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Warm Up to Writing by Recalling Stories and Recording Details

  • Recall a family story you heard when you were a child. This story may be a fragment—in fact, that’s how many family stories are handed down.
  • Now, write a list of the details you remember about the story (or fragment). When you make this list, use short sentences, phrases, or even just single words. At this stage, you are not writing a narrative, just making a list. The following might be included: the names of the people in the story; their relationships to each other and to you; what they did for pleasure and work; what the story’s context was (physically—the place and event; spiritually— the ideas and emotions; culturally—the attitudes and the ways of doing things); what the conflict (the action that leads to a crisis) was; and how it was resolved.
  • Be as specific as you can with the details you put on your list (“auburn hair braided into a coil;” “a scar from beneath his left nostril to just under his left ear lobe”). Make every effort to remember what people might have worn (“high, lace-collared dresses”), or sayings they might have used (“as dark as the inside of a pocket”), etc.
  • Using this list (which should considerably stimulate your memory), generate a rough first draft of the story you wish to write. Since writing is a different medium from speaking, you may feel yourself less fluent in writing than in speaking the story. Don’t let this bother you. It is a natural reaction, and over the long run, the practice of writing will provide you with the fluency you seek.
  • Print this story draft and keep it in a three-ring binder. You can develop it into a more polished story later.
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