Everyday a new story comes to life in your house, on your street and in your neighborhood. Stories can be two lines. They can be 200 words…or longer. The best part of telling your own story is that you get to choose its length, the details to include, how much is fact and how much is embellished to make the story into a tale. Capturing family stories can become the glue that bonds family together. And you don’t need to be a hero, famous or the life of the party to be worthy of words.
Where do you begin?
You might also want to get a supply of magazines or newspapers for neighbors to cut up.
After people settle in, you can start with a question to introduce everyone, such as how long have you been in the neighborhood?
Crafting the Story
Crafting a story involves a few simple steps. Step One: Identify the center of your first story: All stories spring from a place, a person, an object or an issue or challenge. Often stories combine all elements. Only one can be the basis of the story.
I created a memory book about my grandmother based on the foods she made, purchased and served. I develop a series of single paragraph stories and added a representative photo from the Internet to each story. Her plastic candy dispenser was the center of attention for all the grandchildren and great grandchildren. I loved her strudel and refused to eat the chopped liver everyone else craved.
Step Two. Brainstorm the details.
Help participants by brainstorming ideas: Their first home and the traditions that began there. What were the stories that happened in the kitchen? Were there kitchen disasters? Stories told around the table? Was there an interesting story concerning the birth of a child, a series of celebratory stories or a day in the life of a challenging home improvement project.
What inspired you about Grandma Mary? What gifts did she give you? What did she cook? Describe what she wore. Did she have a favorite perfume? At this stage, words and phrases are designed to trigger memories. Anyone can write the full story if they feel the urge to write and words flow. If not, keep brainstorming until you have written down every idea you can think of related to your topic.
Some people may not finish their story within the time frame of the workshop. That is a reason to reconvene again to keep those stories flowing. Or encourage people to select a topic that they can finish in a day.
This short story was the beginning of my grandmother’s memory book. I kept adding to it until it felt complete. My grandmother made batch after batch of strudel and packed it in five pound coffee cans to give to neighbors, her mail carrier and every doctor she saw all year long. She and my grandfather were always home in time to watch their favorite television daytime serial.
Step Three: Format. With ideas written, the next step is identifying how to format the story. How many words are enough or too much is the next question. Length is determined by the value that detail brings into the story to keep it interesting and tell the full tale. A poem or a letter is long enough if it captures the essence of a person. A chapter by chapter account may be your best format if you are looking at milestones in a person’s life or to describe their different roles in life: teacher, traveler, mother, wife, community leader, volunteer, and many more.
Stories do not always need a beginning, middle and an end. Poems, cards, letters, miniature books and journals, quick anecdotes, one photo or a series of photos combined with descriptive captions, or even carefully preserved mementos with narrative describing the meaning or the adventure behind the item are all excellent “containers” for stories.
Step Four: Write the story. Make the book. This is where you sit down with notes, photos, memorabilia, the dates, places and the smallest details to finish writing your story project. Even short anecdotes or quotes tell the tale and spark cherished memories.