Writing What You Know
Mark McNay

Mark McNay is an award-winning novelist and short fiction writer, who has taught at the University of East Anglia and Anglia Ruskin University. He joins other expert tutors from UEA for our Creative Writing Online programme.

Below, Mark offers an exercise on how to structure an event from your life into a gripping narrative.


Much of my writing is based on real life situations. My stories do not, however, simply recount what happened. The events have been re-ordered and fictionalised, and patched together in a way that suits the needs of the particular story in which they appear.

I have also written of things beyond my immediate experience, but even that work is informed by what I know of people and how they interact. I know what it is like to be in love; to have my heart broken; to be desperate; to grieve; to risk; to win and lose; to watch a loved one do something dangerous and be powerless to stop them.

Everyone has had experiences that could be wrought into stories

Everyone has had experiences that could be wrought into stories. Perhaps you have already thought of writing one up. If you would like to try, the following exercise may help you structure an event from your life into a readable and interesting story. Remember that you also have knowledge of how people feel and interact.

Think of a time in your life when you – or someone close to you – was in danger. You may have nearly crashed your car. You may have watched a child stumble at the edge of a pier. 

Begin the story as close to the incident as possible. Write the events down exactly as they happened. But, make it into a fiction by extending the reality. Make the dangerous thing actually happen.

When you have finished your story you may find that you would like to write some more. Perhaps you should consider joining one of our courses. It will help you reach inside and find the stories that live within you. It will also help you present these stories in ways that make them readable and interesting.

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