Writing Prompt: Who Owns the Story, Part 2

by Matilda Butler on April 20, 2010

Writing Prompt LogoPost #39 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Two weeks ago, Women’s Memoirs published an honest look at Who Owns the Story by Janet Riehl and Stephanie Farrow. The piece included a writing prompt. At the end of the post, Janet and Stephanie promised us a second piece to this concept. Specifically, they said they would share with us four questions we need to pose that will help determine who really does own the stories that we want to share.

Now, Janet Riehl and Stephanie Farrow return with the conclusion to the discussion of story ownership.

By Janet Riehl with Stephanie Farrow

Who Owns the Story?

You’ve decided that yes, you’re going to do the scary thing. There in the mirror of the written page you’re going to expose yourself—warts be damned.

But others share your story to one degree or another. Do we strip them naked, too? What right do we have to make this decision?

It boils down to ownership of the story. We must evaluate who owns the story and what that ownership means. Use these four questions to guide you.

1. Who’s the main character? Is the story focused on you or on others?
2. Who’s the audience? Whom do you want the story to reach? Whom can it serve?
3. Is the story true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
4. Why is the story being written? What are the potential consequences? What do you hope the outcome will be? What is your responsibility to yourself and others?

In the work my father and I do with family stories, we’ve chosen to be guided by his motto, “Let history be kind.” Answering question #3 determines our decisions about what to include and what to leave out: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? We discuss whether some of the less-happy stories should remain as oral history, rather than given the weight of writing.

In writing memoir, evaluating your motivation is critical. In Linda Joy Meyers’ helpful book The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story, she lists seven major reasons people write about their lives. They range from revenge to understanding. (p. 5)

In teasing out your motivation, be honest about what you want to happen as a result of writing your story. Think about potentially negative fallout for yourself or others. Do you want to take the chance that a wound might not scab over—always remaining as an open sore?

With regard to secrets, are they necessary to your story? Are they yours to tell?

memoir-mirrorOwning the story is not unlike owning a house. Owners get to decide who lives in the house. They decide what furniture to move in and where to place the mirrors. Ownership requires on-going responsibility.

As writers, we hold a sacred trust. We are the keepers of stories, the ones we own and the ones we do not. Let us keep the mirrors we place in our house of stories clear and free from distortion.

Here’s Janet’s Writing Prompt

memoir-mirror-story-reflection

1. What does your life-house look like? Who lives there? Describe the furniture. Where do you place the mirrors?

We hope you’ll leave your comments for Janet below and visit her at:
http://RiehLife.com





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Janet Riehl April 20, 2010 at

Kendra,

This post on “Who Owns the Story?” partners nicely with your Telling HerStories post exploring the essence of story, theme & message.

Each of these are key questions to writers in all genres.

Janet Riehl

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