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Writing course: "Fundamentals of fiction"

A couple of years back I attended Fundamentals of fiction, a course run by William Ryan at the Irish Writers Centre. I saw it as a chance to workshop some pieces from a work in progress, a meta-fictional novel about how narrative can contribute to mental health stigma.

The course was run over Zoom. Each week began with a lecture-style presentation from Ryan, covering different aspects of fiction (e.g. dialogue, characters, writing scenes etc.) These covered the basics in some detail - the slides can act as handy checklists when re-drafting.

Furthermore, each week we submitted a 1,000-word extract from fiction we were working on (these could be short, stand-alone pieces or excerpts from a novel). During each class, we reviewed three writers' work in depth. I had an extract reviewed in the first week; opinion was divided over my decision to write in the first-person plural for the scene (although this technique is more popular than you might think). The feedback was particularly useful in finding out what aspects people might like to be developed more.

I previously did a beta-read exchange with someone I met on a different course at the Irish Writers Centre. The other person's book was historical fiction, and quite different in many ways from my own work. The Fundamentals of Fiction was a good opportunity to do something similar; although the participants were generally writing for an adult audience, there was enough variation in genre and setting to keep things interesting. A difficult aspect compared to beta-reading was that when working with extracts from longer works (as opposed to stand-alone pieces) one can't always get the full context of the pieces chosen for the workshop process

This was an enjoyable way to explore writing with other. The atmosphere was friendly, and critique was very constructive. As the title of the course suggests, highly seasoned writers may not get that much out of the four weeks, but for enthusiastic amateurs trying to up their game this is well worth considering.

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