Who Owns A Story?

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I share a lot about my personal life on my blog. I share a lot of stories. There are many stories I don’t share though. Stories I don’t share because they may cast an unflattering shadow on a person I care about...Read more from 'Who Owns A Story?' on The Girl Next Door is Black | Journals, Moleskin Photo cr: Barry Silver, flickr.com | Writing, Blogging

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During the great American spanking debate of September 2014, Elon James White wrote a thought-provoking piece about his experience getting spanked as a child. He writes of the “pain and distress” he recalls feeling during belt-whoopings. As I read it, I wondered:

How does his mother feel about him telling this story?

In a world where neighbors call the cops on parents who let their kids play outside, he “outed” his mom as a former child-spanker. Some readers may think nothing of it, others may find themselves forming negative judgments of her past actions. His mother is part of the story too.

Depending on who pens the story, the reader’s response may differ. The allegiance may change. It’s not just the story of an adult’s childhood memories of being spanked. It’s also the story of a mother’s admirable evolution on the practice. So whose story is it? Who owns the “right” to tell this story?

I share a lot about my personal life on my blog. I share a lot of stories. There are many stories I don’t share though. Stories I don’t share because they may cast an unflattering shadow on a person I care about. Stories I don’t share because no matter how innocuous the topic, someone somewhere can find a reason to be offended. What if that person is a potential employer? Stories I don’t share because while I’m good with my personal choices, other people may hold them in poor regard and feel compelled to share their distaste with me. I’m not interested in being the target of the latest internet pile-on.

What I write is the truth the way I see it. Yet, there’s so much I cannot divulge. Sometimes, before I publish a post, I run it by a sister or a friend and ask, “If you were X___ and you read this, would this offend you?” Thankfully, I’ve only had to make one pre-offense edit.

Lately it’s the stories that I don’t write that nag at me. I just don’t know if I have the “right” to tell some of the heavier stories that I share with other people. So, I don’t write them, or I write them and I don’t share them; it feels restrictive.

I am bursting with stories I feel implicitly beholden to keep tucked away.

 

Who do you think a story belongs to? Is it fair game to share a story even if it may make someone else look not so good?

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40 Comments
  • Anita Stout
    January 21, 2015

    Very interesting discussion.

    I just read this today:
    “If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
    ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

    However, for me succeeding as a writer and failing as a human being or in my crucial relationships seems like an unfair trade off. If I have to throw my loved ones under a bus to be successful, how successful am I really? I think it’s a tightrope walk that needs to be revisited on a case by case basis.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      January 21, 2015

      I love that quote! I don’t think I can be as hardcore as Stephen King though. I lean more toward your point of view. I have an idea for a post that I’m trying to work out now. “Can I write this without offending x/y/z important person?” Sigh. I agree that it’s best taken case by case. Thanks for your comment!

  • balmtomysoul
    November 8, 2014

    I appreciate this post, because not only is it a thoughtful question, but you are being gracious. Often, in this anonymous yet world wide and permanent thing we call the internet, we do tell stories. Those stories can be hurtful and painful to others, and I think it is just gracious and good manners to think twice before we divulge too much. Thanks for a great post.

  • Mrs_ AOK (@Mrs_AOK)
    November 8, 2014

    And this is my struggle. There are blog posts written in a notebook that I’m still considering, for this very reason.
    This year, I decided to share things, in regard to my life that involved others, and I was afraid to publish, but I did it. Sometimes others’ actions shape us, and with that it’s our story too.
    I believe you have to pick and choose. I never want to cast a negative light on anyone I love, therefore I choose my words wisely. I’ve omitted thoughts that would add to the story many times.
    Wow!!– Great post, you really have me thinking over here 🙂
    XOXO

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      November 11, 2014

      Glad to know I’m not the only one that deals with this.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Happy to provoke thoughts! 😉

  • apopofred
    November 6, 2014

    If possible, I always ask whoever else is mentioned in the story if they are okay with me sharing it. I also send them a draft to make sure that they agree with the tone. For future stories if it sheds a really bad light, I would probably just change the names.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      November 11, 2014

      I do that too! Last thing I want is to see angry emails or texts in response to a blog post I wrote (at least from family & friends :p ).

