Mining Personal History to Enrich Our Short Fiction
8 Tuesdays, 8 to 10 p.m.
March 15 to May 3
Open to all
Limited to 12 participants
“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” — Alice Munro, from her Introduction to The Moons of Jupiter
When we write fiction, it seems inevitable that we will, at one point or another, be asked a certain, probing question: How much of that story is true?
Often, we deflect rather than answer, and make some great show of asserting our story is fiction and, therefore, not true. But by this time we are already squirming inside, feeling caught out. But caught out at what? That we have committed some sort of fraud? As if writing fiction from personal experience were cheating, like peeking at the answers we’ve scrawled on the palm of our hand in advance of the test?
In this workshop, seeking out kernels of truth from our own lives will be encouraged. We will embrace personal history for what it is: a fruitful mine for our short fiction. This is not, however, a study in autobiography. Personal experience can be a jumping-off point, the spark that sets our fictional stories in motion. It can also serve as adornment; a place from which to extract vivid details that enhance our fiction, to help our made-up stories feel alive. Yes, sometimes we write about what happened, but we strive to write about what could have happened.
We will explore writing exercises that, through examination of objects, activities, places, and time, can help us draw from our personal experiences and observations for the enrichment of our stories. We will also workshop one another’s short fiction in a respectful and supportive environment.
Recommended reading: Prior to our first session, please read “The Turkey Season” by Alice Munro, from her short story collection The Moons of Jupiter. The story can also be found online with a Google search, on the website of The New Yorker.
Mark Paterson is the author of the short story collections Dreamers and Misfits of Montclair, A Finely Tuned Apathy Machine, and Other People’s Showers, all from Exile Editions. His work has won the 3Macs carte blanche Prize, Geist magazine’s Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest, and the Atwater Library’s 150 Words for 150 Years contest. In 2020, his story “To Disappear Around Here” was runner-up for The Puritan’s Thomas Morton Prize.