Writing from experience – writing from your life I

What is a story?

Humans are hard-wired for story.  Stories are the way we make sense of the world, the way we communicate with other people, the way we form identities as a person, as a family, as a group.  Every family has its myth, the stories that get told at every occasion; those can be about founding members of the family, the ancestors, or about each and every one of the family members, stories of when they were young, things they said or did that endear them to the rest of the family.

At school, we are taught the basic elements of story:  a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The perfect example of a story is one we all know from childhood: the fairy tale.  It starts with a time ‘Once upon a time’ and a character ‘there was a little girl/a princess/a young prince’. Then, the story starts: ‘one day…’ the story builds and builds ‘she went into the forest, she picked flowers, when suddenly… the wolf appeared’ until something happens, the climax of the story ‘he ate the grandmother/the little girl’; the story continues then to a denouement (the woodcutter kills the wolf/the little girl pushes the witch into the oven), and then we stop the story –  usually with ‘and they lived happily ever after’

In narrative studies, we sometimes use a diagram to explain how stories work.  It is called the Freytag triangle, from the German author Gustav Freitag who used it in his book “Die Technik des Dramas” (https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/8864)

This is how we tend to draw the shape of a story:

Freytag triangle

You could match this to your favourite film or episode of a series, to a film, or to a story you often tell in your family occasions. 

Why do we draw your attention to this? Because, even though storytelling is as natural to us as breathing, sometimes, when we start writing, we forget that we know how to tell stories, and we try to give information instead.  In teaching, as we will see, we need both information and story to keep our audience interested.


What was your favourite story when you were small?  Think of a picture book or a fairy tale that you were told or you read yourself, and try to tell a shortened version of the story as you remember it.

– OR –

Write one of your family stories, the ones that are always told at gatherings, and that are passed, orally, from generation to generation.


Course: How to write your first own online module

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