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Putting Your Story in Order

An article by Tom Gilbert - © October, 2018

There are many things in life that need to have order. Without order there is randomness and chaos. That makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, there is a natural tendency in life for disorder. Consider the law of entropy. It essentially means that things tend to move towards disorder. If you never clean your desk (or your office) it will get messier. The tendency towards disorder in our lives and our world often leads to things not getting done. Also, it results in lack of organization, confusion and randomness. It takes energy, meaning and effort to counter entropy.

So what does this have to do with your life story? It is a fair question and in this short article I will attempt to explain.

Our lives are lived out in moments and experiences. Over time they help to shape our beliefs, values, habits and much more. When we spend time reminiscing and attempt to make sense of our lives we often want to share that. This is done by telling the story of our life and our various experiences. You need to spend time figuring out what your story is and why you want to preserve this story. Once you have done this the next step is to determine how you will do it.

Part of the how is taking the many experiences you write about and putting them into some kind of order. There is not one way to organize your experiences. But I think it can be helpful to try some different approaches.

Your story might be a personal or family history. Or you might be creating a memoir of a certain time in life or type of vocation or vacation. Regardless, any story has multiple parts and the resulting parts (stories) can be put into some kind of order.

The order of your stories in your memoir is important. It can establish a theme and a tempo. One way is to put it in chronological order. Start at the beginning of the time of the story and move across time to the place where the story concludes. This is probably the easiest approach, but it isn’t necessarily the best way to do it.

Some people find it very effective to start with a riveting event or experience that draws the reader in and then sets up the story for where you want to go. For instance, if you have a life changing event as a result of a disease or accident, you might start with the time when life was most threatened and then go back to before the life changing event and present background material. The rising action of your story will already have some momentum from your use of the opening flashback.

I have been working with a gifted writer who has many short, funny and entertaining life experiences. Each of them tends to be just two or three typed pages. What they have in common is humor and usually a twist to the outcome. Each of the vignettes provides insight into her personality.

We’ve been discussing some ways she might organize her many little stories into a book. It’s been fascinating and challenging to consider how. One of the things I suggested was to label each short story from her life on an index card and then lay them all out on a table or the floor. There are probably twenty or more stories for her to consider using. Laying out the cards and trying different groupings will give her ideas of how to structure the book. She could group the stories into similar categories, such as when she was a teenager, or stories about her married life.

We’ve been discussing some ways she might organize her many little stories into a book. It’s been fascinating and challenging to consider how. One of the things I suggested was to label each short story from her life on an index card and then lay them all out on a table or the floor. There are probably twenty or more stories for her to consider using. Laying out the cards and trying different groupings will give her ideas of how to structure the book. She could group the stories into similar categories, such as when she was a teenager, or stories about her married life.









 

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