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17.3: Starting the "Who I Am" Story

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    Your Who I Am story should start to answer the question “who are you?” However, this story should only focus on one characteristic or aspect of your personality. Think back to Skip and the Who I Am story from the beginning of this chapter. His story helped prove he was ready to be a leader and ready to run a corporation.

    As with most other types of writing, brainstorming can be a useful tool. To begin, you might just think about all the ways to finish the sentence “I am . . .” The word you choose to finish this sentence then becomes the subject of your Who I Am story. If a subject is not jumping out at you, think about the way your mother, best friend, significant other, or pet might describe you. Think about a characteristic that only the people closest to you see—for example, has anyone ever told you “when I first met you, I never would have guessed that you were so funny (or competitive or happy)”?

    Once you have a characteristic in mind, keep brainstorming and think of one specific example or event that illustrates this characteristic. This example will become your story. Again, much like a topic, sometimes an example, or story, will just jump to mind. However, if you cannot think of an example right away, look through some old pictures, scrapbooks, or yearbooks. Reread journals or listen to favorite songs. All of these things can spark memories, and one of these memories can become the example or event on which your Who I Am story will focus. This event does not have to be exciting or flamboyant. Simple but heartfelt stories often are the most effective. Many things can be faked in life, but sincerity is generally not one of them.

    Writing the “Who I Am” Story

    Once you have the topic, just start writing. Writing a story is not like baking a cake—there is no formula or recipe that guarantees a perfect story. But here are some steps to consider:

    1. Ask some questions about the event you are going to write

    When did this event take place? What are the starting and ending points? Where did this event take place? Who was there? Was there a conflict? A resolution?

    2. Write down everything you remember.

    Of course, there are numerous ways to write a first draft, but for a Who I Am story, simply writing down everything you remember about the event is a good place to start. Usually, it is better to have more writing than what you need. So start by writing everything down in chronological order. Do not worry about any rhetorical strategies or making it sound good. Think about the concept of fabula and just write down the entire series of events or actions.

    3. Go do something else.

    Once you have the entire story written down, set it aside. Go take a nap or play with your dog, and come back to the story later. Then reread it and see if you left anything out. Time permitting, go through this process of putting the story aside and then rereading it several times.

    4. Summarize the main point of the story in one or two sentences.

    Go through the story and eliminate everything that does not relate to this main point. Do not worry about length right now. Focus on quality and creating a unified story.

    5. Think about creating a dominant impression.

    Is the story sad, thoughtful, sarcastic, or humorous? If you have trouble deciding on a dominant impression, think about setting the story to music. What song would you pick—Mozart’s “Moonlight Sonata,” something by the Violent Femmes, a sultry jazz tune—and what emotion does this song conjure up?

    6. Keeping the main point and dominant impression in mind, add details and expand the most important parts of your story.

    Real time should now become narrative time. Add concrete details and imagery. Imagine the different senses to which the story could appeal. We are a very visual culture, but go beyond describing what things look like—consider incorporating smells or sounds. Think about the way something feels when touched. Also think about how these details can help draw a reader in. Consider this an example from a student’s Who I Am story:

    At the beginning of every school year, I am obligated to introduce myself to a new sea of adolescent hormones swimming with impulsiveness, curiosity, and unfiltered tourette-like verbal ejaculations. Sure, I could stand before the little urchins, and with trident in hand, I could dictate the rules of my class and cast off a long list of life experiences that made me the immortal that stands before them or I could let them place their expectations upon me creating an environment of perceived equality. Being a believer in a democratic classroom, I always opt for the latter.

    Look at the way this student builds on the details: the words “sea,” “swimming” and “trident” work beautifully together. And look at the choices the student made: using the words “adolescent hormones” and “urchins” instead of students; “unfiltered tourette-like verbal ejaculations” could have simply been opinions or obnoxious comments. The story includes a lot of visual elements, but the phrase “verbal ejaculations” also appeals to the ears. These words, phrases, and ideas all work together to, as clich.d as it sounds, paint a picture of the author of this story.

    The author of this story is a student, but she is also a middle-school teacher. The main point of the story is to show who she is as a teacher. Everything in this paragraph relates to that main point. We do not know the color of her hair, whether she is wearing a shirt or a sweater, or if she is tall or short. After all, none of these things relate to the point of this story. Great detail and description and emotions are very important to the Who I Am story. But they need to be the right details, descriptions, and emotions, and they need to be used at the right time.

