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Personal Stories Empower You More Than Writing Fiction

Daring to be vulnerable can be a truly empowering way to tell better stories.

When it comes to storytelling, many people naturally think of a work of fiction, a fable or fairytale, and this is understandable considering this form of narrative dominates the world of stories. Fictional narratives fill our bookshelves and drive the film and television industries, but they are very different to personal narratives.

A personal narrative is a story told by an individual that is taken from their own experience of life. A personal narrative can take any form to some extent, it can be a song lyric or a poem, but I am talking, specifically here, about the prose form of narrative non-fiction writing or performing.

Many of the greatest personal narrative storytellers don't read their stories from a book or from notes, they tell their story directly to an audience. There are events in every city around the world where people stand on stage, without notes, and share their personal stories; The Moth is probably the most well known of these. The gist of these events is to master the art and of telling personal stories to an audience, something that not everybody is comfortable with.

A beautiful personal story told at The Moth by Anya Rymer.

There are other storytellers who prefer to master the art and craft of writing rather than live storytelling. Some of these writers might be fortunate enough to publish their work in book form or as part of respected online magazines and journals, while others may publish more subtly on their own personal blogs. For some writers though, the best place for their personal stories is in a private journal, where the process of just simply writing their stories down is enough.

David Sedaris is possibly the greatest example of somebody who embraces all of the above. He writes a daily journal but expands many of the entries in his journal into full essays which he is fortunate to have published (and sold over 12 million copies), but he also reads his stories live in front of an audience, although he does read these from a book rather than perform it live to the audience.

David Sedaris reading his story Jesus Shaves. (poor quality recording).

There is a huge difference, as you can probably tell from the above examples, between crafted fiction and personal storytelling. With a personal story there is a far greater connection between the storyteller and the listener, the vulnerability and honesty shown by the storyteller draws people in and creates an openness and a sharing that is harder to create through fictional storytelling.

When you read fiction you don't feel that you know the writer any better after having read their work. And, while every writer will tell you that everything they write contains some part of them, with personal narratives the storyteller is exposing their very souls in front of you.

This vulnerability and honesty is what makes personal narratives so empowering, especially when the storyteller has the courage to share them, but it is also inspiring for the listener too as they can connect with this openness and humanity. Personal narratives essentially demand total honesty. An audience or reader will sniff out any insincerity or dishonesty anyway, especially in the arena of a live performance.

It takes work to initially even find your stories. My previous blog posts on this may help you with this first stage.

Once you have your story then it takes a lot of craft to develop that seed into a great and powerful story - this is what I intend to show you how to develop in this blog, and indeed what my process of StoryHealing is all about.

Even in written form, where perhaps nobody else will ever see it, it takes great courage to dig deep and to be honest and vulnerable enough, even with yourself, in order to get to the deepest truth of a story. But, when you find that place inside where you are brave enough to be your most vulnerable and honest self, then that is the magical place where a true connection between yourself and others can take place.

Personal storytelling can be a very healing process. It is truly cathartic to bring those moments out from deep down inside and be vulnerable enough to say to yourself and the world 'This Is ME'.

These stories - the good, the bad, and the ugly ones - are a part of you and a part of your history, whether you like it or not. They happened and you can't go back and change them, but you can move forward with them. They may have been quietly controlling your entire life up until this point, even unknown to you, while they whir away deep in your subconscious. It is a truly freeing experience to allow those stories to just be and to no longer feel the need to run or hide from them. By taking control of these inner stories we also restore our inner power and our ability to be whole, again.

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