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So, with my final assignment for A174 sent, it’s time to take a quick look at how I found the course. But before I start, it’s worth pointing out that I did not use this course to its full potential. A lot of very personal things happened during the course and I neither kept up with the reading material, nor participated in the tutorials. However, it’s also worth noting that this wasn’t because the materials failed to engage me, but rather because the things happening in my personal life were so overwhelming.

So, with that little disclaimer out of the way, I’ll start on the review.

A174 is designed to encourage to you write on a more regular basis and uses guided exercises to do this. There’s a lot of scope for you to dictate the creative direction of your fiction, while the occasional activity may be along the lines of “re-write this passage from the point of view of X”, more of it is about creating your own characters, plots and narratives.  There are no restrictions on genre or setting, the point is to get you putting the things in your head onto paper, or screen.

There are five blocks for the course, each are scheduled to take about two weeks to get through. There are three online tutorials and online forums that help you with the study, although there are no face-to-face meetings.

Blocks 1 and 2, Setting Out and Character, Setting and Genre form the core of the learning for the first TMA.  These are focused on getting you writing and creating the bare bones of a story. Regardless of how bad you think your actual writing is the point is to get it out of your head – grammar, spelling, dialogue and the actual words used in the story can be edited and cleaned up, but the idea will never go anywhere if you keep it locked up.

Block 3: Plot, narrative and time, Block 4: Narrative Point of View and Block 5: Beginnings, work on giving you the tools you need to create a believable story that you can be proud of. These form the basis of TMA 02, the final TMA, and also try to make you look at your story and question it. “Why am I writing it from this point of view?”, “why is his coat green?”, “would this work better from the third person?”, “does this add anything to the narrative?”. I personally have very set ideas on how a story will work once the inspiration strikes me, but letting yourself question what works best could very well be what improves your writing.

From a personal point of view, I didn’t make the most of the course. I should have been working on it at least every other day, I should have had my idea of the TMA worked out weeks in advance so that I could edit it like crazy to make a sparkling gem of fiction. I should have made more of the online interaction with my tutor and tutorial group. But family and my own health comes first for me, so while I think it’s a shame, I don’t think I would have done anything differently given the time over again.

If I had to give one piece of advice for people considering the course, it would be the same I would give for every course – the time that the OU suggest for their courses are usually pretty good indications of what you will need to spend on the course to get the most out of them. If you’re not sure you’ll be able to free up that time you may find yourself cutting corners to reach the end of the course.

If I had to suggest one improvement for the course, it would be that the online material comes in a printed format. You have the option to print each individual page, but not entire blocks – it would have been really useful to me to be able to go through them on paper while on the train, but all of the activities and learning can only be accessed through an internet connection.

Overall impressions: very well laid out, encourages creative thinking, works best when you give it your all.

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