    8. Make certain the story shows and does not tell.

    The ultimate success of the Who I Am story depends on how well you show, not tell, who you are (i.e. use more indirect characterization than direct characterization). Have faith in your words and in the story you are telling. Trust that the story works and do not end the story with a statement like “clearly this event shows that I am a trustworthy person.” Let the story do its job. Consider two more paragraphs from our middle-school teacher’s story:

    On the first day of class last year, I allowed students to take seats at their leisure. I sat on my desk and when everyone was settled, I quietly commanded their attention by placing a large black top hat upon my head. Conversations abruptly stopped as my curious audience took notice. ‘If I were to say that hats are a metaphor for the different roles we play in our lives, what do you think that means?’ I was met with blank stares. ‘What if I said that I play many roles every day? I am a teacher, a mother, a daughter, a coworker, and a friend. Are the expectations for those different roles the same or different?’ A hand raises and a girl with pale skin, lively eyes and thick auburn hair answers, 'Of course they’re different. I don’t act the same around my friends as I do in front of my parents!’ She has a smug ‘as if’ expression.

    ‘You’re absolutely right,’ I acknowledge. ‘Now what if I were to ask you to define the expectations of my role as your teacher?’ Eyebrows rise as the class considers this. ‘I’m going to pass out sticky notes and I want each of you to write down a word or phrase that describes what my job is as your teacher. When you are done, I want you to place your note on the strip of blue paper that runs up the wall in the back of the room. Each of you should place your note above the note of the person that went before you so that we create a column of sticky notes. Does everyone understand?’ A thin-faced, black boy with large eyes and bright teeth pipes up, “So we get to tell you how to do your job?’ I thoughtfully pause before answering, ‘Well . . . yah!’

    What do we learn about the author from reading this passage? What kind of teacher is she? We could describe her as creative, brave, caring, and dedicated. We could decide that she is not afraid to take some risks. We know that she loves her job. Does she directly state any of these things? No. But her story shows that she is all of these things.

    9. Look at the introduction of your story.

    Will it grab a reader’s attention? Think about sitting in a doctor’s office or waiting for your car to be repaired. You pick up a magazine and start to thumb through it. How long do you give an article to grab your attention before turning the page? Some people flip to the next page if the title of the article does not interest them; other more generous readers will read the first sentence or two before deciding to continue reading or to move on to the next page. Something in the opening paragraph, hopefully in the first sentence or two, should grab the reader and make him or her want to read on. Here is an example from another student’s Who I Am story:

    I thought by the time I was thirty I would know what I wanted to be when I grew up. But here I am on the eve of my thirty-first birthday, and I am still searching, searching for where I fit into the world, amidst all the titles I have been given such as Sydney’s Mom, Tripp’s Wife, and Janice’s Daughter. Then there are all the roles I play: maid, chef, bookkeeper, personal shopper, and teacher. Of course that’s just what I do and who I do it for. The real question remains, when you take all of that away, who am I?

    This is the first paragraph of the student’s Who I Am essay, and it does several things nicely. The conversational tone draws us in. We almost feel as if we are getting to peek inside the author’s head. “Tripp’s Wife,” “Janice’s Daughter,” “chef,” “personal shopper” are lovely specifics, and equally important, these are specifics to which most peoplecan relate. Perhaps we are Bob’s son or Suzie’s boyfriend instead of a daughter or a wife, but we can still see the similarities between the author’s life and our own. And because of that, we want to know how she answers the question “who am I?”

    10. Treat this story like any other paper.

    Have a solid organizational scheme (chronological often works well), keep one main idea per paragraph, use transitional phrasing, vary the sentence structure, and make sure the ideas flow into each other. Reflect on word choice and  particularly verb choices. Just think, for example, of all the different synonyms for the word walk. A character could strut, saunter, stroll, sashay, or skip. She could mosey, meander, or march. Powerful verbs are a great way to add panache and detail to a story without making it wordy or slowing the pace.

    11. Proofread, edit, and proofread again.

    Give the story to a friend and ask them to read it. Do not tell them what the paper is about or what you are trying to accomplish. Instead just ask them what they learned or what three words they would use to describe your story.

    12. And the last bit of advice—have fun.

    The best storytellers enjoy telling stories. When you are telling a story, pick a story that matters to you and a story that you really want to share. Let your love for that story come through, and let others see you through your story.


    17.3: Starting the "Who I Am" Story is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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