  • Tiffany Huff (@_thebestyou_)
    November 3, 2014

    This is a very timely topic for me right now as I was very recently “Confronted” by someone who felt that my story was not mine at all, and that it should not have been told on the internet. While I do not feel the need to apologize for sharing my story, my truth I did acknowledge the person’s hurt feelings and reassured her that there was no malicious intent or ill will intended though sharing what I did. However, I feel that sometimes the story can be shared – that does not mean that I am prohibited from sharing my perspective, or need permission from anyone else to do so. So often we allow what others might, say think or how they will react to dim our light, quiet our voice, or alter the way we live and it is not healthy. I feel that if you own the story and you are not sharing it to hurt or harm then it is your story to tell. I know that I was called to share my truth so that I might inspire and and empower other women to do the same. Thank you for starting the conversation!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      November 3, 2014

      Ouch, that doesn’t sound like a fun conversation. I hope you guys worked things out. You make some really good points. There are no easy answers when it comes to how to tell intersecting stories.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • p
    November 3, 2014

    Interesting since I heard a radio programme in the UK yesterday in which Blake Morrison was interviewed about his book “And when did you last see your father?” which is a biography about his father leading up to his death, and reveals an affair that his father had, changes the name of the woman involved but of course lays bare a lot of personal detail about himself, his father (who couldn’t complain) and his mother. Apparently his mother reserved the right to describe anything she didn’t like as fiction!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      November 4, 2014

      Apparently his mother reserved the right to describe anything she didn’t like as fiction!

      Haha! I imagine she’s not the first person to take this stance when it comes to biographical stories.

  • normaleverydaylifeblog
    November 1, 2014

    Interesting discussion. I write about my kids a lot and they often read it. I try to make sure everything I write is something that wouldn’t hurt them or be something they’d be embarrassed about in the future. My family stories, even from a mother’s perspective, aren’t just mine to tell. I think we need to be sensitive to what other people will think about the people and stories we write about. #saturdaysharefest

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      November 2, 2014

      The kids thing makes me think of Kelly Ripa. She talks about her kids A LOT. Now that one of them is a teenager, I always wonder if she comes home and catches hell from her daughter. Haha. Thanks for your comment!

      • Vashelle (@ShellysCabaret)
        November 3, 2014

        I wonder the same thing! I find it kind of endearing, but I’m sure her daughter is “Like, mom, why do you alway have to be talking about meeeeh?” (I know you read that in valley girl voice :))

  • Tara Newman
    November 1, 2014

    Well asked and well said! There are a lot of stories I don’t tell because you are right, I feel like they aren’t solely mine to tell. If I can say a friend or I overheard…I will use the story if it illustrates a point and is rather generic. However, if it refers to my parent or sister who could be more easily identified, I steer clear. I guess if it was something I was on fire to talk about, I would ask them.

  • Rachel G
    November 1, 2014

    As someone whose favorite stories are written from real life events, this is definitely a real concern. Not everyone wants their actions written about. In the case of real evil, there are situations when horrible stories need to be told anyway so that the truth is known, but in the case of tales that are simply embarrassing to others, it’s worth it to hold your counsel, or at least ask how they would feel about being included in your writing.

  • Vashelle (@ShellysCabaret)
    November 1, 2014

    Ah, the writer’s dilemma.

    I have decided I am just going to have to wait for some folks to die in order to tell some stories that need to be told. No rush though 😉

    At the same time, what are we if not storytellers? What is the point of a story if not an expose of humanity (warts-and-all)?

    Thought-provoking as always. Love your place, girl!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      November 4, 2014

      I have decided I am just going to have to wait for some folks to die in order to tell some stories that need to be told. No rush though 😉

      It certainly seems like that has to be the case for some stories! I feel so morbid even thinking that though. Lol

      Thanks for your comment, Shelly!

