by Debbie Hodge
The “ah-ha!” story form
This could be a realization about other people or about self. It could be a realization about the past or a new understanding of current life.
The easiest and (probably) most successful telling of this kind of story is done from the point of view of the person who arrives at the new understanding—which would most likely be you (and, thus, the writing would be in first person).
In “See Why” I write about what “we’ve all said about rather than to” my father, thus establishing my view. The journaling describes a bumpy tractor ride with lots of sensory details. By the end of the journaling my new understanding of why he has been a farmer all of his life is revealed. See below a break down of writing this kind of journaling with this page’s writing as illustration.
Writing an “ah-ha!” story
1) Establish your main character’s current view on the relevant subject.
Mostly, we’ve all said this about you rather than to you: Why? Did the work of farmer choose you or did you choose it? Why choose work that goes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, fixing machinery in the cold garage at night, putting up hay in the heat, being always available, subject to the whims of weather and animals?
You came here at 10 years old. Your dad died when you were 19. You are 64 now, and the cows are gone and your body has been so well used, you cannot walk any great distance.
2) Describe an incident that brings about a change in this view. This part should be in scene (i.e., in a place with people who do and say things).
This July day, I have come with you to the dump–riding in the wagon your tractor pulls–to help unload the heavy stuff. The sun is bright and warm and we bump down a rutted road, leafy branches brushing the wagon sides. When we are done, you say, “You want to go for a ride?” These photos show only a bit of where we went, through this land that is yours, that you have known for over fifty years, that you have cared for and that has cared for you back.
3) Tell what the new insight is.
Discovering “ah-ha!” moments
It’s actually not too hard when you add in a bit of process. Try these approaches:
Look at behavior (yours or a loved one’s) from many angles and try to understand the motivation. Ask yourself questions like: Why am I always late? Why does my son avoid competitions? For example one of my sons is almost always bringing up the rear of any group outing or event. It took me years to realize that no amount of cajoling was going to speed him up because he values this part of his personality.
Select a photo that compels you, one that you really love and keep coming back to, and then begin journaling about the concrete circumstances of the photo. When was it taken? What was going on? If there’s something in the photo that’s important – a place or thing – write about that. If you keep on journaling past the concrete details, you often find yourself getting to the real heart of meaning.
Extend the commonplace to the meaningful. Grab on to things your family members say or do that you want to just dismiss and think about the why of it all. Is it straightforward or is there something more going on?
Think about the stories you tell repetitively— to acquaintances over dinner, to your friends at coffee, to extended family on the phone. Chances are the story gets refined over time as you make it more compelling or entertaining. Think about why that story gets told – what’s the real story, that is, the story in your heart.
Pay attention and make a note. Some “ah-ha” moments are complex and not easy to articulate. An understanding that you just “get” in your mind and heart may not be easy to talk about. When you have one of those, though, stop your mind a minute and tell yourself to remember this. As soon as you get a chance, write about it — and again, it’s always best to start with the concrete and trust it to move you to deeper meaning.