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Family Story: Revising and Developing the Family Story

Below are some features and characteristics of a family story (a narrative) that will help you improve your own story.

  1. Having a clear "Central Image"
    Every story is about something that "happens." You should be clear what ONE MAIN THING happens that this story is about. I like to have you think visually about your story. Imagine that you are going to publish this story and you can put one picture to accompany this story--what would be in that picture. Typically, it is the moment when what "happens" occurs. You could call this central moment the "main event" or the "climax" of the story, but I like the term "central image."

    Think of this moment as if it were a photograph. Picture it in your mind, and try to describe everything about that picture as fully as you can in your story. Try and be descriptive and "show and not tell."

  2. Sequencing the action clearly
    You will probably detect a movement of events that lead up to the "main event" (or what I am calling the "central image." Chart out these steps. Be sure the sequence is clear. Be sure that you have developed these steps in the right proportion. For example, if the story were about going on a family trip, the first step in the story might be getting ready to leave. If your story is composed of 70% about this step of getting ready to leave and only 30% for the rest of the story (particularly if the step is not crucial to the story), then you should think about adjusting the development of these steps accordingly.

    You may also notice that the flow of your story telling may have a sequence or structure to it. Perhaps you open in the present, shift to the past, and return to the present. Or perhaps you start the story narrating the story yourself, and then you show as your mother takes over the telling of the story--then you return to your voice again. Be aware of these larger structures in your story and see if they might need some clarity or development.

  3. Seeking to SHOW and not TELL
    Showing and NOT Telling is the essence of good description. Look at all our resource materials that review description. What you will find is that as you work on your story you can open up particular moments or characters. Find "parts" of the story(a character, a place, an action) that you can use description to add more detail to.

  4. Vantage point--the perspective from which the reader sees the story
    Vantage point has to do with what perspective the story is told from. Is it your voice retelling events? Do you the author speak with the voice of your grandmother and you have your grandmother's voice tell the story? Do you begin the story describing a family gathering, but during this gathering your mother gets up and tells the story, so your story quotes your mother telling the story. Then when she stops, do you wrap up the story? Do you speak with an objective voice that is like a fly on the wall reporting the action?

    All of these questions point to how you are telling your story. You can try different ways to tell your story and see how it comes out. Rather than you retell the story, what if you retell the story from your friend's perspective?

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