Carolyn’s Online Magazine
WHO’S STORY IS IT?
As I scoot about the house picking up clutter my mind strays to my new job title: independent writographer.
During my 6th or 7th life I began dabbling in photojournalism, journalism, journaling, magazine writing, grant writing and now—a full length, possibly two-part, historical novel.
My mind continues to wander, and I consider the recent news I heard about a wonderfully unique, joyful, adoption story.
My first thought was to write about it. However, I cannot share the details yet. Perhaps I’ll never be able to tell the story. So I must not write it.
That’s because it’s not my story to tell. I can only share the details with a few pertinent persons, while not revealing particulars of the story.
When I write something the first question I must ask is Who’s story am I telling? Whose story is it? Did they give me permission to tell their story?
If I’m writing a memoir, I grant myself permission to write about myself. It is my story. No problem. If the subject is someone other than me, to publicize it I must have that person’s permission.
Feature writing has a built in answer to the must-ask question. These stories cannot be written without interviewing the subject. If s/he declines to be interviewed, the best of stories are lost to my pen.
That’s not true across the board. There are at least two exceptions to this rule.
- I’m writing a novel which relates the stories of Gen. Henry Knox, Gen. Henry Jackson, William Duer, Rosalie de Leval, Louis des Isles, and Mary Googins, among others. All lived in the 1790s-early 1800s. It’s historical writing and there is no need to get permission.
- Hard news—accidents, fires, etc. require that I write the “who, what, where, when and how.” In one category of hard news, sexual violence against women, the victim’s name is usually not used—although, unfortunately, there is often enough information that some readers can identify the victim.
If you write a family history, or even your memoir, other individuals are usually involved
- no person is an island, and no one’s story stands alone. What about these people? Can you write about them without their permission because your story intersects with theirs? At what point do you need to ask their permission? Whose story is it? Certainly, it is yours—but it is also someone else’s. You must be cautious when writing your memoir.
- Stories revolves around conflict. Perhaps your parents physically or sexually abused you and your siblings when you were children. Obviously your parents will deny you permission to use their names in the story if they are asked. Do you still relate their story? Do you use their names, or you’re your own name, which identifies your parents?
The waters muddy more when you write fiction with characters based on people you know—circumstances may make it obvious who’s story you are REALLY writing about.
Be aware of writing about others without their permission. At the very least you may create bad feelings. At the most, you may break relationships and/or end up with a lawsuit.
Always ask: Whose story is it?
Thus goes the wonderfully joyous adoption story my fingertips could produce at my keyboard. However, the news was entrusted to me. It was somewhat confidential. It is not my story.
I simply must wait until I have permission to write it.