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Creating Compelling Commercial Fiction
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Creating Commercial Fiction

Tutor: Jessica Ruston 

Course Duration : 6 weeks 

Suitable for:
This course is suitable for anyone writing commercial fiction.  It might be a psychological thriller, a ‘book club’ type piece of general fiction, a love story or a coming of age tale, if you’re aiming for the mainstream market, this course will be able to help.  Those writing literary fiction are very welcome to join, but the examples used will tend to be from the more commercial end of things.  The course has a strong focus on the importance of story, so if you’re writing, for instance, a novella which is very character focused and literary, you may be better with a different course. However, the course is in no way genre specific.

Many first time writers find that their books don’t work for one reason – the story isn’t there.  Either there is no story, or the writer has failed to structure it, so it meanders along like a perfectly pretty but quietly burbling stream, that eventually peters out - into a puddle.  Or the story is buried under a lot of extraneous information, requiring the reader to take in so much that they give up before they even work out who the main character is. 

NB – If you are writing sci-fi or fantasy, or young adult novels, I would also advise you to take a different course, as these are not areas that I have much experience in reading and critiquing.

The course will be structured as below, in six weekly modules, including, but not limited to, the elements described, as well as suggested reading which you may find enhances your experience of the course.  In addition to critiquing and discussing each other’s work in the weekly live chats, there will also be plenty of opportunity to ask general questions about any aspect of writing or publishing.

Course Syllabus

Week 1 - Finding your story
f you’re taking this course, the likelihood is that finding ideas won’t be your problem, you will be bursting with them, even if you haven’t started writing a novel yet.  But what turns an idea into a story?  What are the essential ingredients of a story that is strong enough to carry a whole novel - if any?  What is the story at the core of your novel Also: Some initial thoughts about genre, style, and myth-busting (for instance, why you shouldn’t always ‘write what you know’).

Week 2. Shaping your story
You might have a brilliant germ of an idea, but in order to make it work, lots of – sometimes difficult - choices will need to be made.    This module will look at some of those choices, covering elements such as point of view, tense, structuring your novel, pace and length.  Some of these elements may be dictated by the story itself, others might need to be more of a conscious choice – and often there is no right or wrong answer.  But there are choices that work better than others, and this module will help you think about what will work best for your book.

Week 3 Plot
How does plot differ from story?  How can you use plot to your advantage, to keep the narrative drive moving forward and the pace at the right level, rather than feeling that it is somehow like unpleasant and burdensome homework?  It can be difficult to know how much plot is ‘too much’, and easy to tie yourself in knots with it, or write yourself into corners.  This module will look at all of the above, and will help you to avoid plotty pitfalls that can weaken your story (such as an over-reliance on coincidence, for instance). We’ll also talk about research – for example, how to get started, and how much is enough (or too much).

Week 4  Peopling your story
Even in the most plot driven tale, compelling characters are essential – without them, you will lose your reader before you’ve even begun.  So this module will examine characters and people.  We’ll look at making your main character(/s) interesting and sometimes surprising, talk about names and backstory, and think about ways to make your cast of minor and supporting characters come to life and work for you.  The module will look at villains as well as heroes – how do you deal with unsympathetic characters and antagonists, and turn them into people we love to hate?

Week 5 Nuts and bolts – Dialogue and prose
Of course even if you have the best story ever, and the most brilliant, realistic characters, if your actual writing isn’t up to much, then you aren’t going to get anywhere.  This module will get down to some of the nitty gritty of writing.  It will cover showing and telling – why show don’t tell isn’t always true (but often is, especially when you’re beginning to write); introduce you to the concept of the shitty first draft and consider some of the challenges of self-editing; talk about writing descriptions that leap off the page and dialogue that rings true; and examine ways to introduce essential information through dialogue without making it seem clunky and obvious, and create subtle, amusing, realistic sounding dialogue that literally gives your characters voices.

Week 6 Beyond your computer…
At some point, you’ll finish your novel – so what now?  This week is all about the publishing industry, and how it works.  Are you ready to submit your novel?  How do you tell?   Who do you submit to? How do you submit?  We’ll look at something every writer seems to fear - The Dreaded Synopsis – and why you shouldn’t be scared of it.  And I’ll talk you through what might happen if someone likes your novel  - and what your next steps should be if you get a wall of rejections.

For more information and start dates email

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