Frequently Asked Questions
- 1. How does MemoryStoria work?
- You record your first story and create a user profile. Then you record more stories. The stories are currently recorded in text only, but audio and video recording will become available in the summer. You may join the free online storytelling course, which teaches you useful skills. You start interacting with other people on the platform and with members of your family and friends, who can all help you record your life stories. When you decide you’ve recorded enough stories, you click a button (to be available soon) and all your stories get automatically compiled into a digital book which can be emailed to friends and family or anyone else you decide.
- 2. Who can use it?
- It is for everyone who would like to record their life stories. The elderly have more stories and after retirement have a bit more time, but if you think you can dedicate time to recording your stories, you are welcome regardless of age or anything else.
- 3. Can I write in a language different from English?
- Yes, you may write in any language you feel most comfortable with.
- 4. Why should I record my life stories?
There are at least three possible reasons: You may want to record your stories for your friends and family: you would be amazed how little they know about your life. You may record your stories and make them public. Or you may record them just for yourself. In any case, just do it, because “even the palest ink is stronger than the best memory” (Chinese proverb).
We have broken up these reasons into a further 7:
To share with your children and grandchildren
To leave behind for future generations
To give material for research to historians and sociologists
To realise how diverse your life has been
help you overcome painful memories
To discover your talent as a writer and get published
To enjoy the highlights of your life again
If you have the time, you may find inspiration in a shorty essay by George Orwell, with the title “Why I Write”
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- 5. Can I help you make MemoryStoria better?
Yes, we appreciate all your feedback and suggestions. Please click on the grey “Feedback” button on the extreme right of any page on the website and send us your comments.
- 6. Getting Started
There are two approaches to recording your stories. You can use prompts, e.g. family photos, to tell stories based on them. Or you can record the stories that come to you on a given topic, e.g. on travels, holidays, people. We do not recommend writing stories chronologically. Start from anywhere.
Where do I start? Which stories should I tell first?
Start with Number 1. Your first memories of virtually anything that matters or of the first time that you did something. To give you an idea, at the end of this page we have drafted a list of events, people and stories you are likely to remember as you first, to use as a prompt.
First things first: this list of events, people and stories is meant to help you remember your stories:
First day at school childhood friend. First trip abroad. First Christmas you remember. First child. First airplane flight. First job. First day at school. First visit to the zoo. First toy. First house. First purchase (anything, really). First time voting in elections. First car. First time you learned to swim; Or cycle; Or whistle. First church/religious service. First wedding. First time you lost someone. A grandparent?
You can be even more creative or emotional: First time you were not afraid of the dark. First time you felt butterflies in your stomach. First love. First big love. First romance. First broken heart (yours or the heart of the other side). First pet. First pet that survived being smothered with love. First painting. First art performance (of any type, choir boys!)
You can be geeky or nerdy: First computer (now this is a big love story for some). First mobile phone. First time on the internet. First sent email. First time looking through a telescope. How about a microscope? First book. First foreign language class? First school trip. First letter of the alphabet you could write. First paper letter you wrote. Or received. First of anything really.
How can I decide if a story is worth telling?
Focus on the highlights in your life: the most memorable stories will naturally spring to mind.
- 7. Mnemonic techniques; truth and memory
If I don’t write down a story, I forget it. What can I do?
Catch your stories before they run away from you. When a story comes to mind, make sure you jot down 1-2 keywords: brown dog; Gibraltar trip… You may find it useful to have a pencil and paper at hand, or to use the notepad on your mobile phone.
How can I avoid overwriting my memories?
Scientific research shows that when you recall a memory, you are overwriting the original memory and substituting it with the more recent recollection. An example can be a vivid story told to you by someone else and involving people you know: after telling the story a few times, you may start remembering it as something that happened to you.
When you recall stories, try to jot down the keywords about the story the very first time. Write down whether you were present from the outset or if someone told you this story.
How does one know they remember the truth?
Your stories are your best attempt at telling the truth. It is your memory of reality. The recollections of the internal and emotional truths of two people are never the same – and this is OK. We all see the world through different eyes and remember things with different intensity.
How do I know a story does not come from a dream?
If a story is too unreal, it may have been a dream that after years or decades you unconsciously start to remember as part of your real life. However, unless a story contravenes the laws of physics (e.g. flying with your arms only), you will not know for sure if it was a dream. So, just learn to live with the uncertainty.
- 8. Overcoming writer’s block
Summarising my entire life is a daunting, almost intimidating task. How can I deal with it?
Here are three ideas:
A) Use mind mapping to sketch out the stories of your life. Brainstorm and tag key stories, without worrying too much about drawing links between stories. Each of your experiences can be told as a stand-alone story.
B) Use the SOAR model (developed further in a separate question) to record a quick draft of a story in 4 sentences: Situation, Obstacle, Action, Result. Not every story has to have an Obstacle. Take 5-10 min to write down these four sentences. You can add as much detail as you want later on.
