Freewriting Exercise: Rewrite An Oral Story

For this exercise, you get to retell a story that at some point has been told to you by someone else.

We all have stories we carry around. Some of these stories come from our own experience and others are those that have been shared to us by someone else.

  • Stories passed along by an older wiser person to convey some insight.
  • Funny stories shared at the dinner table.
  • Little anecdotes frequently referred to by relatives, mythologizing some event or a unique scenario.

Take the opportunity to comb through your memory until you find one of these that you would like to put into writing.

Everyone has a few of these stories rattling around inside. Stories told to you by someone. Little routines or bits of shorthand shared among a family or circle of friends.

Some examples to start with

  • The time Uncle Greg went camping in Alaska by himself and accidentally brewed a pot of dirt instead of coffee. What the hell was Greg doing out there by himself?
  • The way your grandparents described their hard life out on the farm, especially the part about how they shared the same bathwater. And why, you still wonder, did they do that, since they had access to plenty of fresh water via their own water well?
  • The story Frank told about his summer picking apples with migrant laborers. Why was it so funny when he told it, yet it’s hard to see upon reflection why it was funny? When you retell it, will it be funny? Or morbid?

The exercise

  1. Bring the gist of the story to mind. It’s OK if you don’t know where to begin or even if you don’t remember all the details about the story. Just get the general flavor of the story. You can feel your way further into the story as you write it.
  2. Write without stopping. You can start over if you want. You can shift things around completely if you need to.
  3. Tell the story as if it’s being told to you. Emulate their voice. Embody their sense of presence. And generally flow with whatever comes. Let the telling of the tale be grammatically incorrect. Adhere to the sounds of the language more than the meaning of the language.

If you have to repeat a section, then do it over again as if you were telling the story to someone in person. Take the opportunity to make this freewriting session a performance, something that will be different if you were to tell it again a second time.

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