Storytelling Made Easy — Prompts & Challenges

Storytelling

I always get excited as the year comes to a close.

What will the New Year bring?

Sometimes it brings fun challenges like the ones I have gathered here for your consideration.

Is this the year you will start telling the stories of your photos, family, and things?

Are you ready to start telling the stories of your photos, family, and things? Here are some prompts and challenges to help you get started. Click To Tweet
Front cover of "What's a photo without the story?"

As featured in the 2023 Family Tree Magazine and The Photo Managers holiday gift guides.

If you’ve read my book, What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy, you know that I think everyone has stories to tell. Yes, even you! You don’t have to be a writer, an organizer, or a genealogist to capture your stories and there is no wrong way to do it. Readers have told me how much they appreciate the variety of suggested activities, ranging from low effort (do this if nothing else), to medium effort (your family will thank you), and high effort (ask for help if you need it).

Similarly, the following challenges, are designed for flexibility. You can personalize them all and do as much or as little as you like! You can write about yourself, or someone else. Even if you think you and your family are not worth telling stories about, you probably have photos or prized possessions that if something happened to you (and, trust me, it will) no one but you would know their significance.

If you don’t tell your stories, who will?

 

FREE year-long challenges

  • 52 Photos in 52 Weeks — Legacy Photo Services (Teri Winfield) — This fun challenge is to guide you through telling the story of 52 family photos in 2024. Each week, you’ll be given a keyword to locate a photo in your collection. Add the story behind your photo for future generations to enjoy. Think: Who? What? When? Where? Details? All of the prompts are already listed on the website. But if you sign up you’ll get a weekly emailed prompt reminder. As Teri says, “If 52 photos sounds overwhelming, pick 12 of your favorite keywords. There are no rules!”

 

  • 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks — Amy Johnson Crow — You can blog, post on your favorite social media, send an email to your cousins — whatever you want to do to share something about the ancestor that each weekly prompt brings to mind. You could share a photo, make a video, record yourself talking. The point is to do something.

 

  • Write 24 in ’24Happier podcast (with co-hosts Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft) — Depending on your goals, your specific project, and what’s manageable for you, you can write for 2 to 4 minutes or 24 minutes a day. The Happier app is free to download, and you can participate in the challenge and explore content with or without a subscription.

 

  • He doesn’t call it a challenge but genealogist Thomas MacEntee leads by example when he posts a memory each day on Facebook. It might be based on a well-known holiday such as Thanksgiving, or it might be something like National Cookie Day, or the day a vintage toy was first introduced. Then he asks about your memories. “So what is your favorite holiday cookie? Do you use a family recipe? What is the story behind the recipe?” You can answer privately or in a Facebook comment, keeping a copy for your records.

 

SUBSCRIPTION prompts and tools for yourself or a loved one:

  • Write Your Life — Modern/Heirloom/Books (Dawn Roode) — 52 weeks of memory prompts, writing assignments, tips, and inspiration.

 

  • Storyworth — Often purchased as a gift. Step 1) Once a week, choose a question to inspire them to write. Step 2) They’ll simply reply with an email, which is shared with you. Step 3) At the end of a year, their stories are bound into a beautiful keepsake book.

 

  • Artifcts (no, it’s not misspelled) — From saving memories while decluttering, to preserving the value behind your things, Artifcts gives you a digital way to organize stuff and capture the meaning behind objects. (It’s a subscription, but you can try it for free.)

 

FREE family history writing prompts:

  • Just Google “free family history writing prompts” for a plethora of ideas like these: FamilyTree prompts

 

WHERE to write and share your stories?

“Where” can mean where do I sit (desk, couch, coffee shop, etc.) but I’m talking right now about some examples of how and where to capture and share — but only if you want to — your stories.

Write alone, for yourself:

    • Paper notebook
    • Word doc (or similar)

Collaborate with family members:

    • Google Docs
    • Family Facebook page

Share your work with others:

    • Website
    • Blog
    • Newsletter
    • Substack (online publishing platform)
    • Online archive such as Permanent.org or Forever.com
    • Publish as a book (independently or traditionally)

 

Other types of memoirs

First, I’ve rarely encountered a word with so many sanctioned variations in pronunciation, most of which drive me crazy. For the record, I pronounce it “MEM-waar”, like in the first audio entry on this Google search.

