Episode 37 : Two Systems to Help You Unravel Your Life Story

by Ian · 1 comment

in Conversation, Podcast, Storytelling

Chase a Theme or Flow with the Times

We know a Life Story is about an individual’s life and we want to include certain key points but how do we go about tying all the other elements together, to flush out this life, to understand the points that need to be made?

Diverging paths on Castle Hill, Ljubljana

Tell Your Story in your style …via Paul McClure onFlickr

Primarily a Life Story is made up of two key modalities that we’ll look at in this Episode 37 of Create Your Life Story – Themes and Chronology.

The themes are the events that weave through a person’s life, coming and going depending on the experiences. In the case of some people there could be a theme (service for example), that is the overarching influence within their whole life and throughout their Life Story, we may return time and again to that theme. Or for a period of time there may be a theme that is relevant, which due to some change morphs into some new theme, that is significant for another period of time. This is by far the most common type for most people as our lives change depending on the times.

Chronology is simply the idea of starting at the beginning and working your way through the eras of someone’s life looking at everything that happens as they mature. These are the, let’s start at the beginning and explore your life experience themes, relative to each time, as the years go by. Chronological is the easiest way to grasp and work through a Life Story as it creates the back story to the major events as they come along.

Thematic Storytelling

The advantage of creating a Life Story around a theme is the ability to build interest and manipulate the listener with many of the storytelling techniques. If a person has a single grand experience that everyone knows about there is no advantage of creating mystery in the revelation of that story, it’s already well known but we can start with it and create intrigue in how they happened to end up in that place. Then there is a whole new story of wonder about the journey in how they got to the major event. If there are other lesser known events in their life these can still be evolved towards in the storytelling, slowly allowed to unravel and helping the listen discover the other adventures they had along the way.

The great advantage of thematic storytelling is the creative aspect of jumping from subject to subject amongst different eras or whatever is necessary to create interest in the final revelations.

In Buzz Aldrin’s autobiography, Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon, he starts with sitting on the launch pad about to travel to the moon in July 1969. Immediately we are thrust into the heady experience of travelling to, landing and returning from the moon. The story then evolves through the post landing era weaving in the back stories of his education, family and training ending with a reflective look back on his life and aspirations for the future. We know that Buzz went to the moon so there is no use hiding it, we might as well start with it and capture the reader from the get go and then reveal what makes up the man that could have achieved this main experience of his life.

If however there are lesser known adventures, the story could build from the obvious to reveal the unknown. Say a World War 2 veteran who we know served could reveal the unexpected story of capture and escape that no one had ever heard of before. There are multiple ways of developing thematic story-lines that can add a whole level of creativity to the way you build your Life Story project.

Chronological Storytelling

The most obvious way to tell a story is to start at the beginning. Who were your ancestors and what was it like when you were a kid. Then move through the years to now and let’s look at what is hoped for into the future.

This is the most natural and ordered approach and the one that most people would be familiar with. The main challenge with a chronological approach is wanting to stick to the timeline. Stories don’t do that!

As you start a story there will be a natural tendency to skip eras and events and rewind time to fill in the missing details. Although this may “mess up ” the timeline we can always return to where we drifted off. The important thing is to keep the story flowing while we have it. Sometimes if it’s relevant we can edit the audio and move things around to make the story more timeline friendly.

Your Life Story exists as one mass inside your memory. It’s not as though you just remember a time after you thought of the preceding experience. All experiences live inside you at once and you can remember any time and event at any moment of your choosing. That’s why the story will jump around between times and themes but we need to tell it in some order.

The extreme is where someone has no sense of order and it seems like your herding cats. This more scattered thought process needs to be pulled back and the use of some strict discipline will help to keep things in some order. If this is allowed to run away the listener will loose track of the conversation and interest in the story due to confusion. Allow some wandering around the timeline and themes but once a story is started stay on track.

Telling a story to completion

The importance of a Life Story is that it’s a series of individual stories interwoven using the thematic or chronological method as a means of creating an interest in the overall story. This is where your creativity can shine but the construction of the Life Story is still only the glue that holds the whole together. It’s still the individual stories that are the meat of the Life Story.

Interwoven Scarf close

Themes and time interwoven together

Once an individual story is started it’s important to continue through to the conclusion. Along the way there may be detours to fill in some gaps and explain how certain things came about but the general direction of the story needs to be towards completing that particular story. If a new diverging topic appears, noting it for returning to later is preferred to going off topic.

It requires attention to what is being said to maintain this general flow with the occasional reminder to come back on track and pick up the story in order to take it to completion. Otherwise it could wander off and seem like a story that is left in the air, leaving the listener wondering what the point was.

Once the individual story has been completed, only then is it time to recap on something that may have come up or choose a new prompt to start a new topic.

Your style is the best method

It doesn’t matter which method of telling a Life Story is chosen. For most the chronological method is the easiest and most natural but for some individuals it may be worth considering the thematic style. It’s possible you could record using one method and with some creative editing change it to the other style.

It doesn’t really matter because at the end of the day it’s a thematically told chronological (or a chronological told thematic) story of a persons Life. It’s only about your style of creativity.


  • Look at any themes that are significant
  • Does a theme require particular attention?
  • Could the theme be a pivotal point of the Life Story?
  • Can that single theme be constantly linked to from most other aspects of the Life Story?
  • If there are no strong themes, using a timeline is all that is required

How do you intend to structure your Life Story? Let us know in the comments below.

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Music is from

Carles Cases
“Rosita Please” (mp3)
from “Tribute to Humphrey (Recomposed 3)”
(Temps Record)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
More On This Album

Kermit Ruffins
“Panama” (mp3)
from “Happy Talk”
(Basin Street)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
More On This Album

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