When I use stories to introduce a creative writing lesson, I have immediate interest from the pupils. They soon have stories of their own to add to our conversations after the story ended. But when I talk to teachers about using stories as a “tool” in introducing creative writing classes, I hear a common refrain. “My childhood and experiences weren’t as interesting as yours. I have nothing to tell.”
In this blog post, I want to explore several ways you can go about unearthing stories from your childhood. I believe every person has stories of value to share with the rest of the world. It takes effort, reflection, and a commitment to storytelling.
To get started, know what makes a story. A story can be very simple. It does not need interesting elements of adventure and climax to be a story. A story that involves emotion and the idiosyncrasies of humans creates a lot of interest. I like to tell the simple story of when my friend Verena and I were biking one summer afternoon down the road. “While my friend and I were riding bike one summer afternoon, I spotted some crows in the freshly mown field. We kept riding bike. I looked again and saw one of the crows had “stood up”! I whispered, “Those aren’t crows. Those are bears!” We looked and saw a mother bear watching us with three baby cubs moving around her. Verena got scared spit less. I started pedaling and rode hard toward home. I slowed though, when I noticed Verena had hopped off her bike and was pushing the bike back toward our place. Verena, breathing hard, insisted she could go faster pushing her bike instead of riding it. Our family still enjoys this episode to this day. In Verena’s fear of the bears, she did an unreasonable thing. But isn’t that so very human? I would do the exact same thing probably. As a family, we later got in our van and went to look at that mama bear and her three cubs from a safe distance. “ This story is very simple and straight forward. But it still is an experience, a story.
The following ideas are exercises you can use to stimulate your memories to start flowing. 1. Make a quick sketch of a timeline of your life. Mark important happenings or events that happened over the years. 2. Go back to your parents’ home and gather up a few photo albums to borrow. Take time to look at details of hair dos, wall paper, Christmas cookies, and winter gear of the yesteryear. Photo albums are one of the best tools in making a list of stories from your past. 3. Consider your current hobbies and interests. Most likely there is a chance that somebody in your past nudged you in that direction. Somebody inspired you. Think back to those moments and remember their beginnings. That uncle, that teacher, that parent, that church friend…somebody gave you an experience of some kind. 4. Make a list of emotions such as the following: · Happiness · Anger · Scared · Honest · Disappointed · Guilty · Kind · Embarrassment · Safe · Free · Responsible · Excited · Respectful · Foolish Link events, relationships, and moments that made you feel that certain emotion. Recall stories and jot down simple plot lines. Think of heroes in your life, such as Sunday school teachers, maids, grocery store clerks, a pastor, etc. that made you feel a certain way.
5. Make a list of old acquaintances and friends that you used to do things with. Try to recall conversations. I remember how this one man from church would always tweak my braid and call me “Jenny Wren” and “Chickadee” in fun. The same man always liked to make my three year old sister Lisa say big words like “gazebo”. These are moments. These are stories. These are things to remember.
6. List all the jobs you had in your childhood and teenage years. List your employers, your pay, and the lessons you learned through those times.
“I remember one year my dad had a big pile of 2 by 4's that had lots of nails in. He told us girls that if we pulled those nails out with a hammer, he would pay us one penny for each nail. Believe me, we pulled out nails! We eagerly collected pennies in a rusty tin can.”
7. Tell stories of yourself as a young Christian. What were the temptations you faced, the relationship crisis that you overcome, and the responses you gave to your parents when they made a rule? These are stories that will interest your students. They need to hear stories of integrity, and earnest seeking for God. They will be able to relate.
I have attached a printable download that you can use to write down stories that you could use in your classroom. Set aside time to reflect and muse over your past. There are always stories worth telling.