20 May 2016

Starting to write my novel #3: my experience of CBC’s new online course

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by Eli Keren Opinion, Our Courses

The Starting to Write Your Novel online test course has concluded and the newest of our online writing courses is ready to go. Every last bug, big and small, has been squashed. But you’re not here to read about fixing formatting issues or redesigning navigation bars, so I’ll get right to the point: I’ve finished the Starting to Write Your Novel course, so where is my novel now? And what did I learn?

Let’s start with the first question. The novel. Back at the end of April, I wrote: ‘I haven’t decided on a narrative style, I don’t have a full cast of characters and I’ve only really got maybe a third of the plot.’ I’m pleased to be able to say that I’ve come a long, long way. I’ve decided on my narrative style, and more than that, I’ve taken the time to work out exactly what kind of style actually suits my novel rather than just rushing in with my usual go-to style like I have done in the past. My cast of characters isn’t 100 per cent complete, but my main four are far more fleshed out than my characters usually are this early in the writing process. I know them to a level of detail that I didn’t expect to be able to at this stage, which means I won’t reach the end of the novel, look back over it and find they’re bland and boring for the first few chapters – a common symptom of trying to work my characters out as I go along.

As for the plot, that’s something I’ve still ironing out, but that’s fine. I was never going to go from blank page to fully realised, generation-defining masterpiece in six weeks. I’m much further in than I was at the start, that’s for sure, and I know exactly what the structure of my arc is going to be, even if I don’t have all the smaller details to populate it with. As I said in Starting to Write My Novel #2, one of the most important things I’ve taken from this course has been the decisions I’ve made, decisions that have been informed, reviewed, and (importantly) made slowly. I feel like this novel is a slow-cooked lamb tagine compared to my previous attempt, which was a microwave-ready spag-bol. Even if I don’t know exactly what this novel is going to look like at the end, I’ve decided how I’m going to weave the various threads of my story together, and I’ve paid a lot more attention to aspects of the book that I may otherwise have neglected.

Now that tricky second question: what did I learn? That’s a difficult one to answer, but I’m thinking about it like this: rather than asking myself what I learned, I’m asking myself how my finished novel will look different for having taken this course. From that angle, the question becomes much easier. My characters will be people, not tropes or plot devices. My plot will be confident, not meandering, staggering or stunted. My opening will be bold and forward-facing, rather than a slow-burn attempt to set a convincing scene. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it will be a completely different novel, but this course has helped me put the flesh on the bones of what could otherwise  have easily ended up a skeleton in silk: competent prose but lacking in substance.

There are still plenty of aspects to this novel I am yet to work out, but this is the Starting to Write Your Novel course, and my novel is off to a flying start.

As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our three- and six-month novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.


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Our Courses

Lisa O'Donnell, Author and CBC Tutor

Six-month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell

18 Feb – 22 Jul
Laura Barnett

Six-month London Course With Laura Barnett

18 Feb – 11 Jul
Catherine Johnson

Writing YA and Children’s Fiction With Catherine Johnson

01 Apr – 01 Jul

Starting to Write Your Novel

16 Jan – 27 Feb