C) Just start writing, anything from the past that comes to mind. The more you type or write, the more memories will start flooding in.
- 9. Frequency of writing
How often should I write? How much time should I spend?
It is entirely up to you. Once a week may be sufficient. Make sure you do not miss our weekly storytelling session as it will help you set the pace and guide you to new stories.
How much time should I spend on one story?
You may want to learn a few basic rules of time management. A key tenet is “don’t be a perfectionist”. Do not try to produce a great piece of literature from the outset. Very few famous authors write beautifully in their first draft. They spend more time editing and re-writing afterwards. However, for a memoir for personal use, too much (self-)editing is completely unnecessary. Just aim to revise your story several times later on. Also, do not get stuck in exploring details you do not know, family research, etc. It is your memories that matter, so move on and leave things for later to come back to.
- 10. Family histories and genealogy
How is MemoryStoria different from family history companies? (Ancestry, Find My Past, My Heritage).
Family history goes deep back in time but tells you very few stories, as the focus is on tracing back your (long-dead) ancestors. MemoryStoria focuses on the last three generations of people who are alive and can tell their stories. We focus on breadth and quality of content, not depth in time.
How can genealogy be useful in my memoirs?
You can write your own stories about past generations, especially if you know some of their stories. After all, these stories have shaped who you are.
- 11. Using photos, documents and old diaries
Do I need any official documents to write my memoirs?
No. No official documents are necessary. All you need are your memories. You don’t need to prove to anyone that something happened in your life. However, you may photograph or scan an old document and attach it to a story to make it more vivid.
Should I use cover photos or images embedded in the story?
Yes. Please use any images that you have in your archives and would be relevant to the story.
If I don’t have my own images, can I use generic images from the internet?
Generic images (e.g. of places, events, etc.) would still add to your story. However, be careful not to infringe on the copyright of image owners. Usually a safe bet is to use images from Wikipedia, for which simple attribution of the author gives you permission to use the image in a non-commercial way.
Can I use an old journal/diary to help me in the preparation?
Old diaries are the perfect complement to a memoir. You can tell stories based on journal entries, type them up or just read them on tape.
- 12. Writing style and story length
How important is my writing style?
Not particularly important. After all, you are writing for yourself and for your loved ones. Would your grandchildren care how good a writer you are, if you’ve told them a great story?
How long should a story be?
Try to include stories of varying length: from very short ones to 2-3 page long ones. It will come naturally to you to have long-ish stories. What you should work on is to have short stories as well. Some stories can best be told in several sentences. Remember, the shortest story in the world popularised by Ernest Hemingway was just 6 words long: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This has inspired an entire genre: the six-words-memoir. So in short, from 6 words to 6 pages.
- 13. Plot variability and SOAR methodology
How important is the plot?
Kurt Vonnegut has a very inspiring 4-min Youtube video outlining the four major types of story plots. You will enjoy it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oP3c1h8v2ZQ
Are there any shortcuts to efficient writing?
We have developed the SOAR method of storytelling especially for the MemoryStoria users. This method helps you jot down any story in 4 sentences, by focusing on four constituent parts of most stories:
Not all stories conform to the SOAR model. For instance, don’t enforce upon your stories non-existent obstacles.
The SOAR method produces the backbone of a story in 5-10 min and leaves the details to be added later (if any). So with a little practice you could start churning out 50 stories a day.
Danielle Steel, you’d better watch out!
- 14. Types of stories. Sad stories
Should I tell my sad stories?
Don’t sugarcoat your life experiences. There are happy and sad moments in everybody’s life. Storytelling is therapy and you’ll learn from revisiting your memories. This is why we have created the story category “Adversity”, in addition to happier themes such as Travel, Memorable Events or Childhood. Charlie Chaplin says: “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
- 15. Interviews and collaboration
Who would be the best person to interview me?
Telling stories recorded on video or audio in a conversation with an interviewer is a captivating experience. You may ask anyone to do the recording and interviewing, including any of your children, grandchildren, friends or neighbours. Children and grandchildren are particularly appropriate as you are likely to share a lot of experiences with them and can have a real conversation on tape about the times you have been together.
How much of my memoir should be my own work vs. the stories told by my children and grandchildren?
It’s fun when it’s a team project, the work of different generations. We encourage all authors to engage their family and friends. For this reason we have created the “Ask a loved one to tell a story” button that sends your story together with a request for a loved one’s version of the same story (or a completely new story).
- 16. Pseudonyms and anonymity
Should I tell my stories anonymously? Should I make them public?
Interesting stories, even when told anonymously, help inspire others to record their life stories. All your stories are recorded as private by default but we encourage all authors to make as many stories public as you feel comfortable. Thus, your life will have the chance to impact others.
Pick a pseudonym if you’d like. Telling your stories under a pseudonym is better than doing it anonymously. This would help you better protect your copyright without hindering the access of people who would enjoy reading about your life.
