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Telling stories: the novel and beyond

How have writers chosen to tell their stories, and why? What techniques do they use to make us believe in the reality of the worlds they create? If you’re interested in finding out in-depth about how literature works, this module is for you. You'll read gripping stories from across literary history, from Shakespeare to science fiction, from Thomas Hardy to Arundhati Roy, with a particular focus on nineteenth- and twentieth-century novels. This will develop your understanding of key techniques and devices used by writers as you investigate the historical contexts behind their work and discover new ways of understanding literature.

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
2 8 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

There are two parts to the module, one devoted to realism, the other to fantasy. In each, you’ll be reading and studying texts from a variety of periods and in a variety of different forms. This will develop your skills in the analysis of key features such as characterisation, narrative voice, plot structure, imagery, symbolism and verbal style. You'll receive two module books to guide your study and a wealth of online material, including interviews with leading critics and videos of settings used by some of the authors.

Part One – Realism: depicting the world

The first part of the module is all about the following five texts that depict, in diverse ways, the ‘real world’ lived in by their authors. A short introduction will set the scene by discussing past and present ideas about storytelling and realist fiction. You will study the texts in the order listed below.

  • Thomas Hardy’s richly enjoyable Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). The novel is set in Wessex, a beautifully described and fictionalised version of the Dorset in which Hardy grew up.
  • Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country (1913) takes place in a very different world: the high society of early twentieth-century New York. Its central character, the upwardly mobile Undine Spragg, is one of the most intriguing characters in literature. 
  • Ali Smith's Hotel World (2001) will leap you forward into the twenty-first century. You'll explore the background to a mysterious death through the voices of five very different women.
  • Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War (1928) is an absorbing and moving evocation of life as a soldier in the First World War. With this text you'll focus on the use of realist literary devices in a non-fiction narrative.
  • Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize-winning The God of Small Things (1997) is a novel set in twentieth-century southern India. Roy’s attention to the details of the world she is describing and the occasional startling supernatural elements in the book make it the ideal bridge from the realism of part one to the ‘fantastic' writing ;you'll study in part two.

At the end of part one, in a special ‘Book Club’ section, you'll choose a text to study from a shortlist of five, each option similar in some way to one of the five books you have already read. This is your chance to build on your earlier work on the module, to explore your enthusiasms, and to develop skills as an independent learner.

Part Two – The fantastic: creating new worlds

In the second part, you'll study the techniques used in the following selection of works of fantasy literature. These have been written in a range of different periods, and you'll find there is a range of different ways in which ‘fantastic’ stories relate to the real world we live in. You'll also move beyond the novel, studying poetry, a play, short stories and an illustrated book as well as a classic science fiction novel.

  • You'll ground your work on the fantastic by studying one of its most fundamental genres: the fairy tale. You’ll read fairy tales from diverse authors and periods, focusing in particular on the sophisticated retellings of Charles Perrault (1628–1703), the darker work of the Brothers Grimm, the playful and poignant tales of Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875) and the challenging adult reversionings of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (1979). You'll learn new ways of analysing the structure of stories that you'll apply in your work later in this part.
  • The contemporary English poet Simon Armitage provides a modern translation of the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This fantastic narrative tells of the encounter between Gawain, one of King Arthur’s knights, and a mysterious supernatural figure.
  • Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess' Stardust (1999) reimagines the genre of the fairy tale with a hero who crosses the boundary between Victorian England and the magical land of ‘Faerie’. Stardust is a close collaboration between the author (Gaiman) and the illustrator (Vess), and you will study the relationship between its vivid text and action-filled pictures.
  • Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974), an example of a 'fantastic' text employing many realist devices, uses science fiction to work out the implications of complex political ideas.
  • Shakespeare’s captivating play The Tempest (c.1611) is appropriately a story about ends and beginnings, set on an imaginary island inhabited by a magician, his daughter and two mysterious non-human beings.

You will find that some of these set texts engage with difficult topics, including suicide and sexual violence. We appreciate that some students will find it helpful to be aware in advance of material of this kind in specific texts. For this reason, a list of potentially distressing content is provided at the beginning of the module. Contact us if you would like to discuss this further with an advisor in the Student Support Team prior to registering for the module.

