Entire books have been written on much smaller points of this vast topic, and most of us in this group are not looking to write a dissertation on the topic or craft a bestseller (although we wouldn't mind if people really liked what we wrote!). For most of us, the topic of refining our stories into a cohesive whole is one of pragmatics. We intuitively know that even our families better understand stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, with conflicts and resolutions, and with overarching themes. In the end, we want them to understand how we made meaning of our experiences, and choosing how to link our stories together helps us do that effectively.
But how do we do that without taking years to rewrite?
Well, it's not necessarily simple, but there are a few ways to link these stories, and, over the next 10 weeks or so, I will try to give you one straightforward way to do so.
Step 1: Look back at your stories and think back over what's important to you. Isolate a few themes.
But how can you do that? Here are some ideas:
- Ask some questions:
- What shows up often in your stories? Is it people? Is it places? Do you concentrate on events? What types of events?
- How do the things in your stories change?
- Why are you writing?
- Using the answers above, look for common ideas or images.
- If you don't have a common image, look for a common metaphor.
- From here, write a sentence or proverb that captures the common heart of your stories.
But the first step is to find the common theme.
Step 2: Revise a story to emphasize that theme or write a new story showing that theme at work in your life.
There's a difference in writing a story just for its own purpose and in writing a story to be part of something bigger. Most of us intuitively will make the changes if we are aware of the overarching theme, but just in case that discernment doesn't come naturally to you, here are some of the ways that you can link your story to your central theme:
- If you have a central image (like food), make sure that it enters into your story both literally (perhaps the characters are eating, they see food, or a stomach growls) and metaphorically (maybe you gaze hungrily out the window or the taste of success makes you hungry for more).
- Make certain that even if the story is about something else (perhaps an argument in the parking lot), it somehow ties into the theme metaphorically (if friends are nourishing, then having a fight with one might give you metaphorical indigestion, a stomach ache, or make you feel malnourished).
- When making your metaphors, try to focus on the verbs which can fit easily into your action without much segue (e.g., I chewed on that thought. I savored the moment).