How Story Can Make Your Scrapbook a Page-Turner

NYCDA (closeup)

What if you could suck people into your scrapbooks the same way good authors suck people into their novels?

There is one thing you can add to your scrapbooks to make them massively more compelling. Just one thing. Before I tell you what that is, I want you to see this eight-second animated film of a rectangle with an opening, a circle, and two triangles. Just take a look real quick and then come back.

Did you watch it?

The film was part of some research in which the scientists asked participants to watch it and then tell them what they saw. What did you see?

Here’s what Brian Clark, founder of CopyBlogger, said about what your observation means…

Out of all the study participants, only one responded with “a rectangle with an opening, plus a circle and two triangles in motion.” The rest developed elaborate stories about the simple geometric shapes.

Many participants concluded the circle and the little triangle were in love, and that the evil grey triangle was trying to harm or abduct the circle. Others went even further to conclude that the blue triangle fought back against the larger triangle, allowing his love to escape back inside, where they soon rendezvoused, embraced, and lived happily ever after.

Did you imagine a story as well? Why?

We need stories. Story is the heart of who we are as humans. From our earliest days we have used them to understand who we are, to teach our children about the world, and to entertain. Does that resonate with you as a scrapbooker, or what?

Scrapbooks with a Story

Several things happened when I started thinking of my scrapbook albums as stories, rather than just thinking of the individual layouts that way.

  • In the overabundance of photos, layouts and albums it was suddenly much easier to decide what was worth scrapbooking.
  • I feel more excited and motivated to scrapbook than ever before.
  • I believe the albums make someone want to keep turning the pages more than before.

Whether the story is a common thread or theme that runs through the album, or better yet, an actual plot where the “characters” struggle to get what they want, a story is practically irresistible.

Want an example? Here are some pages that show the plot and conflict of the dance album I’m close to finishing for Trinity. I’ve added the journaling under both in italics…

A Dance Scrapbook Album

Power Elite
Power Elite
This morning I saw I had a message from the owner of the dance studio. We’ve been adjusting to the chaotic life and overall demands of Trinity being on the company team. I was worried she needed to have a talk with me about the rehearsal we accidentally missed on Saturday because we’re still learning how to get it all organized.

But when I listened to her message, she said, “I’m calling about an opportunity for Trinity.” When I called her she began explaining the group of dancers called Power Elite.

“There are those few dancers that can’t get enough dancing,” Tina told me. “They want to be at the studio all the time. They want to be dancing every day.”

That’s Trinity, I thought. Trinity is a true dancer, all the way to her core.

“It’s hard on the families,” Tina continued.

And I knew that, too. Right now she is at the studio 4-5 days a week.

She works hard and slow on her homework (the curse of a perfectionist), and sometimes she’s up late working on it, but she gets it done. The dishes are another story, and we realized we have to rearrange her responsibilities around the house because she just can’t get them done on her long dance days, no matter how hard she tries. That’s why I thought, “Maybe next year,” when Tina said she wanted Trinity on the elite team, despite my exhilarated and racing heart. It would require she dance more than 20 hours a week, every day except Sunday.

“I’ve been watching Trinity,” Tina said. When she first joined Company in August, she definitely wasn’t ready for it yet. She didn’t have quite the confidence in all of the styles.”

No, she didn’t. Trinity had only ever taken ballet until she made company last August. Suddenly she was thrown into tap, jazz, lyrical, and hip-hop. But she progressed fast! I kept hearing about it whenever I went into the studio.

Tina continued to explain, “But I’ve been watching her dance next to two of the Elite girls and I saw that she was right there with them! She’s got that confidence and the ability.”

She also has the passion.

But when is it all too much? Trinity would have an off-balance life. Some people need off-balance lives. Some people can do that, though — can specialize in one thing, throw their life into one passion. Those are the people who become truly great at what they do.

As soon as I told Izzy about the invitation he was ready to shuffle everything around for Trinity to be able to take the opportunity.

So we asked her.

And she was giddy all day about it. So was I. And when we walked into the studio that evening and told both of the Tina’s — the owner and the dance company manager — they acted giddy about it, too.

I’m so proud of that girl. So happy for her.


You practiced from 8am until 1:30. You ate lunch in the car while we made the 25 minute drive home. At home I did your hair and makeup, and then we all rushed back in time for your performance.

You danced your ten numbers until just after 8. You did great! But some of it was a struggle.

You had a hard time breathing after a couple numbers and had a mild, short-lived panic attack in the car afterward.

Sushi (and getting out of the tight car) cured you. You’re coping better, especially after a hard day!

The 12-hour day was a stretch for you.

One thing I told you — no more slumber parties two nights before a big day like this. Maybe without the all-nighter you’ll do better with these extra exhaustive days.

The rest of the story?

Well, I haven’t scrapbooked it yet, but you’ll see Trinity now dances about 30 hours a week and no longer struggles with those marathon-length dancing days. You’ll find out how she started earning the scholarships at conventions this year and was just given the lead role in our ballet production for this spring. Hard work is paying her back.

