When it comes to holiday family gatherings there are so many occasions where we all fall into telling stories about favorite times, or hilarious ones. We sit around the table, telling our proudest moments or the most touching. Someone will always point out, “What we need is a way to keep all of these stories for the generations to come.” Well, if that sounds exactly like your family, here’s a way to kick that effort off.

I’m EJ Runyon, a story coach and author, from Las Cruces, NM, and for twenty years I have been brought in to help many groups and extended family units with gathering and polishing personal stories for memory books. What I do best is bring thoughts onto the page, in your voice, so this project advice won’t be something that causes anyone can say, “Oh, I couldn’t do that! I’d be tongue-tied on the page!” When we’re done with your story, it’ll be almost like you’re talking to family and friends, because that’s what this method does.

When I do this one-on-one, I use Skype sessions because that’s the fastest way to run this. You can share the screen, and both the teller and the helper (let’s call them the Family Story Wrangler) can see the words on the screen and make adjustments, or ask more questions in real time. So, step one is to designate a single family or group member who’s comfortable on Skype. By using one person to corral all the stories, you’ll be well ahead of the curve on your project.

Let’s get going. And don’t worry, it’ll be fun.

The REAMS© method is a method I’ve used for years to get folks to write. A strong trick of storytelling involves five things to bring out R.E.A.M.S. of good memories, whether happy, funny, tender, or touching. Think about your story with these perspectives:

R is for Reactions, so ask yourself how did that make me feel? Your Family Story Wrangler will be asking you questions like that, so be thinking on it. Maybe even make a few notes. R is also for Reveals. If your story is funny, try remembering the bits that were secret, or silent, or misunderstood, until the punchline is revealed. R is also for Realizations. When you tell the story on Skype, with one of you typing it all down, try to bring in how it affected you and what you learned having been there for it all.

E is for Emotions. Lots of stories have emotion in them, especially stories like the ones you want for a family history book, where we look back to write about the love you all have for a place, or lifestyle. But emotions shouldn’t come across as drama, or stop at just words like happy or sad or funny. Remember to be asking about how emotions affected you. That means a visual for what was going on during the emotions. With the emotions you remember, think about pictures that your Family Story Wrangler can capture and write down.

A is for Actions. Think of story bits that have to do with motion, what things went on: a party, a graduation, when someone new started at a new job or stage of life, for example. Then, what happened after things went on. This makes longer, stronger stories. Family readers will be interested, or worried, or cheering for what happened and how things turned out next. Remember—the Family Story Wrangler you choose will need to be asking questions like this on Skype, so make notes if you can before beginning your Skype sessions.

M is for Motivations. Triumphs, big goofs, or little joys are remembered because folks are active in their own fates and successes. Motivations in a story are what drives someone to those successes. We share those shifts from early starts to later successes because we like to follow along with someone’s drive. So be sure to think about what drives the people in your story that you’re telling. Even you. Your Family Story Wrangler can prompt with many of these REAMS questions, asking to round out a good tale.

S is for Senses. All stories work best with the senses in them, even the ones you tell folks out loud. Here, because it’s all written, we get a chance to use more of them in our stories. Here’s a roll call of the senses: Touch, Sight, Sound, Taste, Smell. When you work to get your story on the pages, be sure to try asking many questions about the senses involved. If you have a good idea about your story, make some notes that include some of these so you can use them to build stronger stories.

To capture your stories, use the Reminders Template. Make notes on it, or copy a few sheets and carry them around to make even more notes during your free time. When you Skype with family members your Family Story Wrangler can refer back to and use the list to prompt you to tell a strong, well-loved story for all the generations to come.

Download your own REAMS Reminders Template here. Happy storytelling!


EJ Runyon wrote ‘Tell Me (How to Write) A Story’, and four fiction works to date. She also runs the website, Bridge to Story & coaches writers online.

EJ Runyon wrote ‘Tell Me (How to Write) A Story’, and four fiction works to date. She also runs the website, Bridge to Story & coaches writers online.

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