The Howdunnit Machine
A new type of online novel writing course
The Howdunnit Machine teaches you to write your novel, the way a pilot learns to fly: in a simulator. It’s a novel simulator, the first of its kind. The idea derives, in part, from my experience over the past six years teaching Oxford University’s online ‘Writing Fiction’ course. (A course which I conceived and wrote. You can find out more about it here.)
And in part it was inspired by the experience I acquired during my wilderness years trying to get published. During that time I started and abandoned many writing projects. Eventually, one day, I completed one. It was not a success, but the mere act of completion instilled in me an intuitive understanding of the task that was startling, almost an epiphany. Suddenly, I knew what it was I was supposed to be doing.
This course aims to evoke a similar almost epiphany.
As a Howdunnonaut you are invited to join a password-protected online ‘school house’. The activity takes place on forums inside this ‘school’, and generally you respond to simple questions that prompt, coax and draw you through the process. Some questions require a few sentences by way of answer, and others require you to write a short passage.
If you’ve done an online course before you will be familiar with the set-up. if you haven’t, don’t worry, it’s incredibly simple.
If you are interested, download the Prospectus
The course costs £175 for the ten weeks, which works out at about the price of a cappuccino a day.
Try my free ten part e-course
Someone once said, writing is easy, you just sit down at the typewriter and open a vein. Of course anyone who has tried it knows it’s much harder than that. I wrote my first novel the way a blind man finds his way out of a forest. That can work, but it takes a long time and you bump into a lot of trees along the way. What I needed was a method. With a method you always know what to do next. During the course of my next seven novels I developed one.
This course contains a condensed, down-and-dirty version of it. It comes in ten email lessons, spread over ten days, each containing what I hope is a pithy and succinct digest intended to give you an overview of the task in hand. And an understanding of where to dig deeper if you want to take it further.
Outline of the course
2. Meet the Homunculus of Doubt
There are probably more unfinished novels in the world than stars in the Milky Way. So before we get started we need to spend some time in mental boot camp.
3. Practical Enchantment
The course starts by asking a question that surprisingly few writers ask, namely, What is reading? Once you understand the specific nature of the pleasure readers seek, all else follows. Clue: it’s a trance-like state sometimes called the Fictive Dream
We can think of the fictive dream as a temporary theatre in the mind. In which case, words are the wood and paint with which we construct the scenery. In order to do it properly, you need plenty of Thisness.
5. It’s about a guy/gal who…
Thus begins the classic Hollywood elevator pitch. All stories are about someone who tries to do something and finds that the author won’t let him.
6. I Was So Enthralled I Forgot To Chop Off Her Head.
The Sultan adopts the strange new policy of sleeping only with virgins then beheading them in the morning. If this ever happens to you, this lesson on storytelling – courtesy Scheherazade – could save your life.
7. And then everything went pear-shaped
Life doesn’t have to make sense, but fiction does. So we fashion it into a plot. There are three key components. Causality, conflict and things going pear-shaped.
8. ‘Pass me that tray of noses, Igor!’
How to invent people and make them tick.
9. Hook me
We end at your first page, far and away the most important part of your manuscript. If you get it wrong, none of the rest will get read.
10. Mystery Culminatory Lesson
The Secret of Writing condensed into One Word
Important note for Gmail subscribers
Sometime last year Google made a change to Gmail that a lot of people are unaware of. They created new categories, called Social, Promotions and Updates. You didn’t ask them to do this but they did it anyway. Like your mum making some coloured boxes to put your socks in without telling you. So you can’t find them any more. You may not even know you have these new folders, but a lot of your emails now get automatically put into them, rather than your inbox. If you subscribe to this course, and don’t receive the lessons, check in your ‘Promotions’ folder. It’s located below the Spam and Trash folders, and you may have to hunt for it. Who knows, you might find all sorts of interesting stuff there, including this course.