Are there any online programs that teach literary fiction?

Welcome to the literary fiction workshop Forums Welcome to the Mentor’s Corner Are there any online programs that teach literary fiction?

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  • #961 Reply

    Thanks for getting back to me, William.

    I am reading Chekhov with new eyes … read him ages ago, but now I’m just realizing that some of his stories are PLOTLESS … that doesn’t mean they’re without form, structure and tension … but it seems like in some of the stories the main character is not after a specific goal … or at least the goal is not stated … merely felt, I suppose.

    Actually, I’ve been having a tough time reading him … I’m sort of asking myself … okay .. where is this story going? “The Party,” is what I’ve just read recently.

    Anyway .. thanks for your take on Chekhov … if you have anymore insight, love to hear it, and I will check out the translation you suggested.


    #960 Reply

    to Dwayne
    I think he (Chekhov) is the best of the best. And I’ll add him to the list. There is a good new translation (2000) out that deserves to be promoted. Thanks for pointing out the void.



    #959 Reply


    I’m curious as to why you didn’t mention any Chekhov on your list of stories to study. (Of course, you’re free to put the writers you deem the most useful.)

    But I ask because I’m trying to find my way through the forest here … so many people say Chekhov, especially for literary fiction, is a great source for writers.

    What do you think? You know, unplugged, what does William Coles think about Chekhov … boring, exciting, let me know.

    Hope you’re well.

    #958 Reply

    William, hope you’re well.

    Two questions.

    Have you ever thought about starting a book club For Writers? … Each week you’d take a section of the book, break it down (deconstruct it) to highlight the technique being used? And readers could chime in under comments, possibly.

    I’m really interested in Mood and Tone … but didn’t see any essays on that issue on your website. If not, do you plan to tackle that issue? I’d love to read your comments on that.

    Talk to you soon … I’m on my way out to the bookstore to pick up some recommendations posted on your site, specifically a) E.M. Forster b) Pritchett.


    #957 Reply


    Thanks for your email. My heart aches in reading it. I have shared your frustrations for years, the major stimulus for developing a website for writers of serious literature, limited to prose although I was a successful poet for years and believe poetic techniques do help the prose writer, especially in sensing the rhythms of prose and for creating effective metaphor and imagery. Yet to combine the teaching of poetry, or lyrical (poetic) prose writing such as memoir or “creative nonfiction” with the creation of solid character-based, meaningful fiction I do not think is valuable for the student or the teacher.

    In general, the creative writing programs available online and in workshops have value that varies with the teachers and the structure of the program, but there is also the real danger of dogmatic teaching that is applied universally when it should not be. The quality of teaching skills in programs is abysmal, at best. And many teachers have never created quality fictional prose stories and often have never developed basic skills in communication through the written word. Hence, I would imagine, the problem with the persistent sidestepping a avoidance of your questions.

    To get the most out of any writing program, the student must, I believe, be simultaneously pursuing their own education in dramatic storytelling, dynamic rounded characterization, and effective craft. Students must know what they want to achieve, and then look for ideas, attitudes, and technique in classes, taking suggestions not as commandments but possible ways to improve what they want to achieve as purpose for they’re writing. With practice, this sorting out of the valuable becomes easier.

    For example, the pronouncement of the value of authors creating stories, narrators telling stories, and characters acting out in stories is inherently valuable. And the idea that effective fiction is not authorial based, even in first person POV, is valuable. But the value is tempered by what the student wants to achieve. Many writers today are writers of the fiction of self, many are acedemic, and many are successful. For them, a pronouncement of no author involvement in the narrative is not helpful. For the writer of serious character-based fiction intent on entertaining and enlightening a reader, the concept should be pasted in full view on the writer’s computer screen. This is true of almost every concept and idea delivered in writing programs. The student has a specific purpose for creating well what they want to achieve. The student who is learning through many different resources, can sort out valuable concepts in a course, and ignore those that may bar his or her progress.
    It takes years, but is an essential enjoyment of the process of writing fiction.

