Eventually, after you have written awhile, you will likely have amassed a number of vignettes, story segments, and stories. You will want to group them together to make a statement, a bigger picture. How will you do it? Below are four ideas for organizing stories.
Remember: These suggestions do not refer to the sequence in which the stories are written but rather to how they can be ordered after they have been written.
- Both chronology and theme
If you choose a chronological order, you organize your stories in a way that most nearly replicates the sequence in which events happened. For example, what happened in your childhood is placed first in the narration and what happened in your youth is placed second and in your middle-age, third; what happened in the spring is placed first, in the summer, second, etc. If you organize all your stories in this way, there will be a natural continuum among them based on time connection. This is the way most people choose to link their stories and it is an easy organization for the reader to follow.
You might choose to put together everything about one person in one chapter and everything about another in a second chapter. This gives a clear account of your subject but omits interactions that might change the way we perceive a character. The collection of stories may seem disconnected.
You might write about a specific theme that is of interest to you. In this way, your story might be a story about labor unions or about dedication to art. Everything is chosen or omitted according to how it develops your theme. This can make for a very focused book.
Alternately, you can choose topics across the generations or among family members. These topics might include religion, careers, marriage, etc.
For example, you might look at the relationship to work in your family during your childhood. You might write about your grandparents’ and your parents’ work attitudes and practices during this time. Then you can give your attention to other themes in their lives during your childhood: parenting, religion, etc.
Another possibility is to write about a theme in your grandparents’ lives and then go on to its appearance in your parents’ lives and then in yours and lastly in your children’s. You can choose to give an internal chronological development to each of your themes: start with youth and proceed to old age or the present with each generation. Then start the whole process over again with another theme.
Although you may begin to write your pieces chronologically or thematically, you may find yourself combining both of these elements in your final product. These approaches can easily be integrated into your life story as a whole.
Good Luck organizing your stories!
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We listen to you speak your story. We ask you a multitude of questions. Then we get to work writing. We come back to you with text and you make lots of corrective comments and we ask you a whole lot of new questions. Then, we go back to writing again.
Over time, your story develops into a memoir—one that you have shaped at every stage of the writing process.
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