Would you like to leave a legacy behind?
Do you want to know how to tell your story?
Want to learn some storytelling skills that can help you tell your story?
What Is a Story?
If you want to know how to tell your personal story, you’ve come to the right place. But first, what is storytelling? This may seem like a question with a clear answer, but there is more here than just the obvious. After all, much has been written on the subject. And many authors far and wide—and since the beginning of time—have pontificated on both the purpose and art of good storytelling. Steven Spielberg once said, “People have forgotten how to tell a story.”
To begin, storytelling is our oldest form of communication—and probably the most powerful as well. In its most basic form, a story has to have narrative structure: a beginning, a middle, and an end. But a story is more than just that. It must have a chain of events. And it must arrive somewhere, whether it’s a physical destination or through a mental or emotional crossroads.
A story will typically have a main character (and several other characters) that it follows through a series of events, which cause the main character to change in a fundamental way. In essence, every story works something like this:
I did this. Then I did this. Then this happened.
As a story begins to take shape, another thing happens: meaning will rise to the surface. Meaning is the basic purpose of a story—why it was so important to tell the story to others. The meaning should be somewhat universal (in other words, a theme that is understood by all), though it doesn’t have to be interpreted the same way by every person.
What Is Storytelling?
Storytelling is a method applied by authors or storytellers using words and actions, such as physical movement, gestures, and vocalization that presents a narrative of events. The story can be fact or fiction, real or imagined—and it must be interactive by engaging the reader’s or listener’s active imagination. The reader or listener is allowed to witness events and make their own interpretations and judgements, therefore becoming a co-creator of the story as well.
Storytelling doesn’t have to be all words. Forms of storytelling can be combined with other art forms to create an enhanced effect.
- Senses: vision, taste, touch, smell, sight
- And more!
In order to engage the listener, storytelling requires the ability to tell a story with just the right emotion, description, and details… not too much and not too little. It’s important not to cloud a story with too much description or details; use only what’s necessary and nothing more. And what’s best is that good storytelling doesn’t have to take place on a page. Storytelling can be spoken, visual, religious, performed or simply take place from one person to another across the kitchen table.
By allowing the reader, listener or viewer to get inside a character’s head, they are able to build empathy and make an emotional connection—even with an antagonist (the main character’s ‘enemy’).
The Importance of Storytelling
As human beings, personal stories connect us. Stories create community through common bonds, emphasizing shared virtues, conflict overcome, and victory achieved. Storytelling brought early mankind together, and it still brings us together today.
Great storytelling connects our past, present, and future. It is deeply ingrained in our culture. Since humans first walked the earth, we have shared tales. Thousands of years before language existed, prehistoric humans drew pictures on cave walls to depict scenes from their lives: ideas, struggles, defeats, and victories. We are drawn to stories with relatable characters and relatable experiences.
As humans, we need stories for many reasons.
- To gain empathy: emotionally feel what someone else feels, experience feelings we haven't, and to live another's pain, joy, heartache, love, etc.
- To experience someone else going through emotions we have felt in order to not feel alone and to reaffirm our own humanity
- To see ourselves within a story (mirror)
- To imagine ourselves as someone different than who we are
- To find friendship or love in a character or story
- To learn a lesson
- To purge ourselves of excess emotion (fear, worry, shame, etc.)
- To record history
- To teach morals and principles
- To distract ourselves from reality, if only for a short time
- To entertain
- To teach/educate
- To heal
- To entice
- To provoke
- To incite
- To stimulate knowledge and curiosity
- To inspire
- To predict
- To shape and change social ideas and prejudices
- To provide meaning to our everyday lives
- To teach a religious doctrine
- To punish
- To frighten
- To show beauty
- And more!
Storytelling also provides a safe environment to experiment with storytelling techniques. The power of great storytelling allows the reader to be transported beyond their own imagination and into a fictional or real world that they have never experienced or thought of. Personal stories give context and provide meaning to chaos and uses values that allow us to hold up a mirror to ourselves and reflect.
Why Your Story Matters
The short answer—and the only answer—is YES! Your personal story matters. Experiences matter. Knowledge matters. And relationships matter. But of all the billions of people on this planet, Why is your story important?
No one has lived your life except for you. You have your own unique experiences, thoughts, wishes, hopes, dreams, successes, failures, accomplishments, regrets, lessons, and more. No one has learned what you have in the exact way that you have and under the exact circumstances that you have.
We are all still learning and traversing through our personal experiences. And because you have such a unique perspective on the world, you have something of value to convey to others. For it is only in the awakening of our own truth in light of someone else’s truth that we are allowed to learn and grow as a member of the human race during our time on planet Earth.
Before You Start Writing Your Story
You may be excited to start writing your story. If you’re feeling inspired, that’s great! First, we have a few things you may want to consider before you start putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
Know Your Audience: Take time to think about the audience for your story. Is it your immediate family? Is it for your friends as well? Your descendants? The local community? Or do you have a more national or global audience in mind? There are no right or wrong answers. You can choose any audience that you think will be interested in knowing your story. Once you know your audience, then you can write your story to them. Think about what would be interesting, inspirational or motivating to your audience. How would you keep their attention? Then write to that need.
Set the Scene: Next, think about your writing process. Is there a certain time of day that you feel more energized and alert? You may want to plan to write during that time each day. Do you have a favorite chair, a good writing spot, a window you love looking out? Whatever makes you comfortable and happy, surround yourself with those things so that you set the stage for a successful writing session.
