What is a Story? Don’t Worry, Claire Keegan Answers

During my residency in Dublin with Carlow’s MFA Program, I had the pleasure of meeting Irish short fiction author, Claire Keegan.  She presented the most unique perspective on writing for her fiction workshop, and I fervently wrote down every word.

Claire Keegan-Irish short story author

She began the workshop by asking the students what should be the easiest question to answer: what is a story? I was speechless. I thought I knew what a story is enough to answer, but I reluctantly stayed silent.

Other people suggested plausible answers, but none were acceptable for our fiery guest speaker. She graciously provided her vision to us. Although her opinion isn’t the only one, the strength behind the words moved me.

She passionately described writing stories as a temporal art. You cannot live in the past while writing. One human truth is that we are irreversibly moving forward into the future, and our writing should match that.  If you think visually of the incision, especially for a short story, you can understand where the story can begin. For Keegan, a story is an incision in time in which the author shows the character in a situation, where they desire something they don’t have. Conceptually, her answer has so many good points, and I attentively listened to her every word because it made perfect sense.

Our passionate speaker proceeded with what perspective she believed should be used in a story. What other perspective than that of the character?! By looking through the eyes of the character, the reader understands everything he/she is experiencing. Keegan explained very simply that thinking about your story through your character allows you to know what their desires are and to write about that.

Now onto the most important part of any story–DESIRE! What every human being has bubbling inside them, desire is the fuel for anything we do. Naturally, it should be the driving force for the character in your story. As an author, how do you know what desires to choose for your character?

Well, Keegan has the answer. “Desires comes from what we have seen.” Seems like common sense for us to want what we have seen, but it’s difficult to change  our way of writing to accommodate her strict guidelines. Keegan insisted that giving pictures to the reader will help guide them through the incision in time that you have decided to write about.  She said, “Readers will follow your pictures as long as you provide them. Give them the time, place, and person so they know who/what to follow.”

Her sense of character and time presented the students with an opportunity to realize so much more about our work. After the workshop, we had the pleasure to hear Keegan read from her long short story, “Fosters,” and all of the advise she had given was shown in her writing. She effectively painted a series of pictures of a young girl in a specific time, and kept my attention throughout the entire reading. There was never a moment in her reading that I was not captivated by Keegan.

A story for me is no longer something abstract, and difficult to describe. Now, I have a vision in my head of what a story can be if I use the tools that Keegan provided at the workshop.  I hope some of her advice can help you with your writing as it has with mine, and I encourage you to look up Claire Keegan’s work. It is as powerful and fierce as the author.

Happy reading and writing!!


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