Tell It Like It Wasn’t

Princess-frogYou know how you keep hearing the importance of writing your Truth, and telling it the way you experienced and lived it? And you know how sometimes that keeps your story bottled up inside you? Here’s a radical idea: tell it like it wasn’t. Now before I go any further with this, let me be clear: I am not advocating falsehood, nor do I condone misleading people. But it is true than sometimes you can best convey Truth by breaking away from truth.
The most common reason for memoir writers to lapse into fiction is to protect the privacy and identities of other people in your story. You may do this from compassion and integrity or from the desire to stay out of court. You can tell the Truth of what happened while altering enough facts to protect privacy and minimize damage to relationships and emotions – your own included.
Another reason is to gain the freedom to tell as story like you wish it had been. Perhaps you’ve always wished you’d signed up for the tennis team,  gone whitewater rafting on that outing with your buddies, or had the perfect come-back when that bully dissed you in front of all your friends. You may regret a road not taken. On the page you can explore those other branches. It may not take a novel to cover these bases. Fictitious short stories can be immensely rewarding and allow you to express the Truth of the option your wiser self would choose today. Write the story, write your dream. Postpone decisions about who, if any, your readers will be.
A third reason springs from limitations of writing in first person. Sticking precisely to fact precludes the possibility of reporting anyone else’s thoughts. In memoir, or first-person fiction, it’s an absolute no-no to tell the reader that “Sally deliberately told me a lie about that. She knew she was planning to … .” You can’t know that. You can tell us what you assumed, or what Sally told you, or someone told you Sally told them, but you can’t impute motives.
Your Truth includes your understanding of what others thought. By switching to fiction and a third-person point of view, you free yourself to go into any degree of detail about Sally’s motives as well as your own.  Fiction allows you to express the Truth you are convinced of without violating form. And, of course, if you are telling what Sally thought, you’re probably well-advised to give her another name.
Finally, wrapping Truth in fiction, telling it in third person and a new setting distances it from you, scrubbing issues of personality from the equation. Some who may reject what you said as fact may be open to hearing your fiction. In a sense you are mythologizing your experience.
When you have tough Truth to tell, universal messages, separate the Truth from the facts and consider telling it like it wasn’t.
Write now: think of one of those times when you think, “If I knew then what I know now …” Write the story as it would have happened if you had known then what you do know now. Be wildly creative. It’s time for your Inner Censor to take a nap and your muse to come out and play.
Image credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

3 comments :

SuziCate said...

I think I am going to try applying this with some difficult "characters" and controversial truth of my past...things I know are interesting story but where truth can damage those involved.

Anonymous said...

This column helps me immensely. I want so much to write the story of someone I hold very dear, someone who died just recently. The unfaithfulness of her husband has now been "uncovered", exposing much of what she told me over time. The power of this story is in God's faithfulness to her, his evident grace in her extended to many through her, right up until she died.
I've journaled much of it but haven't known where to go from there. I know I still grieve for my friend and encounter anger towards the one so unfaithful to her and to so many others right up till her death.
Your words give me courage to continue writing about this even as I wait on the One who filled her with such compassion and love.
The story may never be shared publicly though I believe it would help many, including her children who are still reeling.

Sharon Lippincott said...

I'm always uplifted to hear that ideas in posts are helpful, so thank you to both SuziCate and Anonymous.

Now that the post is finished, a key line comes to mind: All stories are true. Some stories happened. To that last statement I now append (as told).

Writing is healing, and also transformational, and quite often private writing is more powerful than anything you'd share.

Be sure to check my other blog, Writing for the Health of It for more ideas.