Start Where You Want: You are free to start writing your story wherever you want. You can start at the beginning, in the middle or at the end. It’s more important to write first, then organize later. Some people prefer to write freely with whatever comes to mind. Others do well using a prepared outline to help keep them on the important elements of the story. No matter which way you prefer to write, it is still beneficial to start with a plan—whether it’s a fully detailed outline or a brief timeline of your life.
Decide on a Method: Now that you’ve got a story to tell, you’ll want to decide how you’d like to tell it. Maybe you’re a writer at heart, so it feels more natural to pen your story. And although writing may be one of the oldest forms of expression, there are many other great ways to record your story. Here are a few storytelling mediums and digital mediums to consider.
- Create an audio recording of you telling your story once you have it written. You can choose to speak more freely, though you should still use an outline to help keep you on track with the flow of your story. An oral story will help you convey your story like no other.
- Use a photobook, or pictorial representation of your story. Collect photographs, brochures, postcards, and other memorabilia that help represent your story. You many want to look for newspaper clippings, magazine stories, and more. Supplement this content of your life with written narration so that family and friends will know how to connect these artifacts with your individual story.
- Make a video recording of yourself telling your story. You can have someone videotape you, or you can set up a video camera on a tripod and use a remote to stop and start the camera. Be sure to have props and other important items at hand that will help tell your story in a visual way. Once your video is complete, you can edit it to add a title and other visual information as well as any desired special effects.
- Make a slide show to tell the story of your life. If you’re not comfortable with continuous video footage, you can create what is essentially a photo album in video format. Just like the video recording, you’ll still want to add written information on each screen (names, dates, place, events, facts, interesting stories, etc.).
Balance Your Story with the Good and the Bad
As humans, when we sit down to write our story, we tend to want to stick to all of the good things about our life: our accomplishments, our successes, our major milestones, the great times, places visited, and more. The problem is that only telling the good and wonderful things about your life is no different than delivering a highlights reel or your social media feed. Sticking to all of the good stories doesn’t provide any real or compelling wisdom. It’s just the nice stuff, or the fluff.
The real learning, knowledge, experience, and growth that takes place in our lives happens during the difficult times—the days we might rather forget. When we are challenged to go through something new and scary or something that makes us nervous, anxious, afraid, and unsure, we learn and grow beyond any capacity we once thought possible.
In essence, if you just stick with the good stuff, you inevitably end up creating a boring story… something that will get tucked away at the bottom of a sock drawer. But throw in some drama, an agonizing difficulty or even (Gasp!) an embarrassing faux pas or troubling situation… now you’ve got a story worth reading. You’ve got a story with three-dimensional, real human characters with problems and struggles that most people can relate to on some level.
Think about the best stories you’ve ever read. Were they all happy go lucky? Nope. Surely something awful happened… something utterly so terrible that the main character never thought they’d get through it. But they did. And they came out on the other end a better person for having experienced it. This is the story you want to write. And this is the story that people want to read.
So, what were your personal struggles, painful moments, difficulties, embarrassments, and mistakes? These were the turning points in your life and the events that made you who you are today. Write about those times. Yes, and write about the joyful, good times too.
You’re Not Done Yet
Ok, you’ve written your story. You’ve organized it. And it’s neatly typed on your computer screen (or other presentation format). But you’re not done yet.
No good story has ever been written well with a first draft. A first draft is just that... a practice copy. Now that you’ve written your whole story, it’s time to go through it again… perhaps twice, three times or more—however many passes it takes to get your story right. This is the time when you dig deep and polish your story. Check facts. Make sure that names, dates, times, and places are all accurate. Is there a different word you can choose here and there that will better describe a moment? If your story happens alongside historical events, make sure that everything coincides properly. You want to be truthful in every aspect of sharing your storytelling because you want your experience to be told as authentically as possible.
Your Story Is Complete. Now What?
When you story is complete (that is, revised for the final time), you can decide where, when, and how you’d like to share it with your audience. Do you want to share it while you are still alive? Or do you want to leave it as a gift after your departure? Again, there are no right or wrong answers. It’s completely up to your individual preference. Sharing your story before you pass away will give you more reasons and ways to connect with your loved ones while you are still here. And it gives them the gift of an opportunity to know you better as well. If you are a more private person (or if you have other reasons), then you may certainly hold onto your completed story until later. (This will also give you the chance to continue adding to your story.)
Making Sure Your Story Lives On
Now that you’ve put so much effort into storytelling and recording the story of your life, how do you make sure that your story lives on beyond your years? If you did your homework before writing your story, then your life story should be fun, interesting, emotional, and inspiring. So, if your story has plenty of substance, you’ll want to be sure it’s not forgotten. We suggest one or more of the following options to ensure your story has staying power.
- Provide a copy of your story to all close family members and friends.
- Post your story on social media.
- Upload your story to an online resource, such as Lastly.com, so that your friends, family, and descendants can view and interact with your story any time of day or night and in the privacy of their home. Always be sure to allow at least one or two people access to your online account. If you became unable to manage your account, they could help continue your legacy in good faith.
- Keep a copy of your story for safekeeping in a safe deposit box or other place. Be sure that at least two people know where it is and can access it if necessary.
Your story is yours and yours alone to tell. We wish you all the best in your storytelling efforts. Sharing your story is important. So, let’s hear it!