Write a story composed of subtotals. In the example below, notice how author Gregory Burnham shares details of his life in number form. For example, he tells us how many rotten eggs he's thrown (1), the number of postcards he's sent (831), the number of miracles he's witnessed (0).
What makes Burnham's story so compelling—and what makes this task trickier than it first seems!—is that through numbers, Burnham constructs a picture of his life. By the end of this short story, we have a sense of who he is and the experiences he's had.
Consider your own life. You probably don't know the exact number of times you've scraped your knee, but could you venture a guess? Three scraped knees in a lifetime vs. three hundred tells us quite a bit about a person. How about the number of times you've traveled outside of your state or province? The number of bananas you've eaten? Number of allergic reactions? Number of tears? Number of quizzes aced? Failed? Number of true loves? Number of pet spiders?
As you collect subtotals from your life, pick out the ones for your final draft that are particular to YOU. Also try pairing items that speak to each other. For example, these two numbers aren't very interesting on their own, but together they tell a story: "Number of compliments, given: 4,051; accepted: 2,249."
S U B T O T A L S [excerpt]
Number of refrigerators I've lived with: 18. Number of rotten eggs I've thrown: 1. Number of finger rings I've owned: 3. Number of broken bones: 0. Number of Purple Hearts: 0. Number of holes in one, big golf: 0; miniature golf:3. Number of consecutive push-ups, maximum: 25. Number of times I've kicked the dog: 6. Number of times caught in the act, any act: 64. Number of postcards sent: 831; received: 416. Number of spider plants that died while under my care: 34. Number of blind dates: 2. Number of jumping jacks: 982,316. Number of kisses, given: 21,602, received: 20,041. Number of f***kups, bad: 6; not so bad: 1,500. Number of times swore under breath at parents: 838. Number of weeks at church camp: 1. Number of compliments, given: 4,051; accepted: 2,249. Number of embarrassing moments: 2,258. Number of traffic tickets: 3. Number of girlfriends: 4. Number of times fallen off playground equipment, swings: 3; monkey bars: 2; teeter-totter: 1. Number of times flown in dreams: 28. Number of times fallen down stairs: 9. Number of miracles witnessed: 0. Number of insults, given: 10,038; received: 8,963. Number of wrong telephone numbers dialed: 73. Number of times speechless: 33. Number of times had the wind knocked out of me: 12. Number of times patted on the back: 181. Number of times unsure of footing: 458. Number of times fallen asleep reading a book: 513. Number of times born again: 0. Number of times seen double: 28. Number of deja vu experiences: 43. Number of emotional breakdowns: 1. Number of times didn't believe parents: 23,978. Number of lawn-mowing miles: 3,575. Number of light bulbs changed: 273. Number of hats lost: 9. Number of times seasick: 1. Number of bloody noses: 16. Number of fish caught: 1. Number of time heard "The Star Spangled Banner": 2,410. Number of babies held in arms: 9. Number of times I forgot what I was going say: 631.