Maggie Harris – writing from life

If you ever feel like you don’t have anything to write about you only have to stop and look at yourself. Our lives are immensely rich sources of short stories, glimpses into humanity that reveal something. Creative writing group Save As Writers have been running a comprehensive series of workshops as part of this year’s Canterbury Festival Umbrella. Author Maggie Harris ran a workshop on the theme of writing short stories from our own lives. Many people have a story they want to tell, but the process can be challenging. Here are her top tips for writing from life:

  • You’re writing fiction. There’s no need to be too faithful to the actualities of events if it makes you or someone else uncomfortable, or limits the story in some way. Your duty is to the words on the page.
  • Use a character to say something that you as a narrator might find difficult. The power of dialogue is an amazing tool.
  • Try writing a story with multiple viewpoints, building up a holistic narrative. You don’t have to keep them all, but the process of doing the exercise will allow you to have a richer and deeper narrative. You may be writing about a true event, but shifting the perspective can change the story and alter your understanding of what happened.
  • Don’t be too ambitious. The beauty of a short story is that they are a space to highlight an idea and share a small vignette. Something has to happen, there has to be a shift, but the plot doesn’t have to be complex.
  • When working with word limits you don’t have time for florid description or detailed backstory. Showing not telling is never more important than in a short story. Use place, behaviour and emotion to reveal the background in a subtle way.

Save As Writers is a lively writing group based in Canterbury. They run regular workshopping events, poetry evenings, and book launches. They meet once a month to critique members’ work and hold monthly literary evenings, which also feature an open mic.

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