- 17. Public stories and copyright protection
Should I make all my stories public? Or just selected stories?
If there is no defamation, libel or plagiarism in your stories, you may want to consider making all your stories public. Make as many stories public as you feel comfortable with. If in doubt, first make public your childhood stories as there is little risk of embarrassment there. We’ve all been children.
Do I have copyright on my stories if I make them public?
You always have copyright on all your stories, whether you make them public or keep them private. Our terms and conditions envisage that we may use a story we have particularly liked to spread its reach (e.g. by tweeting about it or posting excerpts on websites and in newsletters) but you retain your unrestricted copyright vis-à-vis third parties.
Your copyright is valid for your entire lifetime and will also be inherited by your heirs, as EU law envisages that copyright lasts 70 years after the death of the author.
- 18. Wisdom and life lessons; Proverbs and metaphors
Should my stories contain some form of life lessons?
No. But if you include a lesson for others from your experience, future generations will appreciate it. The easiest is to find a proverb that reflects your experience and draw an analogy.
The beauty of proverbs is that you can almost always find an analogous proverb for a given type of story, action, behaviour or circumstance. Just try to think a bit more metaphorically. If you cannot think of a proverb or metaphor, you may just as well create one yourself.
- 19. Story titles
What titles should I give to my stories?
Try to make your titles a bit more specific. For example “First Day at School” is a very generic headline that many others may choose. Instead, add a bit more detail, e.g. “My First Day at School in Atlanta” or “My first day at school, 1967” or “Peter Paul’s First Day at School and My Blue School Bag”.
You may use the latest research to enhance the attractiveness of your headlines. Four types of “context” words (1,072 words in total) when used in the headline elicit a much higher response by readers:
- Time (abrupt, today, fast)
- Insights (admit, idea, secret)
- Motion (act, climb, journey)
- Space (away, outside)
Headlines that have at least a 17% ratio of such words to non-context words provoke an increase in the reader’s emotional engagement. The full list of words can be found here:
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- 20. Memoir (book) title
Should my complete memoir have a title?
If you can think of a witty name for your memoirs, so much the better. Below are several main categories of titles:
- Generic: “Stories of My Life”, “Childhood Memories”
- Specific: “My Blue Shoes”, “Georgia, my oh mine”, “Made in China”
- Inspirational: “Long Walk to Freedom” (Nelson Mandela), “Dreams of My Father” (Barack Obama)
- Witty/Funny: “The Memoirs of an Amnesiac”, “Things I did and things I think I did”, “Fifty is not a four-letter word”
- 21. Editors and ghost writers
Should someone edit my stories?
No need for a professional editor, unless you want to publish your stories commercially. However, the editing skills of any friend or relative would be most welcome as a second pair of eyes to improve your stories.
Can I use a ghost writer?
Ghost writers are helpful, but they cost money. Same as with a professional editor. If someone else in your circle can do the job, ask them a favour.
- 22. Chronological order
Should I tell my stories in chronological order?
No. Tell your stories as they come to mind. You can rearrange them at the end and put them on a timeline.
- 23. Thematic stories
Can I tell my stories as themes, rather than as timelines?
Picking a theme is a great way to tell a story. For instance, if you pick a theme “My interaction with animals”, you can tell in a single story about your pets, visits to zoos around the world, safari tours, etc. This would be an incredibly engaging
- 24. Printed book
Should I print my memoirs in a printed book?
A printed book (or a dozen of them) is a great idea. You may print the books and give them away to friends and family. And do not forget to keep one for yourself, to put on your mantelpiece.
- 25. Recording audio and video
Should I record my life stories in audio or video?
Audio and video stories can be very interactive and engaging. However, the difficulty with them is that they are much harder to edit, especially if you don’t have professional video-editing equipment. The simplest way to record your memories is in short written (typed) stories but anything beyond that, or a mix of text and audio/video are all available options.
- 26. Inspirational talks and famous authors
Many famous writers have written their memoirs. Many of them have left memorable quotes about their writing and writing style, or just the occasional piece of advice for the rest of us. These quotes are a great inspiration for us, who follow in their footsteps:
“We all have our time machines. Some take us back - they're called memories. Some take us forward - they're called dreams.” (Jeremy Irons)
“A lot of presidential memoirs are dull and self-serving. I hope mine is interesting and self-serving.” (Bill Clinton)
“Men’s memoirs are about answers; Women’s memoirs are about questions.” (Isabel Allende)
“You shouldn't wait for other people to make special things happen. You have to create your own memories.” (Heidi Klum)
“There was never yet an uninteresting life. Inside the dullest exterior there is drama, comedy and tragedy.” (Mark Twain)
”All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us” (Gandalf, in The Fellowship of the Ring)
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." (Maya Angelou)
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” (Louis L’Amour)
"The palest ink is stronger than the best memory." (Chinese proverb)