Find Story Elements in Your (ordinary) Life

Don’t judge your memoir before you write it. The outcome is still in the future, a blank page, as it were, waiting to be filled in. If you accept the challenge of writing your life, fame is not guaranteed, but deeper wisdom is assured. You will gain many insights into the sequence of cause and effect, make better sense of your major transitions, and shape the disjointed fragments of life into a coherent whole.

In order to write the story, you must delve into your own dramatic elements. These at first jump out at you based on fragmented memories, overwrought by the emotions with which they were originally charged. As you record the periods and scenes of your life on the page, and place them in chronological order, the past will transform from a conglomeration of memories into a sequence of dramatic enactments. In other words, the actual story elements become far more clear on the written page than they are likely to be while swimming around in your mind.

To learn about your story scan through your experiences, and list the facts and scenes. As the topology emerges, you will see the interesting features, and before long, you can start imagining how to shape them.

Here are some examples of various elements of an ordinary life. Think about each one, and if any life events seem to fit, write them in your notebook.

Peak experiences and your struggle to achieve them

* Despite handicaps, working hard, overcoming hardships, you succeeded in some goal..
* You were honored at an event.
* You gave a speech after being terrified of public speaking.

Major transitions

* Marriage, divorce.
* Your kids grew up, your kids moved out.
* You moved, from house to house, city to city.
* New job, laid off, retired, new career, grew old.

The various cycles of Coming of Age

* You transformed from child into adult
* Moved from high school, to college, to career
*After a divorce or retirement, you found your new mission in life

Evolution of your character

* Shed earlier conceptions and limitations and changed into a new you.
* Went to Twelve Steps, stopped drugging, changed your life.
* Walked away from your last abusive relationship and started living for real.

Going forth from the familiar to the unfamiliar

* Experienced war as a soldier or a civilian.
* Served in the peace corps or foreign service
* Moved to a different country.
* Changed social or financial status.

Contact with news or history

* You were present when they tore down the Berlin Wall
* You fled the Iranian or Cuban revolution
* You visited Normandy Beach to see where your father landed.
* You stood at the Vietnam Memorial for 12 hours, and watched the people come and touch their loved ones’ names.

Cultural interaction or transformation

* Migration, melting pot, inter-cultural marriage or living situation

Life Lesson or triumph

* Faced and overcame addiction, hardship.


* Went from solo to couple.

Intense or unique family experience

* Frank McCourt's Angela’s Ashes used family experience to convert extremely ordinary life into an extraordinary memoir.
* Jeanette Walls’ Glass Castle tells a zany tale of growing up in a dysfunctional family.
* Inquirer columnist Tanya Barrientos used her childhood in a boring, dusty, border town as a dramatic setting for her novels.

Your situation may involve a number of story elements. If you emigrated from the Iranian Revolution when you were a child, you; changed culture, touched history, came of age, went forth from the familiar to the unfamiliar, triumphed over hardship, and perhaps have a romantic tale.

Sins of our fathers
If your parents moved to a different country, you may think of yourself as being settled in, or achieved an award, or had a special coming of age, look closely to see what elements of their memoir seeped into your own experience.