Shaping a Narrative

Why is your life not like a TV drama? Is there something wrong with you?

Our lives are more boring and messy than a story in a film or a book. Stories have a clear beginning, a middle and an ending. Life is not like that. In our lives, we just get up the next day and do pretty much the same thing we did yesterday.

To turn our memories into a narrative, we have to give them shape and meaning.

It is useful to think of stories having shapes:

From Memory to Narrative

We have lots of memories, some of them good, some bad, but most just something that we remember and are not sure why we do.

Here’s an example from my life:

When I was a little kid, I found my Christmas present under my parents’ bed.

That’s a memory, not a story. It has no beginning, middle or end. It doesn’t mean anything. Listen the story I tell about that memory:

[Leslie talks]

What was the “shape” of that story? I think the closest from the graphic above is “Man in a hole.” Why?

What did I add? A beginning, and an end, of course, but more importantly:


A story without conflict — trouble — is boring. It’s probably not even a story.

Father: “How was school today, son?”

Son: “Fine.”

Father: “Did anything interesting happen today?”

Son: “Not really. We had a math test today.”

Father: “How did you do?”

Son: “Fine.”

Father: “That’s good.”


Father: “How was school today, son?”

Son: “My math teacher jumped out of the window in third period!”

Father: “What!?!?” Why?! What happened to him?

You have to sometimes make the conflict clearer than it was at the time. That’s okay. In my example, I didn’t understand the story of my memory till many years later. I had to think about that experience carefully to understand why it was important. I could not have understood much at the time.

Flat Characters / Round Characters

In a story, a “flat character” is a person who doesn’t have much personality–like robots. No matter what happens, they don’t react in any interesting ways, and they are the same at the end of the story as they were at the beginning.

A “round” character, on the other hand, is easier to understand as a real person. They have a world inside them. They react in unusual, surprising, or even painful ways. They are changed by experience. They are not the same at the end of the story as they were in the beginning.

My story is about change that happened to me. I am this person, in part, because of what happened. The experience created me.

Your assignment:

Tell a short story– five to seven minutes. Performance next week or following week.

First, brainstorm a few important memories. What’s the conflict? How did you change as a result? Decide which of them makes the best story. Next, make a sequence map of what happened. Finally, practice telling your story using only your map for notes.

How you will be graded:

  • Fluency: 0~5 points
  • Conflict: 0~5 points
  • Change: 0~5 points
  • P, V, & G: 0~5 points

Sign up sheet for presentation day 11.05 or 11.12

[Note: Bring computers 11.19]

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