One of the most common shortcomings of lifestories is lack of a clear focus. Each story you write has its own purpose or theme. That purpose helps define the boundaries of the story and how much detail to include. You could compare it to cropping photographs to focus the interest. For example, consider the following pictures.
The first picture shows a boy and girl sitting together in a swing. What’s the story here? The kids? The yard? The array of toys?
The second picture shows the same children on the swing set, but the clutter is gone. The children stand out clearly, while the yard and surroundings are still part of the picture.
The third picture is cropped to focus specifically on the children. The surroundings are almost irrelevant. They show only enough to give the picture context.
Which is the better picture? Aside from esthetics, it’s a matter of personal preference — and purpose. With a little help from a photo editing program, the same photo yielded all three results. The first pictures shows the kids in the yard where they spend time with all their toys. It’s a vignette of daily life. The second picture is “cleaned up.” It doesn’t show the details of daily life, but the yard and swing set are still part of the picture’s story. The third picture seems to focus entirely on the affectionate relationship between the two children, presumably brother and sister.
You can do similar things with your stories. I confess that none of the pictures exactly reflect the original. I added extra toys to the first (borrowed from the actual collection), and removed even the originals in the second. The third is simply enlarged and cropped from the original. In the same way, a little editing and pruning, or perhaps adding a few details, will give a variety of results from the same basic story material. If your purpose is to document daily life, you’ll include different sorts of details, and probably more of them, than you would if your purpose were sharing a humorous anecdote or reflecting on the meaning of your life. As you sort through the thoughts you wrote in your first draft, compare each thought to your purpose as you consider whether to keep it, scratch it out, or maybe add a few more details.
Take a look at some of your own stories. So you see ways to crop them or change the variety of detail to improve them?
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal