Writing Fiction (Online)


Our Writing Fiction course has been designed for those who know that they want to write novels or short stories, and who may already have made some progress in writing.

This course emphasises weekly reading and writing exercises, peer feedback, and tutor guidance. Tutors prompt and moderate discussions that centre on group learning rather than workshopping personal pieces of writing. Both assessed assignments receive detailed feedback from the tutor.

Few occupations are so wrapped up with myth and misconception as writing. This course aims to debunk the myths and through refreshingly practical and down-to-earth advice help anyone with the motivation to pick up a pen and write.

Writing, someone once said, is easy. You just sit down at the typewriter and open a vein. Few occupations are so bound up with mystique and mystery as writing. As a result, many would-be writers are deterred from starting; and those who start often misconstrue the difficulties they encounter as evidence that they are not cut out for the task. This course aims to debunk the myths and show that anyone with sufficient interest and motivation can write. In the company of an experienced tutor, the student learns the time-honoured techniques of good, old-fashioned storytelling and also acquires the confidence to deploy those techniques. There is a liberal supply of practical advice, down-to-earth wisdom and enjoyment; and not a whiff of Romantic agony! As the professional writers have known all along, the true secret of writing is to pick up a pen, sit down at the typewriter or computer, and open a packet of biscuits.

Listen to Malcolm Pryce talking about the course:

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

Unit 1: Some preliminary demystification

  • I could never do that
  • The demon in your head
  • I’m not good enough
  • There is no writing cop

Unit 2: How to get ideas

  • The joys of recombining
  • Mind-mapping
  • More idea starters

Unit 3: Character I

  • The raw materials
  • Presentation
  • Unreliable portrait painter
  • Dialogue
  • Too much detail and the myth of pictoriality
  • Dialogue as poetry

Unit 4: Character II

  • Flat and round characters
  • The human heart, simplified
  • What do they want?
  • Achieving growth
  • Backstory
  • Inner turmoil

Unit 5: Plot

  • Coincidence and causality
  • Metaplots and three-act structure
  • Anatomy of the quest
  • Up the ante
  • Turning up the heat

Unit 6:  With this first line, I thee wed

  • Don’t be boring
  • The contract
  • Science fiction and fantasy
  • Switching genres
  • Flamboyance
  • In medias res
  • That first line

Unit 7: The fictive dream I - The big picture

  • Your heart in your mouth
  • Picture the scene

Unit 8: The fictive dream II - The small picture

  • Some principles
  • Particularity and ‘thisness’
  • Defamiliarisation
  • The elephant in the room and other bear traps
  • Here come the writing cops
  • Write like Emmeline Pankhurst

Unit 9: Traditional storytelling techniques

  • Tips from a pro: Scheherazade
  • How to pique your reader’s interest
  • Mystery
  • Make me care
  • Sympathy for the Devil

Unit 10: Happy ever after?

  • Choosing a title
  • Setting your expectations
  • All writing is rewriting
  • Motives
  • Famous lost manuscripts
  • You never stop learning to write
  • Getting published


We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of successfully passing the final course assignment. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.


Description Costs
Course Fee £578.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Louis Greenberg

Louis Greenberg is a writer and fiction editor with a doctorate in modern English literature. Under his own name and co-writing as S.L. Grey, he has published nine novels including The MallThe Apartment and Exposure, a mystery about an immersive theatre group. Louis has studied scriptwriting, theatre set design and film finance, and two of his books are in film development. An Advanced Professional member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, Louis has edited fiction for several major publishers.



Mr Jeremy Hughes

Jeremy Hughes has published two novels – Wingspan (2013) and Dovetail (2011). He was awarded first prize in the PoetryWales competition and was short-listed for an Eric Gregory Award. He also publishes short fiction, life writing and reviews. He studied for the Master’s in creative writing at Oxford.

Course aims

This course aims to:

  • Debunk the misconception that you have to be someone special to write.
  • Show how important it is to cultivate the right mind-set first.
  • Take broad overview of the topography - from the blank page to revision and polishing, and what comes after.
  • Break the process of writing down into constituent parts and reveal the art and craft at work.
  • Give students the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and 'have a go.'
  • Give students the opportunity to put it all together and create a short piece of fiction.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts.
  • Guided use of existing websites.
  • Discussions of particular issues and responses to reading in the unit forums.
  • Written non-assessed exercises discussed by the group.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will understand:

  • How real writers work as opposed to the myth.
  • How many effects in fiction are more the result of hard work than magic.
  • That all writers differ and there is no right or wrong way of doing it.
  • The fundamental nature of the fictive dream and how to use this understanding to write better fiction.
  • That good writing is a process of distillation.

By the end of this course students will have gained the following skills:

  • The ability to sail past doubt and dismiss misconceived notions of 'not being worthy'.
  • The ability to actively generate ideas rather than passively await their arrival.
  • The ability to practise writing like pilots learning flying in a flight simulator: by breaking it down into individual steps and practising them.
  • The ability to deploy time-honoured story-telling tricks & techniques to improve their fiction.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link: https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/about/english-language-requirements


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.