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The Stories of Our Lives – Capturing Hidden Meaning in Our Memories

By Patricia Crisafulli February 29, 2024 Lifestyle

I crept to the end of the diving board at the community swimming pool and jumped. My seven-year-old body plunged into water far deeper than I expected. Popping to the surface, I thrashed frantically – I didn’t know how to swim. A friend tried to help me, but in my panic, I pulled her under. The lifeguard, asleep in the chair, did nothing, but somehow, I made it out. Later that afternoon, when my mother picked me up, I told her how I had “almost drowned” – but she didn’t believe me …

For years, whenever I told this story – to myself or someone else – I always focused on the ending: my mother’s refusal to listen to what happened to me. No matter how many times I recalled the event, I never got beyond that last scene. But was that the real message of the story?

The Snapshot Method

That’s when I began to go deeper, exploring the details and dynamics to add texture, context, and meaning. It’s part of a technique I call “the snapshot method,” and I’ve taught it in writing workshops over the years.

With this technique, we don’t go broad into a linear chain of events, but instead focus deeply on one specific snapshot in time. It’s a great tool for telling our stories, enabling us to recall additional details and uncover meanings that had been hidden for years. Today, as a fiction writer of the Ohnita Harbor Mystery Series, I have also found this same technique can help develop the story, such as using flashbacks for character development.

Writing in Snapshots

Here’s how it works:

Pick a Snapshot

Imagine that you’re paging through an enormous photo album that captures every event in your life. See yourself as a baby, a child, a teenager, young adult, and onward into your life. After a couple of minutes of mental exploration – don’t ruminate too much – pick one image. That’s your snapshot.

Yes, you can use real photos. But most of us don’t have extensive albums that capture every moment. The exercise of exploring memories mentally helps us access many more images that are just below the surface, waiting to capture our attention.

What’s in the Picture?

Write down the details of what you recall. This is the first layer – the basic facts of where, when, and who. Then examine it more closely. What had happened just before – or immediately after? Who is in the background? And who is missing? The more you look at this picture, the more you’ll see and remember. This not only fuels your creative writing, but it’s also a great journaling exercise.

Why This Picture?

Out of a lifetime of possible scenes and images, you picked this one – why? In my own case, I kept returning to the swimming pool story – and not just because I had been afraid of drowning. The answer is in the emotions evoked. Neuroscience tells us that strong emotions – love, joy, sadness, fear – help us recall and record memories more vividly.

In a writing workshop on the snapshot technique that I taught a few years ago, a man in his late 80s remembered being 16 years old and leaving the farm with his family to move into the city – and having to leave his dog behind. He teared up as he recalled a loss that marked the end of his childhood and thrust him into adulthood.

Another workshop student was a very successful woman who focused on the day she left for college, the first in her family to do so. She recalled her pride at being a trailblazer and relief at escaping her rural childhood, but also worry over what would become of her younger siblings.

In the same way, the more you explore the emotional landscape of your memory – and capture it in writing – the more layers and nuances you’ll see in your story.

Write Around the Edges

Shift away from the center of the action and take note of what was happening in the background – off stage, as it were, outside the scene. I call this “writing around the edges.” For example, around the edges of my swimming pool story is the fact that one of my sisters had been hit by a car four years earlier and was facing more corrective surgeries.

This fact influenced my mothers’ reaction. Not only did she refuse to believe anything had happened to me (I looked perfectly fine), but she probably couldn’t contemplate the possibility. This doesn’t change how I felt in the moment, but it does add depth to the story by revealing my childhood family dynamic.

Take Another Look

With the insights from the “edges,” we turn our attention once again to the center of the scene for a fuller experience of the who, what, where of the story. For example, the elderly man who had left his dog behind on the farm also recalled how his father had pressed his lips together to hide his own sadness.

The successful woman pushed beyond her guilt-laden feelings of responsibility for her siblings to recall how proud they were of her and excited every time she came home. These additional layers of meaning add complexity, and that’s probably why we were drawn to these mental snapshots in the first place – because they have more to tell us.