    I do not know the program you’re involved in and can offer no advice other than the above. I do encourage you to continue to explore my website. I have created there many different ways to learn. A workshop, essays (dialogue and characterization are the most popular and together are read by more than 2000 visitors a month), interviews with writers and editors about the writing process, search engine for ideas and concepts, suggested reading of classic fiction successes, recommendations for books on writing, examples of my own writing to emphasize concepts. All free. From the response, (more than a half million visitors in 2011) I believe writers are benefiting. You might consider a systematic approach (there is a study guide) of learning the major skills of characterization, storytelling, revision, and craft.

    You seem to read very valuable authors for study. How did they achieve their purposes? You might try Flaubert and de Maupassant and Chekhov, and check the suggested reading list on site.

    Your email was so valuable that I have written a blog post with essentials for learning the art of fiction writing. It should be up in a few days. You might check back or use the RSS feed. Thanks for providing the stimulus.

    All the best in your writing.
    William Coles

    #954 Reply

    I’ve been reading your site with GREAT interest over the past few days. I found it through wikipedia. I’m an aspiring short story writer and novelist from Philadelphia.

    Are there any online programs that you would recommend that teach literary fiction?

    I ask because currently I’m having a very frustrating experience with the ——– ———.

    Just to give you an example of how the program works; we read a short story or a poem, and then we deconstruct the author’s technique … looking for a) mood; b) tone; and c) persona narrator. We also deal with issues like “distance.”

    However, whenever I ask for clarification of an issue, for example, “How exactly did this writer achieve distance?” my questions are deflected. Tonight, for example, the poet was using a fable-like technique according to the teacher. So I asked the teacher, what do you mean “fable-like?” The teacher responded, “she [the poet] discussed her reading of fairy tales and fables when she was writing the book. There are certainly reference materials out there. For our purposes here what …” and off the class continued, and my question was never answered.

    I have e-mailed teachers asking for clarification of issues, and I’ve been told, “That’s a great question. Why don’t you bring it up in the chat so that everyone can benefit from the question,” only to get to the chat and have the teacher give a very minimal explanation and say we have to move on.

    Sadly, these are not isolated incidents.

    I also question the school because there’s no focus on telling a complete story. Exercises are limited to two pages, there is NEVER any discussion about character development, NEVER any discussion about plot. When I asked how will we ever learn how to write well-crafted stories, I was told, “You work on that on your own.”

    The idea is, according to the ——– ——–, that if you can’t write a well-written paragraph, what makes you think you can write a story. And, of course, my argument is just because you can craft an emotionally-filled paragraph or two does not mean you’ll be able to write a complete story.

    So while I think the school does have some good points … I find the teachers evasive, especially when confronted with questions they may not have been trained on how to answer. I almost find the program rather cult-like, and I’m really at a crossroads with no idea what to think about this place.

    Have you heard of the ——- ——-? It was founded by Pultizer-Prize winning author ——- —— … I’ve never spoken to the man, but he claims to have founded the school and claims to have invented this technique called the “Persona Narrator,” …. he says it’s a narrator that you invent to tell the story, like an invented storyteller who is NOT the author.

    So when I came across your website, and discovered that you believe that literary fiction is about more than well-written paragraphs, I said to myself, “Thank goodness!”

    Let me know what you think about this school and if there are any alternatives. (FYI: I’m an extremely avid reader – love Tolstoy, E.M. Forester, Junot Diaz’s short stories, Kazuo Ishiguro’s short stories, I struggle with Toni Morrison, love Doris Lessing, LOVE O. Henry stories [wonderful payoffs for the reader], love Jorge Amado, trying to love Nabokov … just some background on my reading habits.)


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    • This topic was modified 8 years, 4 months ago by admin.
    • This topic was modified 8 years, 4 months ago by William H. Coles.
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