Journal Writing for Memoir: Use Your Journal to Practice Storytelling

by Amber Lea Starfire on September 11, 2010

catnav-journaling-activePost #6 – Memoir Writing, Journaling – Amber Starfire


Your journal, in addition to being a place to record thoughts, feelings, reflections, and events in your life, is a great place to practice writing memoir using the art of storytelling. When you are journaling about your life you are, in fact, recording stories. And if you have stories that you’d like others to (eventually) read — whether family or a broader audience — why not also use your journal as a place to polish your storytelling skills?

If you have ever watched a skilled storyteller at work, you’ll know that she used vocal inflections, voices, hand gestures, and facial expressions to engage the audience and weave her tale. The same techniques that work for the storyteller on a stage or around a campfire also work on the page. The written word is able to powerfully engage the imagination of the reader so that characters, places, and events seem to leap off the page.

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

  1. Write down the story as it comes to you. Generally, 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.
  2. Think about the scene and set the stage. For example: “Night had fallen, the full moon’s light glinted off the water, and a quiet hush descended, broken only by the occasional call of an owl.” Describe the surroundings, the atmosphere (was this darkness peaceful or spooky for example?).
  3. Bring on the characters. Who was there? Think about their physical appearances and personalities and describe them.
  4. Action. What happened? Include dialog (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? What is the climax (the turning point) of this story?
  5. Resolution. How does the story resolve and tensions ease? Is there a moral? What did the characters learn?
  6. Finally, think about how you might tell this story to a group of people, take the various elements you’ve written and put them in an order that makes sense to you. Good storytellers use exaggeration to dramatize; feel free to do the same. However, if you want to keep the story in the nonfiction realm, you’ll want to either temper your use of exaggeration or add a disclaimer, letting your readers know that you’ve embellished the details for the sake of a good story.

Memoirs are essentially collections of stories from our lives, often grouped around a theme. Storytelling techniques can help us create dramatic scenes that tell our stories in ways that invite and engage our audiences. Your journal is a wonderful place to experiment and play as you boost your writing skills.

I invite you to try out storytelling as an approach to memoir, and leave a comment to let us know what you think.


reflective journaling

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Monday’s Link Roundup. | Dan Curtis ~ Professional Personal Historian
September 20, 2010 at
Journaling for Memoir: Things You'll Want to Include — Memoir Writing Blog
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kendra Bonnett September 11, 2010 at

Great tip, Amber. This sounds like fun.

Janet Riehl September 24, 2010 at


Working between media fascinates me. In the early 1990s I belonged to a storytelling troupe in the Bay Area. During that period I wrote my material and painted costumes and backdrops.

Both translating a written story to the stage or translating oral storytelling to the page is challenging. The two media are the same only different. While both share possible structures of how a story can be told, each have tools that aren’t available to the other.

For instance, how do you translate hand gestures and voice to the written page? How do you translate written cadence to oral cadence?

Janet Riehl

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