God’s given you a powerful story to tell, but there’s a catch: it’s not your story.
Perhaps it is the saga of a spouse, parent, grandparent or someone else close to you.
I am a professional teller of other people’s stories. In my marketing career I help clients uncover and craft their stories to reach and engage their target market. As an author, God has called me to write about the real-life experience of one of my closest friends.
The ironic secret to this type of storytelling is that the beauty and richness of their story is found at its intersection with yours. To bring another’s story to life requires drawing generously from your own life, emotions, experiences and ideas. In the end it’s not really about someone else, but about you and about your reader…and our shared human experience.
As I have embraced the gift and challenge of writing from the voyeur’s seat, I have distilled six questions to answer in preparing for the task of telling another’s story.
1. Is it grounded in larger truth? One person’s story is valuable to others when it supports a larger truth readers can learn from and apply to their lives. An interesting personality may not be enough to move and engage readers. The life and the lessons learned should transcend the individual and be relevant to your readers’ lives.
2. Do I have the legal right to share the story? In today’s world a call to share someone else’s story can lead to complicated legal territory. It’s important to clearly understand the parameters of your specific situation. Laws vary widely by state, by your relationship to the person, and by whether he or she is living or dead, a public figure or private citizen, and the literary category in which the writing falls (e.g., fiction, non-fiction, “based on a true story,” “inspired by true events”).
3. Who is your character? Writing about someone else inverts the challenge writers face in writing about themselves. In this case you have the advantage of distance to see the character with perspective, but you can’t truly know what’s going on inside. This is where you have some decisions to make as an author. Extensive research can help close some gaps in the person’s profile, but you may ultimately choose to fictionalize the character in order to bring him or her more fully to life. My character became an amalgam of my own growing-up experiences, insights from people I interviewed for the book, as well as my first-hand knowledge of the person.
4. Do you honor your character? If you answer the first question well and ground your story in a larger truth, then the work of handling your character with honor becomes easier. Yet it is essential to submit every aspect of the character, as revealed in your writing, to the honor test. Regardless of the trials, tribulations, sins, failures and mistakes represented, the character must be represented with the honor due a child of God.
5. Can you relate? While your character and his or her life may be drastically different from yours, it is important to establish core connections, points of synergy in the character’s strengths, weaknesses or the nature of his or her trials, in order for your writing to resonate with authenticity. In my book, for example, my character and I shared the experience of childhood sexual abuse and of growing up in a traditional religious cultural setting. That allowed me to tap into my own deep reservoir of experiences to bring both of those dimensions to life in the story.
6. Does the story have power? Committing to another person’s story means believing deeply in the power of the story. Is it larger than life? Is it compelling to a reader who has no connection to the character?
The opportunity to give voice to the life and experiences of another person is a special gift. While it must be handled delicately it allows you to create a lasting tribute to the individual by offering their story to enrich and benefit those of your readers.
Nanette Kirsch authored the new book, Denial: Abuse, Addiction and a Life Derailed, a fictionalized tale inspired by true events of how past sexual abuse plunged one man into a secretive and dangerous double life.
Freebie! Register now to win a free copy of Denial personally inscribed by the author. Winner will be selected on Tuesday, August 8.