ScrapMoir How To #8: Your Story Library

by Bettyann Schmidt on February 11, 2010

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #25 – Women’s Memoirs, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

By Bettyann Schmidt

I’m taking Stacy Julian’s class, “Library of Memories,” which consists of 10 lessons, lasting though April.  I’ve mentioned Stacy and her Big Picture Scrapbooking site here in the past. She is an incredibly talented lady and makes a lot of sense in the area of memory keeping and telling stories.

 As with writers, most scrapbookers believe they have to work chronologically and force themselves to not deviate from this strict adherence. Consequently, many become tired and disenchanted, and many more become overwhelmed when looking at 10 or 15 years of photos, knowing they will never be able to “catch up.”

Stacy throws out this notion of “caught up” and shows us a new and enlightened way of capturing and saving our memories. Developing her “library” allows her to put together pages on a whim and be able to mesh her pages and stories in a way that allows freedom and greater creativity.

Going through the syllabus, I couldn’t help draw the connection to memoir writing, where we’re tempted to plunge into our story at birth and follow the chronological trail to adulthood. Working this way can make the task look insurmountable, and the story becomes tiring and boring, and a lot of writers walk away from what once looked like a fun project.

A Story Library

Using the Library of Memories model, which consists of photos, how would we create a library for ourselves consisting of the best stories of our lives?

“…Most authors find the structuring of a lengthy article or book to be their most difficult task. However, you should have no such difficulty in setting up the pattern of flow of your memoir…because you will be writing it in separate bites that can stand on their own. Therefore you can place each in any order that feels good to you, without the need for a transition from one to another.” How to Write the Story of Your Life,” Frank P. Thomas.

Organizing my photos with their attached stories by significant events in my life, turning points, gives me the opportunity to tell a much different story than I would have previously.

An example is a page I created about my friend Lynn, who I met at a time of unrest in my life. Lynn likewise was at a turning point in her life, and upon our first encounter with each other, we knew we were friends. My life wouldn’t be what it is today if I’d never met Lynn.

Yet, when I flipped through my old scrapbooks, I’d written very little about our relationship, how it began, what I learned from this friend, the gifts I received from this relationship. Lynn’s pictures appeared on pages with brief descriptions of who she was and the date basically.

Below is the new layout I created for Lynn, where I tried to tell something more of our story.


Combined Memories Create Stories

Continuing the journey through my old albums, I noticed a missing cohesiveness caused by chronological organization. I’d put my grandchildren’s photos on pages as they aged, thus leaving inability to tell the story on one page, where the change in growth could be noticed without flipping back and forth throughout many albums.


The above layout features my granddaughter Jesi and includes a photo I took of her soon after she came home from the hospital to my house, as my daughter was in college at the time and divorced. I was like a little girl with a doll. I pulled these photos from various pages in my family albums to tell my story about Jesi. This is a different chronology, and I feel it tells more about the subject.

Custom Categories

If you are facing many years of pictures which haven’t been organized, you might want to think of categorizing them by subject instead of chronology. This way, you’d see more stories take form, and possibly the daunting task of all that organizing would be a lot more fun.

Since the important thing is the story, I feel you should use your photos in whatever way they prompt the stories and help you write them. For instance, I take a lot of nature photos, and these tell different stories than those in my family albums.  Insead of sorted by year and month, I catetorize them by season and year, or I can order them by specific locations or types of wildlife. Eventually these go into a nature album or journal.

Story Formulas

Many of the memoirs I’ve read use a proven formula where the author begins the book in the present, then goes back to the beginninng and moves forward, telling his or her story. Jeannette Walls writes in this manner in The Glass Castle, and my latest read, Mary Karr’s Cherry takes this form as well.  Writing in the “present” and reflecting on the past can be referred to as back story, usually used in novels. 

“The most important things to remember about back story..” according to Stephen King, “…are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don’t get carried away with the rest.” (p. 229, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)

King’s advice could be adapted  to putting every single photo into a scrapbook, when just a few select ones would tell the story better, and in telling those stories, leave out the uninteresting details. This means getting to the heart of what you want to truly say about the subject on the page, the event or place you’re describing, or the time period you’re writing about. Don’t just describe the photo; it tells its own story. Tell the important back story of the picture.

Another quote on back story, or a formula for memoir, comes from my teacher, Stacy Julian: “…I allowed myself to stand in the here-and-now and look back, making connections and celebrating relationships between people, places and things important to me – and that would be a valuable perspective that only I could share.”

You can read more by Stacy on her website, I am not connected to her in any business fashion, only as a student, but I just want to share her insight on an area so dear to my heart.

Let Your Photos Speak

I hope you can go through some of your pictures and make connections that inspire you. Who knows what stories lay hidden behind the images your camera picked up. Let those images speak.

Please let me know of any questions or comments you have below. I love reading your comments.

Bettyann Schmidt

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