After all, the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, between literature and nonliterature and so forth are not laid up in heaven.Mikhail Bakhtin
This chapter begins with the premise that we owe our ability to envision multiple realities to the tool kit of our culture and that speech genres constitute an important part of the semiotic equipment that every culture provides. Speech genres are prefabricated ways of organizing speech, which simultaneously offer a set of resources for creating individualized performances. Speech genres may be oral or written, and common examples include jokes, lectures, wills, greetings, arguments, psychotherapeutic discourses, political speeches, sermons, scientific reports, and cross-examinations. Even if we limit ourselves to narrative genres, the variety is immense: fairy tales, myths, parables, histories, autobiographies, memoirs, novels, conversational narratives, sportscasting, news reports, confessions, and soap operas, to name but a few.
In this chapter we focus primarily on a single narrative genre, namely, personal storytelling – the verbal activity of recreating past experiences from one's own life in conversation with other people. Our purpose is to use recent developments in genre theory to deepen our understanding of personal storytelling, particularly as it is used by young children in the contexts of everyday family life. In recent years developmentalists have discovered that children are able to participate in this genre of talk from a surprisingly early age. However, as we learn more about personal storytelling within and across communities and cultures, it is becoming clear that here too there is variety – variety in the ways in which personal storytelling is defined and practiced such that alternate versions of personal experience get created.