Use your Journal for Storytelling Practice

by Amber Lea Starfire on October 9, 2012



If you have stories you’d like others to read — whether family or a broader audience — why not use your journal as a place to polish your storytelling skills? After all, when you’re journaling about your life you are, in fact, recording stories.

I remember once watching a skilled storyteller at work. I sat high in the bleachers above the outdoor stage, mesmerized as she used different vocal inflections and voices for each character, grand gestures, and exaggerated facial expressions to engage the audience and weave her tale. She filled the stage with her body and voice. And though we don’t have the same visual techniques as the storyteller on that stage, we can create those same images in the minds of our readers. We can, in fact, fill the stage with our writing voice, engaging the imagination of our readers so that characters, places, and events seem real.

You might be asking, “How do I do this?” Here are the steps I use, and you are welcome to use, modify or expand them:

  1. Sketch the story. This means writing what happened in chronological order (this happened, then that happened, and so on). The purpose of this first step is to get the basics onto the page, but don’t stop here, as you might do when journaling.
  2. Freewrite about the scene, as if it were set on a stage. Describe the surroundings and the atmosphere. For example: “Night had fallen, the full moon’s light glinted off the water, and a quiet hush descended, broken only by an occasional call of an owl.”  You’re journaling, so don’t worry about whether you’re writing “good prose” or not. Simply remember as much concrete, sensory detail as you can and get it onto the page in whatever form it comes to you: lists, fragments, doodles, or full sentences are all fine.
  3. Bring on the characters. Who was there? Describe their physical appearances and personalities. Include yourself. How might someone else have seen you?
  4. Slow down the action by going into more detail with “what happened.” Include dialogue: remember the conversations as best you can and write them down. Who did what? Where was the tension? Were you having an argument? Were you afraid? Who wanted what? Did something good or bad happen? How did it come about? Was there a turning point?
  5. Resolution. How does the story resolve and tensions ease? Is there a moral? What did you learn? In what ways did the event change you?
  6. Write your story. Think about how you might tell this story to a group of people. Using the various elements you’ve explored, write your story in an order that makes sense to you.
  7. Re-Write your story. Wait a day or two and then read your story in the comfort of your favorite reading chair, pretending you are your intended audience, making notes as you go. Then revise and re-write.
  8. Repeat Step 7 at least one more time.

Memoirs are essentially collections of stories from our lives organized around a theme or themes. Storytelling techniques can help you create dramatic scenes that invite and engage your readers. Why not use your journal as a place to experiment and play as you boost your writing skills?

I invite you to try out journaling as storytelling practice—and to leave a comment below.


Image Credit: Dale Jarvis

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