Online course: Creative Writing: The Craft of Setting and Description (part of the Long term online programme Creative Writing)

Dates: any time

Duration: 7 hours

Rating: 4.7 / 5.0 out of 1145 ratings (see top rating courses here)

Participating countries: anyone can apply

Apply: Here

Organizer: Wesleyan University at Coursera


  • FREE
  • $49 with sharable certificate

Creative Writing: The Craft of Setting and Description

In this course aspiring writers will be introduced to perhaps the most elemental and often the most challenging element of story: plot. We will learn what keeps it moving, how it manipulates our feelings, expectations, and desires. We will examine the choices storytellers make to snag our imaginations, drag them into a fictional world, and keep them there. We will learn how to outline and structure a plot, discuss narrative arc, pacing and reversals and reveal the inevitable surprise: connecting the beginning, middle and end.


WEEK 1 Persuasive Settings: Why Description Matters

Writing a great short story is like conveying a dream. As we will see from studying one famous master, a “persuasive” setting is necessary in order to build mood, character, and even plot.

Why Do We Write?
The Power of Persuasion
Moving Through Time and Space
Nothing Can Happen Nowhere
Shop Talk with Brando Skyhorse
Feedback Expectations for the Specialization
Assignment Overview: Slow-Motion Moment
“The Power of Persuasion” by Mario Vargas Llosa
“The Odour of Chrysanthemums” by D.H. Lawrence
A Note on Assignments
Promo Codes

WEEK 2 If You Build It, They Will Come

Pack your fiction with “vitamin-rich” detail. Looking at the work of both masters and students, we will discuss how funny, meaningful, and powerful details can be.

What Is Significant Detail?
“Things That Suck”
Shop Talk with Salvatore Scibona
Assignment Overview: Habitual Ritual
Text of “How to Write About Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina
“How to Become a Writer” by Lorrie Moore
“Forever Overhead” by David Foster Wallace

WEEK 3 Credibility and Research

Create settings both familiar and unfamiliar to you, while avoiding common missteps. You will be guided through several meditation exercises as you practice “imaginative research”.

Three Phases of Research
Meditation Exercise
Shop Talk with Amy Bloom
Assignment Overview: Strange Lands

WEEK 4: Realities

Setting and description works in realist and non-realist fiction, as well as across literary genres. Consider how to write about your own “primal landscape”.

Looking at a Student Example
What Is Genre? (including Shop Talk with Amy Bloom on Noir Fiction)
Visiting Writer: Historical Fiction with Valerie Martin
Assignment Overview: Primal Landscapes