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Bewildering Stories

Online Classes in Writing Experimental Fiction

Tantra Bensko

Finally, a very new type of online writing class is offered, filling a glaring gap.

Online classes are becoming more popular and even recommended as being more effective than in-person classes. Writing classes, including ones for short stories and novels, are a growing trend and are offered through a large number of colleges and programs. But nowhere are any offered in experimental fiction, so I came in to fill that niche.

While I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the forms taught by fiction writing instructors, I suspect there must be writers and aspiring writers who would like some instruction in more innovative explorations. We are taught about Post-modernism in literature classes, but online writing classes generally, as I understand it, go to the core elements of traditional stories of a style written to some degree anyway, as if Post-modernism hadn’t irrevocably changed the face of narrative.

I find the same writing tips online everywhere I look, rehashing things like “show don’t tell,” have a good hook, stay with one point of view and one tense, jump into the action at the beginning, make us care about the characters, create a plot arc that builds with big problems into a resolution, keep a consistent voice and tone, make it believable.

Some of these principles are stale by now, having been said so often, and others are only formulaic for traditional, mainstream, conservative fiction, or genre fiction, but not necessarily for literary works that would find their way into scholarly repute, college classes, progressive magazines, awards for cutting-edge writing, or lists of great books.

Serious literary writing from the time Modernism came onto the scene with WW2 has been primarily made up of the shattering of narrative elements. Time itself is broken and collaged; structure is collapsed; cause and effect can go out the window; the novel can parody itself suddenly; dialogue can be absurdist; and characters can become flattened so we don’t see them as warm humans that we care about in a personal sense at all, or they can be impossible and contradictory; and the whole novel can be self-reflexive, playing on the artifice. The world is being perceived as so shattered and irrational now that literary writers can feel it inaccurate to portray it as being unified, going along in a reliable, cohesive manner full of meaning.

Some narratives can portray the unknowableness of our world by being impossible to understand. They may leave the ending up in the air rather than resolved, to be more true to life. They may mimic our conversations in our own homes, in which different family members may describe the same event with totally different stories about what went on. The novel can be more about its own structure as meaning than about the plot itself.

Mass-marketed novels that find their ways onto the best seller lists, Oprah, and stands at airports or in grocery store aisles most often are written as if they could have been done a hundred years ago, with straightforward storytelling based on drama and earnestness, and narrators who are always human rather than goats or quantum particles or right angles, as you might find for narrators in experimental novels.

But not all writers want that as much as they want literary greatness, adding their voice to the literary dialogue of innovation, and the excitement of creating something unique that readers will find exhilarating themselves not only for the story, but for the way the new concept of what a story is.

I recommend other writing classes online, of course, and feel there is great value in them. Some experimental writers will want to take them first to learn what the rules are they want to break, and when it might not be a good idea to do so. They could then move on to studying with me.

Others might not have the patience or the money to study traditional fiction from the beginning, if they know they want to do something very different from that, especially if they have some background already in thinking about the literature they read.

They could feel frustrated by instructors telling them to write traditional plots or they aren’t writing stories, when they are wanting to write anti-stories, for example. It could turn them away from writing, altogether.

I welcome those students with open arms. You can be you in my classes, write according to your own goals, follow whatever your experimentation goes, while writing within the structure of the assignments based on going beyond the bounds of usual character definition and plot arc.

Studying anything online does take a significant amount of money, and so I am unsure at the point of writing this whether my classes will take off through the online schools I’m offering them through right away. I think anyone who can manage to afford them will feel they have gotten their money’s worth, as the classes are intensive and can free them up to confidently spend a lifetime of writing and thinking outside of the default routine.

The parts of the mind outside the box are delightful, like dreams that are more adventuresome than ordinary life, in which anything can happen. Writing this type of fiction helps solidify and develop those parts of the self, share them with others, and gain a reputation for the eccentric, unique quirkiness so many would love to be rewarded for.

The student signing onto them needs to have enough time to devote to writing three short stories in the course of 6-10 weeks, as well as other writing and reading, and in the 10-week class, responding to the works of other innovative writers sharing the class space with them. However, I know that writing a story is a matter of inspiration, and so even if the stories aren’t completed on the original schedule, fragments can be accepted if necessary. Novel excerpts are also fine.

The 10-week classes through UCLA Extension need 10-15 students in them to proceed. So anyone interested in promoting this class who would like to share information about it is encouraged to do so. The spring semester course starts in April.

You can view the class at Students will get to play with visual imagery, even video if they want, to explore what they want to do with their writing and show their fellow students their goals, and come up with an image of themselves to submit with their stories to magazines.

They will also write creative bios, write literary theory as a kind of tentative manifesto, and literary criticism about Italo Calvino, the epitome of experimental writing. They will watch a video, delve into their subconscious, receive weekly lectures, and all the feedback they want on their stories as they go, from me, and be able to give each other help as well.

Students who want to do as much writing, but with less interaction with other students, and squeeze it all into 6 weeks, can sign up any time through WritersCollege. This class should always be available:

Students may also take the class for 12 weeks for a slightly higher fee, and relax into it more. See my article in their newsletter, which should help understand more about experimental writing.

Any students who sign up will be able to have quotes from their work on my website, which is a source for my classes, and for anyone interested in Experimental Writing, whether it be poetry, non-fiction, movies, or fiction. Students will look at magazines to send work to, and prepare for the submission process. If in the future they want continued help or networking with me, they have it.

Copyright © 2010 by Tantra Bensko

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