Fiction Foundations

The course

Everything you need to call yourself a writer.

Curious about writing fiction, but not sure where to start? Maybe you’re already writing but would like more focus, direction and discipline. 

This six-week online course will help take you from random scribbler to serious writer. You’ll work in a small group of writers with an expert tutor to guide you through the process.

You’ll learn the basics of point of view and character creation, how to produce settings that add atmosphere to your writing, and all the essentials for structuring and plotting stories. We’ll also experiment with a variety of writing prompts to help you generate ideas with potential.

By the end of the course, you’ll have a portfolio of work plus the writing habits and technical skills to take yourself seriously as a writer.

This course prepares you to Jumpstart Your Novel or to Write and Submit a Short Story.

Helen Shipman

Meet your course director

Helen Shipman

Helen has been teaching people to write for 30 years. She has devised and delivered writing courses from adult classes and her graduates are international prizewinners and have published a variety of genres. She is also a short-listed fiction writer herself.

How it works

We give you the theory in the form of videos, podcasts, written lectures and reading extracts. In the case of our live workshops, this includes a live online seminar.

You put it into practice by completing the writing assignments.

You share your work with the small group of fellow writers and the teaching team.

Your tutor and fellow learners read your work and give professional-style feedback on your submission. Giving feedback notes helps to build your skills as an editor - a critical part of the writing process.

You reflect on the exercises with the group and share what you’ve learned.

You use what you learned from the feedback and discussions to review your work and improve it.

Things to know

Fiction Foundations is designed for people starting out or for writers who would like a refresher in key fiction skills, whether you’re working on short stories or a novel.
The course is suitable if you:

  • Enjoy reading fiction and would like to start writing
  • Are a non-fiction writer or use words at work, and would like to explore your creative side
  • Are already writing but could benefit from better writing habits and a more effective routine
  • Want insider info on the craft techniques writers use to create vivid characters and engaging story worlds
  • Need to master the basics of story structure and plotting
  • Enjoy experimenting with new writing prompts and techniques
  • Enjoy the discipline of deadlines and would like to try peer feedback
  • Want to join a friendly and supportive group of learners
  • Can dedicate 5-7 hours per week for the duration of the course
  • No writing experience necessary.

This course allows you to:

  • Start developing the key creative and practical skills all fiction writers need, whatever the genre or form
  • Explore your potential for writing fiction
  • Experiment with creative writing prompts and story-starters
  • Widen your reading as a writer
  • Experience through close-reading how different fiction writers use various craft skills to affect their readers
  • Learn effective ways of using point of view and time, writing character and setting, and developing structure and plotting
  • Develop an understanding of the professional skills writers require (eg discipline, attention to detail, ability to work to deadlines)
  • Increase your professionalism in working with others
  • Practise giving effective feedback to other writers
  • Build greater independence, autonomy and critical judgment as you work on a final assignment.

The course is divided into sessions, released one by one each week.

There’s no need to log on at a set time. You can work through the learning materials whenever suits you, day or night, wherever you are in the world. Just complete the assignments and join forum discussions by the session deadline. 

Our teaching method is based on the science of active learning: you read/listen/watch, try out, share and reflect. It’s a social experience – you become part of a small group, feeding back on each other’s writing to build a supportive bunch of readers you trust. Find out more here.

Session 1: Becoming a Writer – We’ll start by looking at how fiction writers work and how to develop your own creativity and discipline. Experiment with automatic writing and prompt exercises to help build a daily writing practice.

Session 2: Who’s Telling the Story? – Every story needs a narrator, so we’ll look at different viewpoints to understand who’s telling the story. Explore first-person (‘I’), second-person (‘you’) and third-person (‘he/she/they’) narrators, to work out which choices feel right for you.

Session 3: Compelling Characters – Learn the importance of developing memorable characters in fiction, where effective characters come from and how to make them feel believable. Try out some of the most effective techniques writers use to create convincing characters.

Session 4: Setting and Mood – We’ll focus on creating settings that lend atmosphere to your fiction and transport your reader through time and space. You’ll experiment with using your senses, precise observation and visual prompts to create different emotional responses, and write the opening of a story to share with the group.

Session 5: Story Structure – Thinking about beginnings, middles and ends, the different shapes a story can take, and simple ways to develop plot and pace in your writing. You’ll try some flash fiction, then develop a longer piece to share with your fellow writers in the forum.

Session 6: Pull it all Together – Apply the techniques you have learned to write a final longer piece of up to 3,000 words. You might rework a favourite piece you produced in an earlier session into a short story or the beginning of a novel, or write something new. There are writing warm-ups to get the creative juices flowing, practical ways to beat writer’s block, and editing tips to help you meet your final deadline. To round off the course, there’s a live ‘meet the expert’ Q&A Zoom session with a guest author.

Join our alumni community 

After your course ends, you can join our online alumni community – a friendly group of writers supporting each other as they continue to explore and develop their writing. There’s no cost for this. It’s easy to access via the online classroom, where you can:

  • Revisit all your course materials, including tutor notes, feedback, videos, podcasts and forum posts
  • Rejoin your classmates, and continue working together in a private space
  • Meet alumni from other courses to find beta-readers and share work on our critiquing forum
  • Network with other writers working in your genre or area of interest
  • Take part in regular ‘sit and write’ Zoom sessions, to push forward with your work-in progress
  • Join our monthly live alumni events with our expert tutors and industry guests, including agents, editors, publishers, competition and festival organisers, and prizewinning writers

Commission a report on your work
If you’d like to receive a personalised, detailed report on your final piece of writing from your course tutor, this is available at an extra cost. You’ll receive detailed written feedback assessing your ideas and writing, plus advice on what steps to take next.

Taking things further
If you’d like to continue on to another Professional Writing Academy course, please get in touch for more details.

Download our prospectusEnter your email below to download our course prospectus and find out more.

The team

Meet your course team

Helen Shipman

Helen Shipman

Fiction Foundations

Helen has been teaching people to write for 30 years. She has devised and delivered writing courses from adult classes and her graduates are international prizewinners and have published a variety of genres. She is also a short-listed fiction writer herself.

More about Helen Shipman

Mandy Byatt

Mandy Byatt


Mandy Byatt is an award-winning novelist who writes psychological suspense. She started her debut novel Just Another Liar (Avon Books, 2022) on our online Faber Academy Writing a Novel course in 2016. Her work has been shortlisted in the Gransnet/HQ novel competition and Woman & Home short story competition as well as long-listed in the HWA/Sharpe Books Unpublished…

More about Mandy Byatt

Mike Hollows


Dr Mike Hollows is author of the bestselling WW2 historical novel, The German Nurse and a creative writing educator teaching at the University of Cambridge and the University of Chester.


More about Mike Hollows

Start your journey


Earlybird price


(Including taxes)

I’m so grateful that there are audio and visual options for some parts of this course because I struggle to read.

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