Savvy Freelance Writer

The Craft of Narrative Nonfiction

Who Owns the Story?

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Family_lThe conventional wisdom is to write what you know. If you’ve led a full and exciting life, that’s probably good advice. If you’re just starting out, that leaves you to compete at the end of the gene pool with everyone else who is just starting out. Then again, you could truly write what you know – write about your life experiences. That begs the woefully unoriginal question – Who Owns the Story?

You might think that the story of you life is your story. Why even stop to think about it? Then again, your life story is linked forever to the life story of your siblings, parents, friends … Is there a point at which their expectation of privacy outweighs your right of self expression? Do they even have a legitimate expectation of privacy?  I think about this a lot because my children happen to have some interesting life stories. In telling my story, I could also tell their stories – but I choose not to. They didn’t set out to be the children of a writer. In fact, they weren’t consulted at all. For me to tell my story without telling their stories is actually possible. It takes a bit of work and requires a slightly different focus, but it works pretty well.

Then again, if I were to write about my childhood, it would be difficult to write about those experiences without including the experiences of my parents as they interacted with me. That is their story, yet somehow it feels more of a choice to me to not include their story than it does to not include the stories of my children. I feel that I have the right to that story, and that right outweighs their right in this particular case. I probably feel that way because my parents were adults while my children are not. Still. I prefer to tell my own story rather than the story of others.

What about you? Do you write about things in your life in a way that tells another’s story? Do you struggle with this at all? Have you even given it any thought? What do you think?

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