You will learn

In addition to exploring the texts and topics detailed above, as you progress through the module, you'll develop skills of close reading and analysis, as well as the ability to think logically and express yourself clearly. You will also increase your proficiency in IT. These are skills highly valued by employers in all sectors.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. Your tutor will use a blend of methods that will include moderated online discussion forums.

We aim to provide online tutorials and recordings of these will typically be made available to students.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.



The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

Future availability

Telling stories – the novel and beyond starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2030.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No examination

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module and builds on the OU level 1 modules Discovering the arts and humanities (A111) and Cultures (A112), or the discontinued modules The arts past and present (AA100) and Voices, texts and material culture (A105). These modules develop skills such as logical thinking, clear expression, essay writing and the ability to select and interpret relevant materials. They also offer an introduction to a range of subjects in the arts and humanities.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

You may find it helpful to read some of the set texts in advance. For the sequence in which you’ll study these texts, see 'What you will study'. If you don’t have time to do this, however, don’t worry: the module materials have been written assuming that you will be reading the set texts for the first time at the same time as studying the module.

In early September, you'll have access to the English Literature Stage 1 to Stage 2 bridging materials and a forum where you can discuss any questions you have with members of the English department and other students. This will help prepare you for Stage 2 English Literature study in general and this module in particular. You'll also have access to the English Literature toolkit, a special OU resource providing you with subject-specific study skills.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2030.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and, therefore, the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 20/07/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of not more than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

You'll be provided with two printed books and have access to the module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assessment guide
  • access to online tutorials and forums.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Wharton, E.: Orgel, S. (ed) The Custom of the Country Oxford World's Classics £8.99 - ISBN 9780199555123
  • Wharton, E.: Orgel, S. (ed) The Age of Innocence Oxford World's Classics £7.99 - ISBN 9780199540013 * This is an A233 'Book club' set book option.
  • Smith, A. Girl Meets Boy Canongate Books £9.99 - ISBN 9781786892478 * This is an A233 'Book club' set book option.
  • Sassoon, S. Memoirs of an Infantry Officer Faber and Faber £9.99 - ISBN 9780571064106 * This is an A233 'Book club' set book option.
  • Hardy, T. Wessex Tales Wordsworth Editions £2.50 - ISBN 9781853262692 * This is an A233 'Book club' set book option.
  • Anand, M.R. Untouchable Penguin £9.99 - ISBN 9780141393605 * This is an A233 'Book club' set book option.
  • Smith, A. Hotel World Penguin £8.99 - ISBN 9780140296792
  • Shakespeare, W.: Orgel, S. (ed) The Tempest Oxford World's Classics £7.99 - ISBN 9780199535903
  • Roy, A. The God of Small Things 4th Estate £8.99 - ISBN 9780006550686
  • Perrault, C.: Betts, C. (trans.) The Complete Fairy Tales Oxford World's Classics £7.99 - ISBN 9780199585809
  • Le Guin, U. The Dispossessed Gollancz £8.99 - ISBN 9781857988826
  • Grimm, J. & Grimm, W.: Crick, J. (trans.) Selected Tales Oxford World's Classics £10.99 - ISBN 9780199555581
  • Hardy, T.: Falck-Yi, S.B. (ed) Far from the Madding Crowd Oxford World's Classics £4.99 - ISBN 9780199537013
  • Gaiman, N. & Vess, C. Stardust DC Comics (Vertigo) £14.99 - ISBN 9781401287849
  • Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber Vintage £8.99 - ISBN 9780099588115
  • Andersen, H.C. Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales: A Selection Oxford World's Classics £7.99 - ISBN 9780199555857
  • Armitage, S. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Faber and Faber £10.99 - ISBN 9780571223282
  • Blunden, E. Undertones of War Penguin £10.99 - ISBN 9780141184364

Note: There are five books marked with an * which are A233 'Book club' set books options. Students should choose and purchase only one of the five books. The 'Book club' choice will be studied during weeks 15-17 of the module. For the sequence in which you will study these texts, see "What you will study".

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A233 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.