OU A363 Creative Writing: what did I learn?

So, with the final assignment submitted, I reflect on what I have learned in the last several months.

A363 was more self-directed than A215; there was less of a sense of working through the textbook, less hand-holding from the tutor, and occasionally, an eerie silence in the on-line tutor group forum. I spent a lot of time writing.

The course focused a lot on the interplay between fiction (poetry and life writing, had I wanted it) and writing for screen and radio. The emphasis has continued to be on short pieces: short stories, 30 minute films or radio dramas. It hasn’t taught me to write a novel, although it might just prove to have helped me to get started.

I found that radio drama appealed; the length is about right for my stories, which tend to be too complex for short stories, and too short for novels. I love the agility of the dialogue-driven storytelling, which jumps from one time and place to another as quick as a thought. I never would have attempted to write radio drama, had it not been for this course, and I felt that the guidance I was given by my tutor, as well as the feedback from fellow students, was something I could not have had from reading any amount of ‘how-to’ books. The 30-minute radio drama I submitted for my final assignment will, with the addition of a couple of scenes, and a little more room to breathe, make a decent 45-minute radio drama suitable for a BBC submission (whether the BBC will think it’s suitable is, of course, another matter).

We were also encouraged to inter-cut scenes, and work with flashbacks and time-shifts and subplots to build suspense. Again, this is something that might well support novel-writing, enabling a longer and more complex narrative. I’ve just reworked one of my short story assignments, written with this intercutting method, slightly lengthened it to give it some breathing space, and allow my characters to finish their sentences, and submitted it to the Bridport Prize. I’ve also submitted a couple of pieces to IdeasTap. I feel I’ve become more confident about my writing this year.

I’ve never really liked writing the commentaries that accompany the assignments. Especially when it comes to referencing them in the OU Harvard style. Ugh. My tutor, however, provided clear guidance on what was expected and I even found that at times, when I got blocked writing a story or drama, spending a half an hour or so on the commentary made me actually reflect on what I was trying to achieve with the story, and got it flowing again. This is something I might try in the future if I’m grinding to a halt with a piece of writing. Minus the references, though.

What I will really, really treasure about the OU is the small group of writers who I met through A174 (now defunct, but partially available free via Openlearn). The six of us went on to do A215 together, and then encouraged each other to embark on A363. We’ve got to know each other through our writing and through giving and receiving feedback. Having a critiquing group I really trust, who have been taught in the same way, and so will look at a piece of writing with reference to the same ideas and principles is incredibly valuable. I hope we manage to keep each other going.

Would I recommend A363 to others? Yes.

-Giselle, May 27 2014.

An update:
The BBC rejected the radio drama but it inspired my debut historical novel ‘Heart of Cruelty’ published in October 2020 by Poolbeg Press
and which is on Amazon:

3 thoughts on “OU A363 Creative Writing: what did I learn?

  1. Interesting to read your thoughts on A363, which I would also recommend to other writers! It’s been great working together on the OU courses – I’m sure we’ll carry on supporting each other. Here’s to the novel!

  2. Lovely write up of the course. I am currently on the A363 and completely understand what you mean about the group of critics and friends that we make, especially when we were floundering around together in A215.
    I’m off to the first day school of A363 tomorrow which will no doubt be very worthwhile. All the best with your writing, I love your site.

    1. Thanks Lucy, and good luck with A363. I’ve found that the drama writing element of A363 has really helped with fiction writing. The NaNoWriMo novel I’m writing at the moment has had previous incarnations as the EMA, a work-in-progress novel submission of 20K words (written from a different character’s viewpoint, and a 45 minute drama submitted to BBC Writers Room, and is now a novel again. I haven’t got any where with it being accepted, but each iteration seems to help me; the story and view point change each time, but the characters remain broadly the same. And I’m looking forward to meeting up with ‘The OU Girls’ in London this month!

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