Sharing Stories

One of the loves of my life--my dog!


By Ariele M. Huff

Choose a Topic--like Mom’s sense of humor or Dad’s car repair mistakes, OR an event, OR a person. This choice helps determine the structure you’ll follow.

Choose a Focus--How many of Mom’s funny stories should you share in a single piece? Maybe an abbreviated list of them to demonstrate her humor. Maybe three about housework. Maybe only one really good one. Narrowing the topic to a particular focus keeps readers engaged and helps limit the scope of the story. You can tell more about Mom’s humor in another short piece, such as about her ideas on packing for a trip or how to cure the common cold.

Select the Scope of your piece--Scope is fitting the words in a piece to a good length. A good length for personal experience stories is 250 to 500 words. These are readable in a short period of time and keeping them briefer avoids rambling from one story to the next and adding excess words. If Mom was funny at her uncle’s funeral, that’s a story. How her uncle died is another story, as is how she recovered from his loss by staying upbeat—unless you can say either of those in a single sentence as part of the backstory or conclusion.

Follow a Pattern of telling:

1) Circular—Start with a premise, show it, then conclude by showing how your piece demonstrates your premise. This method is best for topics. For example: My experiences with marriage (three) has shown me that “soul mates” can come in all forms. My first husband and I learned about buying a house, having a baby, and struggling financially. We were deeply in love. When he passed, I lost someone unique and important to me. My second husband and I traveled and built careers together while learning how to raise our blended family. We were just as deeply in love, and when he passed, I lost someone who could never be replaced by anyone else. My third husband and I have been together 28 years, learning about house maintenance, grandchildren, and how to keep our careers perking. We are deeply in love. He’s eleven years younger than I am, and that’s one learning that has come from my marriages to three uniquely special men.

2) Linear—Follow a chronological path. This is best for events. Often this will include some preparation for the wedding/party/celebration/occurrence/occasion as well as what happened afterwards. Beginning, middle, end.

3) Elliptical—Like the first choice, start with a basic message you’d like to give about the person or couple, then use a chronological path to show that message unfolding. For instance: My neighbors Ernie and Vivian were like another pair of parents to my husband and me—generous and friendly, transcending any stories about problems with neighbors we’d ever heard. When we first moved in, they were right at the fence, offering help and fresh pears from their tree. Over the years, we received more pears, blackberries, jokes, gardening advice, holiday visits, and organ music played by Vivian to cheer our days. After she died, Ernie continued for some years in the house—still pleasant, considerate of our privacy, and jolly when we wanted company. When he moved to a retirement facility—22 years after we’d met him, he left us with an abiding belief that neighbors can be an important and positive part of our lives. What a gift to give to us, the newlyweds next door!

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