This Brings Me Back to My Own Story

Thrashing around in that swimming pool, I had feared drowning, and yet somehow, I had gotten out. I recalled saying a prayer – “God, if I die, it’s okay…” – and the primal survival instinct it triggered. Suddenly, my arms began moving, as if on their own, windmilling against the water. Slowly, I made my way to the edge of the pool and climbed out.

And there it was – the meaning I had overlooked for so many years: No matter how deep the water, I can save myself. Now, that’s a story of my life I want to explore and tell.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

If you could pick one snapshot of your life to tell its story, what would it be? How has it shaped you in the person you are today? Have you considered the backstory to your snapshot? What depth does it provide? How would it change your story today?

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Powerful story! Growing up and feeling that we don’t matter colors our life. We can change that. We can make a conscious decision to stand up for ourselves, to learn to fully love all that we are. We know it is all about them, it isn’t us. And it isn’t easy. It takes constant reflection.

If I had to change one thing about myself, it would be to allow myself to be more vulnerable to others (thank you Brene Brown). Coming from a British family, that isn’t so easy to do. Especially when you are single now. So I find it is a balance between allowing vulnerability and strength. The trick is when to use it.

Patricia Crisafulli

Well said, Janel, and I completely relate. I have always valued strength and independence, but have (slowly) realized the importance of allowing myself to be vulnerable to build trust with those closest to me. Stories help! When I saw how that 7-year-old learned to live “on two levels”–what she (I) knew to be true and what was acceptable to others around her (me)–I understood the importance of sharing who I am and how I got here.


Wow, you are an amazing writer. This was one of the most inspiring, easy-to-read and comprehend articles I’ve read in a while. Thank you.

Patricia B. Crisafulli

Thank you, Maureen! I appreciate your comment so much. I hope this piece inspires you to explore your stories.


The snapshot is my 14 year old self. She fell in love (or so she thought at the time) with a boy 4 years older. Cut to a teenage pregnancy and subsequent abortion. It was 1971. Two years BEFORE Roe v Wade. The trauma has never left me. It’s just woven itself into the tapestry of my life. And here we are over 50 years later and women have lost autonomy over their bodies. I think about this all the time ever since it was overturned. I was a child. I was in no way prepared to have a child. My parents were informed enough to do what they felt was the best thing for me at the time. Thank God they did, or I wouldn’t have been blessed with the life I ended up with. I know I may not live to see it reinstated but hopefully my grandchildren will….


Julie, there’s a book waiting to happen from this memory.


I’ve actually written a memoir. Because there is much, much more to my story than what I wrote in my post. However, no one seems to be interested in it unfortunately. But thank you for saying what you did. I believe in it, so I’m going to keep trying to get it published.


Julie,write your story You think no one is interested ,wrong you could help someone. I cannot & will not tell my story death would be better than to relive the past! So I keep mine tucked into the corners of my mind to keep living


Julie, please write your story. Most main stream publishing houses are interested in only how they want material presented. Many of my friends self-publish. I have a blog that I’ve runs for years. Whatever media you choose, please let us know. I’d love to read it!

Wendy Kurchak

Thank you for sharing your story!

Patricia B. Crisafulli

A very, very powerful story with incredible personal and historic backstories


Beautiful story, Julie. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. A few of my friends went through that. Yes, our grands will change that. We are but a bleep in time.

I’ve been psychic life long and an intuitive. I knew when my daughter had a miscarriage that the little being would come back. I believe that is true with pregancies when they end. And that being came to us eight years ago. She has a knowing about life – an old soul. Not sure her mother understands that, but I do.

There is so much we don’t know. Government is slowly releasing information about unidentified flying objects. Many of us have had experiences seeing them. Missing time. Knowings. Trust your intuition.

What a beautiful person you are! Again, thank you for sharing. Hugs.



Patricia Crisafulli

Thank you, Clarice. I hope you find inspiration to explore your stories–including “around the edges.” :-)

The Author

Patricia Crisafulli is an award-winning writer and a New York Times Bestselling author. My first novel, The Secrets of Ohnita Harbor, was published in September 2022 by Woodhall Press, now followed by The Secrets of Still Waters Chasm, out now! I'm also a Communications consultant, mother, and running enthusiast.

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