Preparing To Tell Your Story

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

Writing an outline can help make telling your story much easier

Any good journalist, author, or storyteller will tell you that their success comes from prep work. The story we see on the nightly news is the tip of the iceberg. There are hours or days of work that went into researching, interviewing subjects, and outlining the piece before recording it on camera.

The great news is, you don’t work for CNN and can do as little or as much preparation as you'd like before recording your story. You aren’t trying to make a professional recording, but rather you're capturing a meaningful story for future generations. Still, a few minutes of preparation can help make all the difference when it comes to narrating your story. There is no wrong way to tell a story, but there are simple steps you can take to make recording your stories significantly easier.

Write It Down

Whether you're the storyteller/narrator, or you're interviewing a loved one, prepare a written outline or list of questions to make the recording process easier. If you've ever wondered how reporters, radio personalities, and vloggers are able to speak with ease, it's because they research their story and write talking points.

You'll want to write a list of talking points that include key details so the story flows. Talking points work like a recipe card for a great story. Before baking cookies, you review the list of ingredients to make sure you have enough eggs, butter, sugar, flour, etc., so you don't have to run out to the store mid-recipe.

The Recipe for a story is incredibly simple: Who, when, where, what, how, and why.

For each story you (or a loved one) will tell, write down a quick outline:

Who (is this story about)?

Start out by introducing your story's characters. Differentiating between family members can be confusing when there are 4 Patricks, 3 Miriams, and 2 Grandpas and Grandmas. The amount of detail you give is entirely up to you, but if Uncle Paul was a notorious prankster growing up, that is the kind of detail that might foreshadow the tone of a hilarious story.

When (did the story take place)?

You'll want to mention how old your characters are, or the date of the story if it was a holiday or family reunion. A story about Aunt Jean crying because she didn't get a cookie paints a different picture when your audience knows she was 4 years old and not 40! It also makes a difference if it was one of Grandma's Christmas cutout cookies that she only makes once a year on Christmas Eve.

Where (did the story take place)?

Location is a key element in setting the stage for your story. Extra details like the time of day, temperature, season, and weather can help your listener picture the setting.

What (happened)?

You already have the ingredients––now it's time to start mixing! Explain what you remember happening.

How (did this story come to be)?

You can answer the 'How' question at any time during the story. Answering the how takes a story from a list of names and dates to a personal and relatable experience. How is the difference between:

"My great grandparents moved to the U.S. in 1923."


"Great Grandpa and Grandma didn't have enough money to move the entire family to the U.S. at once, so Great Grandpa came over in March of 1923 and got a job in a factory. He sent every cent he could back to Great Grandma so she could join him 6 months later."

Why (is this story important)?

"This story matters because (fill in the blank)." Why is this story important to you? Why should your family listen?

There is no right or wrong place to answer the why question. Personally, I use it to perk my listener's interest early. For example, I provide a summary explanation that is built on during the story:

"Did you know Aunt Cindy and Uncle Mike met while she was working as a cashier at the supermarket?"

Or, I might answer the why question to create a teaser:

"You know, without Wegmans our family would look significantly different!"

Both of these introduce the same story, but with different approaches.

When you're getting started with outlining your stories, there will be a bit of trial and error. Don't be discouraged! Jotting down a quick list of answers to who, what, when, where, how, and why will help you focus your story and remember the details you want to include.


Who: Aunt Cindy and Uncle Mike.

What: Met while Aunt Cindy was working at a grocery store named Wegmans.

When: 1976, when they were both in high school.

Where: Wegmans Supermarket on Fairport Road. It still looks the same as it did when they met.

How: Uncle Mike would ride over on his dirt bike to buy several packs of gum a day, just so he could go through Aunt Cindy's checkout line. One day, Cindy's sister Pam happened to be there and she saw that Cindy was too shy to speak to Mike, who was obviously quite taken with her. She set the two up right there on the spot, and they've been together ever since.

Why: I always find this story amusing because I met my wife, Kelly, when the two of us were working at Wegmans together 30 years later. It makes me think that if you're looking for a good spouse, you should start your search at the grocery store!

Now, it's your turn! Try your hand at writing the answers to the questions above for one the stories you've collected. If you're still unsure of recording yourself, just read back the answers. At the end, you'll have a simple story that is all yours. Use the StoryCombs app to share it with your family, and ask them to add details or versions you may have missed. You'll be amazed how rich the story becomes over time.

Up Next


The StoryCombs team created this blog to encourage, inform, and inspire your storytelling journey. Try the StoryCombs app to curate a lasting legacy through narrated photos. We believe your family’s narrative is precious and deserves a safe place to live and grow.

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