As a ghostwriter and personal historian who writes the life stories of ordinary people, and a teacher of Writing Your Life Story classes, I’m always looking for new ways to help men and women capture meaningful stories about the most important people in their lives. Recently I’ve been introducing new Story Sparks to help evoke feelings and images that can open the door to richer and more compelling stories about those key people. Story Sparks, by the way, are simply open-ended phrases that you can use as a prompt to begin writing for five or ten minutes in a spontaneous response.
Let’s say you’re planning to write more about your mother. You have certain stories that you know you are going to include in your life story, but then once you get those down you’re left with a sense that there is something more you want to bring forward and you’re not sure how to do it. Try this Story Spark:
“She is/was the kind of mother who would…”
Was she the kind of mother who would always know just what you were up to? Or the kind of mother who would sacrifice her needs for the family? Or the kind of mother who would keep you on your toes? Or the kind of mother who would always be there when you stumbled or fell?
Notice how just describing your mother this way instantly leads you to recall stories that illustrate and highlight her manner. Plunge right into those stories while they are fresh.
Then see what different associations and stories might be stirred when you add a twist to that Story Spark:
“She is/was the kind of mother who would never…”
Is she the kind mother who would never say anything to hurt someone’s feelings? Or the kind of mother who would never admit that she was wrong? Or the kind of mother who would never say no when you asked to stop for ice cream? Or the kind of mother who would never let your leave the table before you finished everything on your plate?
Again, watch for those stories that will spill out once you have tapped this feeling tone related to a certain perspective of your mother.
You can experiment with many different approaches to pin down lively and informative descriptions of your mother’s personality and style of parenting. Here are a few other possibilities:
“She is/was the kind of mother who would say things that would make you…”
“She is/was the kind of mother who would wake up every morning and…”
“She is/was the kind of mother who would look at the family budget and…”
You can certainly apply the same kinds of Story Spark prompts to writing about your father, or your grandparents, or any other important person in your life. And if you are a mother or father, you can have fun in writing your life story by flipping the same statements around and applying them to yourself:
“I am the kind of mother who will always (or will never)…”
These are just a few ideas for zeroing in on the kinds of stories that will most make your life story come alive. Feel free to play around with new ideas of your own – and let me know if youc ome up with any that I might add to my list!
– Kevin Quirk, founder of Life Is a Book (formerly Memoirs for life), member of the Association of Personal Historians, and author of the new book “Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story”