 

  • Biopedia — This is a term coined by Latayne C. Scott, who learned the technique from Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and this is the YouTube interview that introduced me to it. If it doesn’t apply to you, just ignore the video’s title — Creating Your ‘Biopedia’ To Help You Market Your Books — and skip to the 3:00 mark to learn an easy approach to memoir writing. (At 10:03 host Derek Doepker talks about writing about an ordinary life.) Latayne uses (and teaches) a 3-T approach: 1. Tell – short stories, filed alphabetically. 2. Timeline — dates, events, places you lived, and a map, so you don’t have to give all that detail in each little biopedia entry. 3. Time Capsule — a slice of life right now, which may seem boring to us but which those in the future will find fascinating. On offer: free prompts for seniors (or anyone, I would imagine), and paid classes and other resources.

 

  • The Story Catalyst — Carolyn Flynn — I recently took her free class called “The Art of the Personal Essay”. Although I opted to not take the subsequent paid classes that promised to teach me more, I enjoyed it very much and was satisfied that the others would be good, too. Follow Carolyn to learn about her 2024 offerings.

 

  • The 10-7-5 Principle — Once upon a time I read Dr. Phil’s book Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out (2001). He talked about the factors that have impacted our lives the most: 10 Defining Moments, 7 Critical Choices, and 5 Pivotal People. It occurred to me that these would be as good a framework for a memoir as any. Here’s an example of a random person (someone I don’t know and just now Googled up) who is using the 10-7-5 Principle.

 

Have you used any of these approaches to capturing the stories of your photos, family, and things? What else can you recommend? What might you try in the new year?

Please share with us in the comments below!

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8 Comments

  1. Seana Turner on December 29, 2023 at 6:45 am

    What a perfect post for this time of year. You’ve made it easy to set an intention, and have a fun little project to follow along with all year. I love that you continue to encourage people to get their photos out, look at them, talk about them, and truly reap the benefit from having them!

    I hadn’t heard that principle from Dr. Phil (I also used to watch…), but I like it a lot. It would make for a great topic for dinner conversation!

    Happy New Year!

    • Hazel Thornton on December 29, 2023 at 10:40 am

      Thanks, Seana! Yes Dr. Phil’s 10 Defining Moments, 7 Critical Choices, and 5 Pivotal People are definitely food for thought! I don’t rememember if I ever wrote mine down, but now I’m realizing they might be a little different 20 years later! Also, I just edited that paragraph because I realized it was in a book I still own: Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out (2001)

  2. Janet Barclay on December 31, 2023 at 7:54 pm

    What a bunch of great ideas! I’m not ready for this but have pinned your post to my Family History board for when I am.

    • Hazel Thornton on January 1, 2024 at 12:55 pm

      Thanks, Janet!

  3. Linda Samuels on January 1, 2024 at 11:38 am

    WOW! I love all of these creative ways and resources for capturing memories. I attend a monthly retreat where we talk, listen to poetry, meditate, write, and share. It’s one way that I regularly capture personal memories or thoughts. It’s incredible what arises when you first settle your mind and body. All kinds of things begin to surface.

    I will save this one to refer to it and try some suggestions. Love them all!

    • Hazel Thornton on January 1, 2024 at 12:57 pm

      Interesting, Linda. I think a lot of my readers don’t have the patience for listening to poetry and meditating. But that sounds perfect for you!

  4. Julie Bestry on January 1, 2024 at 2:14 pm

    These are amazing prompts. I’m tempted to try most of them! My family photos are at the family home (with Paper Mommy), so I can’t do that one, but I’m already eager to explore Write 24 in ’24. I’ve never considered memoir, but unlike the dearth of family history, I know my own life well enough to reply to prompts, so Write Your Life sounds neato. And The Art of the Personal Essay sounds fabulous. I can tell I’m going to be coming back to this resource often.

    Hazel, you always delight. Thanks for a nifty post to start out my new year!

  5. Janet Schiesl on January 1, 2024 at 5:44 pm

    This is amazing, thanks for sharing all these wonderful ways to capturing memories, all in one blog. I love all of them, thanks for sharing.

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