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The Stories We Tell

We’re all storytellers and in this holiday season, when events that will become family lore are taking place, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the stories we tell and how they shape us. Not just the big stories – the books, the plotlines – but the little stories.

Spending time with the Hawaiian side of my family, our holidays always begin with a gathering and a meal, but quickly devolve into sitting on the lanai “talking story.” My family has “talked story” for so much of my life that it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized everyone didn’t do this. You sit around and tell the stories you all know, the ones that have become family lore, the ones that have come to define us. My brother jump-roping down the stairs (and breaking his foot). My grandfather running for the camera (rather than the child) when my uncle (as a toddler) was eating a caterpillar. My aunt (as a small girl) stealing favorite possessions from her siblings and wrapping them under the tree so she could give them Christmas presents they were sure to love. Little stories that everyone in the family knows by heart, stories that have taken on a life of their own, stories that tell us who we are.

I was thinking of these stories the other day and thinking of how they speak to the personalities of the players involved. How they develop character. We tell stories, but it can be easy to forget that our characters tell stories too. They have the stories that define them. They have their own family lore. Is your character the one who jumped-rope down the stairs? Or the long-suffering one who had to take the jump-roper to the hospital? Is your character the one holding the camera? Or the one who handed the toddler the caterpillar? Or the one who finally got the caterpillar out of his mouth, but still laughs every time the story is told?

Family lore can have a thousand different layers and can add a lot of depth to your characters. Does your character love the story that is told about them? Or resent it? Is it a treasured memory or an embarrassment they can never escape? Or perhaps your character has no family lore and feels either envious of others for having it or relieved not to have the baggage?

We all tell stories – even stories about ourselves. The way we tell someone about an event reveals our character – and reveals how we want others to see us. So when you’re writing your next book, perhaps take time to consider the stories your character would tell and the stories that others would tell about them.

And as you’re making your way through the rest of the holiday season, I hope you have many new stories and that they are all filled with JOY and LOVE.

Happy Holidays.

14 responses to “The Stories We Tell”

  1. Rose says:

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.Love your books.

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  2. Tamara Hogan says:

    Vivi, I was grinning throughout your post, because my sisters and I had something happen to us last weekend that’s already become a family story we snort-laugh about.

    We were making a day trip to northern MN to see our grandma. Having grown up in the northern part of the state, land of epic cold and snow, I was wearing boots and a down jacket, “just in case we go into the skoogan (regional slang for offroad/ditch).” My sisters pooh-poohed my habitual risk-based preparations, and wore fall-weight leather jackets and fashion boots with slippery soles. I shook my head, and we all got in my mini SUV.

    Plot-monkeys like us can guess what happened next: my car got sucked into a rut and we went skidding off the road. Nothing serious – we were actually on the grounds of Grandma’s assisted living center by then, so it wasn’t a dead-cell-zone survival situation – but my sisters gamely tried to push my car out of the rut, in zero degrees wind chill and wearing their worthless little coats and boots, until we finally admitted defeat and called a tow truck. They were good sports about it, and no one got frostbite, but we’re still close enough to the event that simply saying “boots” is enough to set off gales of laughter – which is tough, because we’re a family of legit shoe hoors and we talk about boots A LOT.

    And speaking of family lore…Vivi, I was telling someone about your family’s link with Barack Obama just yesterday. πŸ˜‰

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    • Vivi Andrews says:

      Ha! I love those insta-lore events. πŸ™‚ I’m glad you got some grins out of our Obama connection – I still giggle every time someone mentions the whole Birther issue.

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  3. Kate Parker says:

    Vivi, what a timely reminder (to me) that my historical characters have history. Must mull this over. Thank you.

    Kate

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    • Vivi Andrews says:

      It’s those little things that take them from feeling like characters to feeling like people we know, isn’t it? πŸ™‚ Glad the reminder hit you at a good moment, Kate!

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  4. There’s so much psychology and sociology in this post that I got giddy — love it! LOL But then, I love delving into the psyches of people and characters.

    My extended family was spread far and wide, so I rarely got the stories that others got, or the look into my parents’ lives. In fact, I was surprised when I went to my husband’s side of the family and they told and retold (and retold) the same stories whenever we got together. I didn’t realize that was a “thing.” LOL

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    • Vivi Andrews says:

      Oh, it is most definitely a “thing” in my extended family – at least it is on my dad’s side. Less so on my mom’s where we’re restrained and genteel. πŸ˜‰

      Sociology and psychology nerds unite!

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  5. jbrayweber says:

    Wonderful post. I’d certainly love to hear more of your family tales.

    My family has a few great stories we share over and over again for the sheer fun and laughter of it.

    One such story: My dad as a kid had bet his younger brother that he couldn’t climb a treeBut this wasn’t just any tree. No, this tree had barbed vines wrapped all the way up its trunk. Of course, the younger brother said he could. But my dad insisted he couldn’t. Boys will be boys. The younger brother took on the dare, gingerly climbing up the thorny tree. All the while, my dad, egging him on, was collecting dried pine needles and dead brush at the tree’s base. Then, he set the kindling on fire, stepped back, and said, “Yup, you’re right. You CAN climb the tree.”

    The family rolls with laughter. (No one was harmed in the making of this true story. LOL)

    Merry Christmas!

    Jenn!

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  6. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Great post, Vivi! I love the idea of stealing favorite possessions and wrapping them up for Christmas. I have to try that one. πŸ™‚

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    • Vivi Andrews says:

      It was a remarkably clever idea. And every time the story resurfaces everyone in the family chimes in with their frustration at not being able to find that favorite comb or record for days before Christmas. πŸ™‚

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