Tag Archives: Claire Keegan

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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Oh Dublin, How I Love Thee!

After 11 glorious days in Dublin, Ireland, I have returned home with an overflow of ideas and knowledge. What I had hoped to be a disaster-free trip, turned into so much more.

The trip began when I left my cozy, little apartment in Pittsburgh. It truly became an adventure when I finally sat on an airplane for the first time. While friends and family attempted to prepare me for the first trip hundreds of feet in the air, nothing compared to how it actually felt.  The adrenaline rush is akin to riding a roller coaster–only better! And the best part of the ride–the descent through the layers of clouds back to ground.

Once I arrived in Ireland, there was a new world to explore, and I was ecstatic to begin.

The beautiful old architecture that makes Trinity College so amazing to visit

We arrived at Trinity College in the unusual heat of an Irish summer day, and it was beautiful! The feeling you get when you walk down the cobblestone paths (besides exhaustion if you’re dragging a suitcase) is utter enjoyment knowing that Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde have walked on the same ground at one point.  The only disappointment of the campus is that the internet cost 15 euro for a guest, there is a ginormous walk to the computer labs, and my room was on the third floor (requiring me to walk up 8 flights of stairs).  The accommodations were perfect for an 11 day stay including the best shower and  cleaning services every day.

Now that I have established the setting for my stay in Dublin, let me tell you about the classes. Featuring some of the biggest names in Irish writing, the amazing MFA program allowed the students to sit and talk with the following authors/poets:

Edna O’Brien, Anne Enright, Hugo Hamilton, Claire Keegan, Kevin Barry, James Heaney, Paula Meehan, Kevin Power, Brandon Barrington, Harry Clifton, Gerald Dawe, Adrian Frazier, Sean Hardie, Brian Leyden, Molly McCloskey, Mary O’Donnell, Michael O’Loughlin

One of the most astounding qualities of this program is the ability for the staff and mentors to provide the best possible experience for those 11 days. I was swept away by the mystical quality of the speakers each and every day. Not only did I re-discover the passion for my writing, but I found the discipline I had been longing for since I began the program. With the help of Claire Keegan, Hugo Hamilton, and my mentor, Evelyn Conlon, I was able to grasp my purpose as a writer, and lock it safely within myself.

The amount of knowledge that has been stored in my mind hasn’t even been processed yet, but I can tell my writing has already changed in the short time I have been on my trip to Ireland.

The great view of the ocean from Dalkey!

It is from the experiences within the walls of Trinity College and in the streets of Dublin itself that I shall grow as a fiction writer. I will be coming out with more installments of what I have learned as well as sharing the pieces I have written since I left. Professors and professions sometimes say that you should write what you know. I will leave you with a piece of genius I learned  from Claire Keegan: writing what you don’t know is more exciting, and it allows you to truly understand how a character lives if you find out how the story will end with them. So, be prepared for the next few weeks because I will be dumping the mountains of insightful quotes and tips about writing I have learned onto your lap for you to learn as much as I have in the last two weeks.

Happy writing/reading! Cheers!

The bell tower of Trinity

The Sniffy Liffey!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Garden of Remembrance

You have to be told which way to look. Trust me when I say..it was needed! I’m almost going to miss looking down to see where the traffic is coming from

Amy and Rory’s Door!! Minus the sign on the top of the door

 

 

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