1. Understand story anatomy
The task of the storyteller is to flesh out those details. If you recall Grandma’s kitchen or summers at the shore, dig deeper into your memory. Why are these memories strong? What happened there? How did you feel? How did you change? When you start answering questions such as these, you can create life stories that inspire and entertain.
The following excerpt from my grandmother’s memoirs, though short, tells a complete and charming story.
2. Stick to a single storyline
3. Use your real voice
For me, the magic of my grandmother’s story about the pig is that when I read it, I can hear her voice. She wrote the story just as she would have spoken it. It includes her favorite turns of phrase; it isn’t too formal or stilted.
4. Start in the right place
Every story has a timeline, but that doesn’t mean we have to tell events in order. Professional writers often end up cutting or moving the first sentences, paragraphs or even chapters of their stories. They find that the background, or “backstory,” doesn’t have to come first to get readers interested. In fact, too much background can be boring.
Don’t sweat it if you don’t have a murder-and-mayhem opening. In most stories, the drama is subtle. Consider starting with a moment of irony or surprise:
Try telling the story to a captive (and forgiving) audience. When your listeners lean forward in their seats and start really paying attention, take note—their reaction means they’re riveted. Try starting your tale at that point.
5. Include all the juicy details
6. Make your point
Your point doesn’t have to be a sweeping moral truth, but you need to have a reason for telling the story. What did you learn? How did you grow or change, physically or mentally? How did you come to see the world differently?
Some would-be storytellers don’t like to get all flowery about their feelings, and that’s OK. The more simply you state your emotions, the better. If you felt sad, betrayed, or shocked, just say so: “I was shocked.” Just make sure your listeners know why from the surrounding narrative.
• How to Write the Story of Your Life by Frank P. Thomas (Writer’s Digest Books)
• Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History by Linda Spence (Swallow Press)
• Writing From Within: A Guide to Creativity and Life Story Writing by Bernard Selling (Hunter House)
• Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach with Kristen Keckler (Writer’s Digest Books)
• Writing the Stories of Your Life by Elsa McKeithan (Trafford Publishing)
• You Don’t Have to be Famous by Steve Zousmer (Writer’s Digest Books)