting.
"Write a story or scene in which you create an immersive experience of a setting or a world.
Make this a setting in which a disastrous or momentous change has recently happened. In your story, show the reader some glimpses of what this world the world is like now and some glimpses of how it used to be."
Again, I started but was unable to finish the assignment in time. Once again, the writing was not lost. It provided great background notes for the final assignment.
In week 5, the topic was narrative experimentation. Here, they talked about fragmented stories, where there are shifts in time frames and narrators.
"For your final assignment, look at the previous assignments you wrote for this MOOC. Choose the one that you think would benefit most from a process of experimentation. Perhaps you've been revising one assignment for the last few weeks but the pace or the tone or the way it unfolds is not quite working. Or perhaps there's something you've been writing outside if this MOOC and you want to try shaking that piece of writing up with a structural experiment.
Choose the piece of writing you want to experiment with and find a way to break it open."
I looked at what I had been working on the previous weeks and decided to try fragmenting the story. It raised a good question for me: how do I want to structure the next book? I used fragmentation in Plastic by choosing to write 12 linked stories from different point of views rather than one long narrative. I knew that the next book would not be in short story format, but would fragmenting the story work?
The feedback I received was very useful on that question. Overall, I was very happy with the course. Although I ran out of time and was not able to finish all the assignments on time, the videos, readings and comments were incredibly useful. They made me really think about what I want to say and how I want to say it, and they ramped up my excitement for the next book.