Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for truth

I’m participating in the A to Z Blog Challenge throughout April.
Monday - something light to start the week. A bit of self-care, creativity challenge or the like.
Tuesday - telling notes for a specific story or kind of story. Tips and tricks to help you think about what you're telling and how.
Wednesday - my usual #tellinglife post, looking at some of the more personal aspects of storytelling and its role in my life.
Thursday - a dip into some of the issues facing contemporary storytelling or a dive into some of the more unusual applications of storytelling.
Friday - my usual personal post about life following the death of my husband
Saturday - the storytelling coach offers a tip you can use right now. An example of the kinds of tools I encourage my students to use.

Truth is such a tricky topic. One person's truth is another's lie. Witness reports always vary. So how do we handle truth in storytelling? I get asked this a lot when I'm helping someone work on a personal story. How much truth is too much? What if a detail or two is changed to make a better story or to protect the innocent?

These are really good questions to ask, and I usually answer them with a question or two. Or three. If you're considering telling a true story and are concerned about how true it needs to be or if the truth might be damaging, maybe ask yourself the following. The answers will help you understand how you should craft the work.

If the story is your story, it happened to you:
You own the story and the events in it. You get to tell them because they are your truth.
  • Will telling the truth hurt/embarrass/damage you or anyone else? If it will, are you willing to accept the consequences? If you're telling the story to enact revenge on someone I'd suggest letting this one rest for a bit longer.
  • If you do choose to change it (and frankly that is usually my advice if the story will be damaging) how can you change it without altering the things you most love about it, the truth it conveys? 
  • What happens if you just change names, locale, dates, etc? Is that enough? If you don't want to change those things ask yourself why. 
  • Is it appropriate for your audience as it is? If not, why are you telling them this story in particular?
If this is someone else's story and they gave you permission to tell it:
You know the person it happened to, they said it was okay to tell.
  • Have you talked with them about the parts you might want to change? What did they say?
  • You are planning to tell the audience that this happened to a friend and not to you, right?
  • If you do change it does it alter the truth of it?
  • Is it appropriate for your audience as it is? If not, why are you telling them this story in particular?
This isn't your story and you don't have permission to tell it:
My hope is that none of my students will do this. If they are then we talk about IP and how it feels to have your work stolen.
  • If it isn't in the public domain and you don't have permission then stop. It isn't yours.
  • There are literally millions of stories in the world. Can you find one that you don't have to steal?
How do you contend with truth and change in your stories? I'd love to know!

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. I'm not sure about the last point - obviously if someone has written the facts of a story down then telling it would be plagiarism. but writers borrow stories form life all the int e- from newspapers, from things people have told them... surely if the person isn't a writer and you change facts but use it as a basis that would be ok? (I'm not a novelist! A poet. So don't do any of this. But just interested.) ~Liz

    1. Borrowing and riffing are different than stealing. Yes, there are a million versions of romeo and juliet, but writing one set in Italy in, say, the 1400s with the same names and it stops being inspiration, starts to be imitation.
      I had a story of mine turned into a play without my permission. The author contacted me when he was thinking about turning it into a film. His script was close to word-for-word with my story. I have pretty strong feelings about IP theft now.

  2. Ain't it the truth! (had to say it) A writer can manipulate facts and impressions, but if the story doesn't ring true then many and maybe all readers might not buy it.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out


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