Monday, 22 July 2013 17:46

So Many Stories, and All The Time in the World

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family stories storytellingWhenever I speak at writing or blogging events, my subject is almost always "Narrative Arc and the Writer's Voice."  I love helping writers tell the story they want to tell, and giving permission to just go for it to anyone hoping to write.

In the coming days, I'm going to lay out a very basic tutorial in storytelling.  Make no mistake, however: there are dozens of ways to tell a story.  This is just one framework to use.


Decide What Story You're Telling


This may seem obvious, but often a story is really multiple stories, with multiple protagonists and antagonists, and multiple endings.

One evening, after a six-hour drive, my son became car-sick just as we pulled into the driveway of our destination.  We had arrived, but he couldn't contain his nausea one second longer!  As if that weren't enough, he vomited on the one person in the car who was not a member of the family.  That's right; he threw up on my son's friend, Tim.

Seems like a pretty simple (if not disgusting) story, right?  But everyone in that car experienced it differently.  There were seven of us, plus the parents of the victim, who came out to greet their son only to find him, er, somewhat befouled.  This means there were at least nine different ways to tell that story.  And nine different endings.

Tim, while taking the initial brunt of the assault, was able to walk away from the car, clean up, and essentially be finished with the experience.  His mother, however, had to decide what to do with his clothes and the towels we'd borrowed to clean out our car.

The rest of us were left in the car for a week of traveling.  I won't go into detail, but suffice to say, we all had a story to tell.  Tim's mother's story might start, "I was just heading to bed, when the doorbell rang.  There stood DeNae, apologizing for what I was about to see."  That's a completely different version of the story than what Jacob, the sick kid, would tell.  Or David, Tim's embarrassed and grossed out friend.

family stories storytellingSo in preparing to write your story, make sure you know what story you're telling.  Choose your main characters.  Outline a few essential details, including the who, what, where, when, how, and why of your story.  Get your chronology straight.  And decide where you think the story will end.  (Hint: One of the joys of writing is having a story take you some place you didn't expect, so don't be surprised it if ends diferently than you anticipate.)

Next time, we'll talk about structure.  And soon I'll introduce you to a favorite feature of mine: Write Words Weekends.  Happy writing!

Is there a favorite family story you want to share?  Start getting those details down on paper! (Our Chat Cards can help you find a place to start)

Last modified on Thursday, 01 August 2013 14:13
DeNae Handy

DeNae Handy is a writer, blogger, storyteller, and editor, and is a columnist for Meridian Magazine.  She is a popular speaker at conferences throughout the country, where she enjoys helping participants become better, more effective writers.  DeNae believes that everyone has a story to tell, and that with a little encouragement even the simplest stories can be brought to life. 

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