Why a Story Matters More Than Style

Years ago when I first started thinking about scrapbooks as stories, I asked scrapbookers in a forum if they’d ever made a scrapbook that told a linear story. All but one said they’d never thought of scrapbooking that way. The only one who had sent me a link to a slide show of an entire album she’d completed.

I didn’t really love her scrapbooking style, but that didn’t matter. I was glued to my computer until I read every single word and looked at every single page in her entire scrapbook because it had an actual story to it. It was amazing to peek into someone’s life that way.

A scrapbook with a story can…

  • drive people to turn the page
  • excite you, as a scrapbooker, to create the page
  • provide you with more meaningful layout ideas

It’s Not As Hard As You Think to Make a Scrapbook With a Story.

My two examples have a lot of journaling, but that’s not necessary. It also doesn’t require planning things out ahead of time. I start my scrapbooks with general topics, such as dance, or everyday life. In most cases I don’t find the story until I’ve filled up much of my album. We had to experience the 2.5 years of Trinity dancing before I knew where the story was going.

That’s okay. You can have “filler” pages that relate to the story topic, but don’t necessarily go with the running theme, nor push a plot forward. Here’s an example…

Side Benefit of Dance

Sometimes developing the story simply means moving a page out of the album and adding in one from a different scrapbook. Sometimes it means you need to create a few new pages to move the story along, or make the story complete. If you’ve found empty backs of pages in your album that need to be filled, then you already have places to put those additional layouts that will round out your story.

I’ve shot four different videos that demonstrate this process in action:

  1. Complete an Everyday Life Scrapbook – Paperclipping 213
  2. Transform Your Albums Into Unified Stories: Part 1 – Paperclipping 175
  3. Tranform Your Albums Into Unified Stories: Part 2 – Paperclipping 176
  4. Visual Memoirs – Paperclipping 103

It’s a really fun and motivating way to scrapbook. And if you’re finding your albums are taking over your home and you need to prioritize what you do and don’t scrapbook, this just might be the thing to help you do it!

This post is part of a Play Along series where we finish a scrapbook album together. Click here to start the series, or to move forward click here: Scrapbooking 12×12 and 6×12 Two Page Layouts.

  • Gina Anderson

    Thanks for this post Noelle. Great points & I love the story! I’ve been listening to a lot of the paperclipping episodes while doing some house projects lately and really enjoying them. I first started scrapbooking because I love photos and I love pretty paper & this was a way to combine them. I didn’t journal, just made pretty pages. But, I quickly fell “behind” on scrapbooking because I didn’t have the capability or desire to scrapbook ALL our photos. Now, after listening to many of your episodes and watching Yours & others’ videos, I am re-defining what & why I’m scrapping. I’m looking more for the stories that can be told. I still need to figure out what to do with all the other photos & am considering putting them in pocketed page protectors in the albums with the stories. I guess it’s an evolving process and I’ll figure it out as I go! thanks again.

  • Love hearing this, Gina! And thank you for your membership! Personally, I don’t do something with all of my photos — not even with all of the best photos.. I don’t want THAT many photos printed up and taking space. I’m perfectly content having them on my computer and sharing them online. But if you really want yours printed, I do think it’s a great idea to use pocketed page protectors for the ones you don’t want to scrapbook in the standard way.

  • Susan Manohar

    Hi Noell! Thanks for this great series! I’ve finally finished the album from Stacy’s iScrap class from 2011, and now I’m working on my 2012 yearbook that I had started for the Twelve class. I’ll be working my way through some other unfinished albums, looking for the story in each. I liked how you showed us exactly how you’d be finishing your album in the video, you have a great way of explaining your thought processes. Regarding story, have you read “A Millin Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller? Ali had suggested it in the past, and I also found it helpful in focusing my own stories that I want to tell. I’m loving this series, keep it coming! :-)

  • Thank you — I’m glad you liked how I did the video! No, I’ve never heard of that book. Thank you for sharing! I’ll go take a look at it on Amazon. :)

  • Marie-Pierre

    Great blog post Noell! It just reminded me of the scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. The scrapbooking part of the book is “ok”, but the story linking the pages makes you turn the page. When I look at my albums, I see beautiful pages that I love, but somehow, I don’t love my albums….I just love each separate page. And this might be a solution, even if it’s only for me, to make a story out of them, so that I would love my albums as a whole. I’ll go look to see which stories I have to add in between to link everything together. Thanks for making it look easy to do too. :) Marie

  • Gab

    Wow, what a great post, thanks Noell!

  • I know — when her publisher contacted me and told me about Frankie Pratt I was ecstatic for this very reason!

  • Louella

    Oh my, she is absolutely gorgeous!! Love the layout too.

  • Thank you!

  • Mikki McGehee

    This blog post absolutely captivated me! After reading this post I simply couldn’t wait to get my layouts out of those old post-bound albums and separated into topic based albums so that I could build a compelling story that shows myself and my family. Thank you!

  • That’s awesome! Thank you, Mikki. So glad to hear from you about this. :)