Workshop notes for Terrance V. Mc Arthur

TELLING FAMILY STORIES: a presentation by Terrance V. Mc Arthur

FINDING THE STORY

Choose a Memory—Is there something you remember about a special person, place, or time?  It’s a story.  Write it down.

Friends & Family—Ask questions about your family/friends.  Someone may remember what happened better than you do…or they may know the rest of the story.  Get a group together and start digging up the old times.  You may remember what you’ve forgotten…or discover things you wish you didn’t know.

Diaries/Journals/Histories—Did someone write down what happened?  Study their words.  You may learn things you never knew that will surprise you…or finally understand why nobody talks about Uncle Harry.

Attics/Basements/Closets/Drawers—Going through old boxes and files can open your eyes…or fill them with dust…or fill them with tears.

The Donald Davis Method—Fold a paper into pocket-size, and keep it in your pocket. Choose a person, place, time, or event and start thinking about your subject. Write down everything you can remember. When you fill a section, refold the paper and keep writing until you fill it. By then, you’ll have enough for a story.

DEVELOPING THE STORY

Put the Parts in Order—What came first?  How did it all end?  Is there a tie-in to today?

What Is Important?—What parts of the story are needed, and what parts just slow down the narrative?

Why Is It Important?—This is where you think about the purpose of the story.  Does it preserve your family’s history?  Does it explain why your family does something?  Does the story demonstrate values that your family prizes…or traits you want to discourage?  The answers to these questions will help you shape the story.

What’s Missing?—If a part of the story makes people go “Huh,” you may need to give them more information.  Ask others who were involved or do some research at your library to close the gaps in your plot.

If You Can’t Remember It, Make It Up—If none of your sources can supply the missing information, make a guess.  You might be right.  When you tell the story, pause and let them know where you had to fill in the blanks with guesses.

One Size Fits All…Of What?—Once you assemble the story, tighten it.  Add information that makes the story easier to understand.  Tighten it again.

Practice, Practice, Practice…and Practice—Tell it to yourself.  Tell it to a tape recorder.  Tell it to a friend.  Tell it to a dog, cat, horse, or gerbil.  Tell it to a mirror…or a camcorder.  Tell it until you start telling it without thinking about it.

PRESENTING THE STORY

Keep Practicing—You don’t want to forget the story, and you need to be confident when telling it (so you don’t stumble, mumble, or fumble).

Relax—By now, you should know the story.  Think about times you have done something successfully, and remember the attitude you had at that time.

Start Easy—For the first time you perform the story, tell it to a small group of family or friends, people who will be supportive.

Don’t Apologize Before You Start—If you tell people “This isn’t going to be very good,” they’ll believe you.

Don’t Laugh for Me, Storyteller—Let them do the laughing, crying, or gasping.

AND…when you are finished…..

Practice, Practice, Practice—You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?

 

Davis, Donald. Telling Your Own Stories: For Family and Classroom Storytelling, Public Speaking and Personal Journaling. August House, 2005.

Pellowski, Anne. The family storytelling handbook : how to use stories, anecdotes, rhymes, handkerchiefs, paper, and other objects to enrich your family traditions. Macmillan, 1987.

Rosenbluth, Vera. Keeping Family Stories Alive: A Creative Guide To Taping Your Family Life and Lore. Hartley & Marks, 1990 (2nd edition, 1997).
STORY STARTERS for your memories……

My first job was…

My best friend in school was…

I really got in trouble when…

I knew it was love when…

The best Christmas ever was when…

I know it’s a strange habit, but there’s a reason why I…

How I got that nickname…

What I remember most about my father/mother/sibling/grandparents…

My biggest disaster in the kitchen was when…

The first time I saw…

You don’t see these any more, but I had…

That song always makes me cry/laugh/angry because…

When I first tried to…

I was always good at…

I was never good at…

I can’t believe that I used to wear…

If I feel like giving up, I just remember when…

Most people think it’s great, but I never liked…

Most people don’t like it, but I love…

I really got mad when…

I had to laugh when…

It really hurt me when…

The biggest shock in my life was when…

Things can always get worse.  I remember when…

My favorite book was…

I always wanted to meet…

I’m glad I learned how to…

It was hard to decide to…

When you were little, you…