'Wait, what is my story?' How to interview yourself for Canada 2017

Do you draw a blank when asked to tell your story? This thought experiment might help.

A thought experiment for reluctant storytellers

Have a seat, friendly stranger. There's plenty of time to talk. (Robin Studniberg)

Imagine striking up a chat with a stranger on a train. She's friendly, curious and new to Canada. She tells you what she thinks of her new city and shares a really funny story about how she moved there by accident

Then she settles back and asks: "so — what's your story?"

If you see yourself rattling off some vague biographical details, you're not alone. Many people draw a blank when trying to turn their long and complex lives into short, compelling stories. 

And yet, that's exactly what we've been asking you to do all throughout Canada's sesquicentennial year as part of CBC's What's Your Story project.

That's because a nation is built out of individual narratives; and although we spend a lot of time talking about our most famous citizens, we know there are millions of undiscovered characters all across Canada.

Our imaginary stranger on a train is sure you are one of them.   

Where do I start?

Start by reminding yourself that your story may seem like old news to you, but it's completely new to your companion. You are the stranger in her mind, and she's trying to learn something about Canada by learning something about you. 

You've told her where you were born and what you do, but this is a long cross-country ride!

So what should you say? Ask yourself any of these great questions to get you started:

  • Has a trip or big move within or outside Canada given you new perspective on the country?
  • What is your most prized Canadian possession? Was does it symbolize for you?
  • Can you think of a time you felt really proud to be Canadian? Or a time when Canada has really disappointed you?
  • Do you have an unusual, unpopular or extreme reaction to any Canadian icons or symbols? 
  • When was the last time you laughed or cried or yelled about something to do with Canada? 
  • Do you have a favourite dinner party story that you could file under "only in Canada"? 
  • When explaining Canada to non-Canadians, what do you oversimplify? Why is that? 
  • Have you ever experienced something strange, surreal or even supernatural in Canada?
  • How do you think about your Canadian identity? Do you take it for granted? Appreciate it deeply? Struggle with it? Why? 

Pro tips for non pros

Jse-Che submitted a story about how she learned to see her name as a Canadian name, no qualifiers. (Yiu Tong Lam)

So you've thought of a story and you want to share it as part of our What's Your Story callout.

Let's put our thought experiment aside for a moment and talk about effective writing. 

The best stories have a clear beginning, middle and end. They have a great opening line or scene. They centre on a theme. They come full circle. They have a nice balance between plot and detail. They don't shy away from emotion or high stakes. They end on a powerful scene or thought. 

Crucially: this shouldn't feel like a writing assignment you were forced to do in school.

If you think you're onto something, fill out this form to tell us your Canadian story. 

We might publish it on our What's Your Story website, and it could even end up in our Canada 2017 yearbook

Remember to read it out loud before you hit send!

What if it's a long story? 

Let's say you're really thoughtful, and you have some time on your hands.

Rania El Mugammar wrote a personal essay about her "bad neighbourhood" — and why she doesn't see it that way. (Noor Al Mosawi)

Your train buddy now wants to know about a big, important experience that changed the way you see Canada. You know, the kind of story that starts with a deep breath. 

Maybe you spent a summer tree planting in the bush, and you hated it but you also loved it and now you'll never look at a tree the same way again. 

Or maybe your parents were refugees, but you never talked about the past until tragedy forced your family history to light. 

Or maybe you used to collect cans by the side of the road, and it taught you something profound about first impressions.

The stranger is fascinated by the little details, but also by the larger lesson. She tells you that you should write a book.

You say, "ha! Well, I guess it's at least an essay." 

If you'd like to pitch a longer personal essay — which we commission and help shape within our criteria — start here

Either way, we appreciate your willingness to help us tell Canada's stories all through 2017!

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