Stick Stories

The crude stick drawings above tell a story: Soku and Buho have a spat. Soku apologizes. They reconcile. The end.

 In October I attended a Road Scholar program at the Pilgrim Pines Conference Center near West Swanzey, New Hampshire. During the course of the week, Alan Rumrill, Director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County shared stories of local history and legends. One of my favorite was about Mrs. Taggart.

One winter day in the pre-Revolutionary era, Mr. Taggart took off for town to stock up on desperately needed provisions. He got caught in a blizzard that detained him for an indefinite period of time, and back then this meant days or weeks, not hours. When he was finally able to return, he did so with dread, fearing his family had perished from hunger. As he finally emerged into the clearing, he found smoke rising from the chimney and his family hale and hearty. Mrs. Taggart had slaughtered and butchered a moose with the family axe, ensuring her family's survival. Frontier women always were a force to be reckoned with!

As I reflected on Mrs. Taggart's story, I noticed that story is as simple as the stick figures I used to draw when I was six years old. Just as the sticks in the figures above represent entire people, the sticks in Mrs. Taggart's story form a complete story with beginning, middle, end, tension, characters — it's all there. The term “stick story” came to mind to describe this level of simplicity. Obviously there is a lot more to that story, and we spent a couple of pleasant mealtimes speculating with tablemates about story embellishments. But we kept coming back to the “sticks” of the story to regroup. Perhaps the story was told in more detail 250 years ago. Perhaps time has gnawed the meat from its bones. But the bones persist in local legend, and today we enjoy adding our own meat to revive them.

The tie-in with life story writing is the challenge of making modern stories as memorable as that stick story, as simple as Dick and Jane. Of course we want to add the details that flesh out those sticks and breath life into them, but if the stick structure isn’t there, the story won’t stand the test of time. 

Two tips for working with stick stories
  1. Draft a new story in stick story form before developing it further. This should make it easier to stay focused and avoid pointless sidetracks
  2. Keep basic story ideas in stick story form to cement the concept for later development. This takes only minutes and should fit on an index card.
The stick stories are what people remember. You can count on them forgetting the details soon after reading or hearing, but if the sticks are well-drawn, well-assembled, they’ll remember the story!

Write now:
pull out your story idea list and select half a dozen entries. Write these in stick story form to be fleshed out another time. Or check a few older stories to make sure their stick stories stand on their own.  


Jerry Waxler said...

I have been wrestling my own story into shape and think it is starting to feel compelling - but in order to explain it to potential readers, I still need to find the "sticks" - I'm going to give your technique a try. (Congratulations for couching the lesson in a story."

Memory Writers Network

Sharon Lippincott said...

It's not always easy to find the sticks. I hope it works for you.