Whose Story Is It Anyway?
We all have stories. We have the ones we are a part of and those we’ve heard. We have the ones we’ve participated in and the ones where we’re just hanging on the periphery. As humans, we hear stories every day from our coworkers and friends and family. Sometimes these stories will really resonate, either because they remind us of something that happened to us or we’re just having one of those sensitive feels days. When this happens to me, I have a trusted group of friends where I can say, “Hey, so this thing happened that is 100% not about me, but I’m having feelings as though it were, and I need to confide in you that I’m some kind of way about it.”
When something happens that triggers an emotional response in you, I fully understand the need to release those feelings. That is why we have trusted confidants. However, your feels don’t entitle you to write that other person’s story. It’s their story, not yours. (There is a whole other side conversation we could have about using the circumstance as a jumping off point in fiction, but that’s not for this discussion).
A major reason is purely logistical: you don’t have all the facts. Unless you were there to witness every single thing, in which case this might partly be your story, it’s likely you’ll have to speculate on some things. You also have to consider the privacy of others. Finally, and this can be a tough one, I want you to really think about whether you’re centering yourself in someone else’s narrative or co-opting another person’s tragedy. If yes, don’t write it.
Obviously, if you’re writing a reported piece, that’s a different story. You’ll have interviews and research to back you up. That’s yet another whole different thing we won’t get into here.
If you’re still not sure, last year, Rowan wrote a whole Nonfiction Know-How on this. The bottom line is to consider where you are in the story. If you are not a character in your own personal essay, it’s not really your personal essay, now, is it?
Nonfiction Know-How: Emotional Misuse
As essayists, we like to give our readers All The Feels. But sometimes too many feels can get in the way of the reads. Learn how to balance the emotions in your writing to produce more complete and accessible works and to make strong emotion stand out in this month’s Nonfiction Know-How.
How to submit and fully participate in the challenge:
Basic YeahWrite guidelines: 1000 word limit; your entry can be dated no earlier than this past Sunday; nonfiction personal essay, creative opinion piece or mostly true story based on actual events.
1. In the sidebar of this week’s post, please grab the code beneath the nonfiction badge and paste it into the HTML view of your entry;
2. Follow the Inlinkz instructions after clicking “add your link” to upload your entry to this week’s challenge grid;
3. Your entry should appear immediately on the grid if you don’t receive an error message;
4. Please make the rounds to read all the entries in this week’s challenge; and
5. Consider turning off moderated comments and CAPTCHA on your own blog.
Submissions for this week’s challenges will close on Wednesday at 10pm ET. Voting will then open immediately thereafter and close on Thursday at 10pm ET. The winners, as always, will be celebrated on Friday.
Thank you for sharing with us your hard work! Good luck in the challenge…
About the author:
Michelle submitted her first entry to YeahWrite in March 2012 and they haven’t been able to get rid of her since. After nearly 20 years in the insurance/employee benefits industry, she decided to give it all up to pursue writing full time. Her work has been featured on The Huffington Post and xoJane, as well as several local sites near her northern NJ home. She blogs at Michelle Longo.