Writing Narrative Nonfiction: Stories of Home

May 26, 2009
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Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton

Writing Narrative Nonfiction

Stories of Home

by Lisa Dale Norton
June 2009

"As the boxes fill. . .I am reminded of where my stories reside.."

I am in the process of packing up my house to put everything in storage. The time has arrived to travel back to homeland and spend sweet days with my aging mother. As the boxes fill and possessions remaining on counters and shelves dwindle, I am reminded of where my stories reside.

Each item holds a story—the handmade cloth clown that must be well over fifty years old, and first belonged to whom in my family I do not know; the porcelain light switch cover painted with violets that once graced the wall of my childhood bedroom; the constellations of glow-in-the-dark stars scattered across the ceiling above the bed, a tradition begun in my heady twenties.

"If I take the time to gaze at each item . . . a whole world of story rises before me. "

If I take the time to gaze at each item, avoid distraction, and really sink into that one treasured belonging, a whole world of story rises before me. I see the living room at Christmas when I was eight years old, the little gray and pink clown perched on a bough of the pine. I feel the smooth surface of the switch cover and my bedroom from decades ago flashes to life in my mind; I see the color of afternoon light filtering through curtains, hear birdsong outside the windows. The stars above my head take me back to my college days and a pristine May day when my friend, Carol, dragged from the library to the bus stop where we rode to downtown Portland to play at a toy store in the midst of finals. We each bought little packets of adhesive-backed glowing stars, and ever since I have drifted into sleep below some new version of my own Milky Way.

"Memories like these serve as doorways to stories that can crack open your heart . . ."

Memories like these serve as doorways to stories that can crack open your heart and reveal the essence of your life. Look around you. Write the stories of three beloved items. Then look behind those stories and write about the emotions evoked. Somewhere in that mix of stories about stuff and heart connections is the kernel of a great tale about your life.

Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton's new book about memoir, SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE
GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR (St. Martin's Press), is in bookstores now. Lisa is the author of the acclaimed memoir HAWK FLIES ABOVE: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE SANDHILLS, a work combining memoir and nature writing. She teaches for the UCLA Writers' Extension Program and speaks nationally on the process of memoir. She lives in Santa Fe. www.lisadalenorton.com


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