What family histories can teach us about storytelling

What family histories can teach us about storytelling

I come from a family of passionate storytellers and fastidious record keepers.

My dad in particular has a talent for telling stories, weaving tales about his time as a lineman on the B.C. railway in his youth. He tells stories of boulders blocking tracks, Portuguese dynamite specialists and dark train tunnels.

My mom has a bookcase stuffed with photo albums we've spent hours leafing through. Her jewelry box once held our baby teeth, our birth certificates and our immunization records. She held onto her notes from her university classes and I often inspected her round, tidy writing.  

I kept lengthy, detailed diaries as a teenager, although I can't read any of the moody missives today without cringing or laughing. 

Storytelling: Don't tell me, show me

Storytelling: Don't tell me, show me

When I started writing professionally, I received the same advice over and over from editors about how to tell a captivating story.

“Don’t tell me," they said. "Show me.”

For people not used to writing or weaving stories, this advice might not make any sense. Showing your readers (or your customers, clients or donors) something, rather than telling them, is the difference between stating a fact, and using details and circumstances to make those facts real.

It's the difference between saying "that house is old and needs repairs" and "the mid-century ranch house leaned awkwardly to the side, with crumbling bricks dotting its exterior like acne pockmarks."

The first sentence tells you something. The second brings it to life in your mind and keeps it there.