  • adrianscrazylife
    November 1, 2014

    I think along these same lines. I try to be pretty careful about what I share, but when I do I try to do it in a sensitive manner. I also don’t have a FB page for my blog because it kind of creeps me out to have people who actually know me read my blog. #SITSSharefest

  • elonjameswhite
    October 31, 2014

    It’s interesting that you ask this question. It happens to be a question that I asked myself when I wrote the article. As a writer, performer and professional guy-who-says-stuff I have to navigate this question often. My personal thought process is that if it happened to me then i’m allowed to express my thoughts on it. But I obviously don’t live in a bubble. When it came to that story I spoke to my Mom about it before I submitted it because not only was I writing it and it was being published–it was being published in our hometown newspaper. My Mom objected to an aspect of the story and asked that I remove it. I did remove it, although it wasn’t simply because of her objection. I did it because I weighed the impact. She was upset by an aspect of the story but was it necessary for the piece? I decided it wasn’t. And if it wasn’t necessary in order to tell the story then why upset her needlessly? I have so many stories that I would like to tell but out of respect for her I hold back. The writer in me may balk at this system of checks and balances but the son and human in me says it’s necessary.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 31, 2014

      Hi Elon! Thanks for taking time away from being a “corporate mouthpeice” (I saw that tweet) to share your thoughts. 😉

      I figured you’d probably discussed this article with your mom beforehand, given how much of her thoughts are mentioned. Then I thought: wow, what a great relationship he must have with his mom where they can even talk about this openly.

      I suppose it’s a good thing that (some) writers even ask this question. As you said, we don’t live in a bubble and once words are written, read and digessted, there’s no snatching them back. It may feel stifling at times, but it’s worth it if it means potentially avoiding hurting loved ones.

  • Brittnei Washington
    October 30, 2014

    This was a great read! I honestly think about this often when I am thinking of what I want to share on my blog. My husband seems to be pretty trustworthy of what I share and doesn’t mind the things I choose to, but I never share anything that makes him look “bad” in his mindset. If I think it could, I ask him and so far, I’ve gotten the ok to share. Once in a while I will spill on something that affected me that might include people that I was not close to…like maybe it was something that happened on the internet…in this case I’m not giving names or any info that would single out any specific person really. I guess if we are sharing things about close family and friends this is where it can get rather sticky….outside of my immediate family situations, I try to stay away from sharing any other stories since I wouldn’t be able to get the ok from these people. Thanks for sharing this with us at the Creative Style Linkup!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 31, 2014

      Thanks, Brittnei!

      It’s great that your husband trusts what you share. It’s so important to have the support of the people we’re close to when we share our personal lives!

      Thanks again for hosting. I’m glad I found your site!

  • Emilio Pasquale
    October 29, 2014

    Fact-based fiction might be something to consider. Changing names and enough details to hide the person’s true identity?

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 30, 2014

      That’s a good suggestion! I’ve been thinking more and more about whether or not I want to get back into fiction writing.

  • Charlotte
    October 29, 2014

    Oh, I love this so much. There have been so many times when I have held on to a story for fear that I would either offend someone or tell it in a way that would shed an unfair light on someone in the story. It’s such a precarious line to dance, isn’t it? I struggle with this all the time, especially since I try to personalize my blog whenever possible. But how can I share without oversharing, and how can I tell without revealing at least SOME intimate details? It’s a blogger’s burden 🙂

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 31, 2014

      Yes, especially given some of the “intimate details” are what people are sometimes most interested in! 🙂

      Thanks for your comment, Charlotte!

  • joeyfullystated
    October 29, 2014

    I’m discreet. I’m kind. I change the names or leave out names completely. I do see a great deal of frustration from my mother, who thinks it’s impolite to discuss anything ever having to do with her, but I guess she should have raised someone who isn’t a writer, which is ironic, since she wrote when I was young.
    I will be a very old woman when I can tell my stories without upsetting anyone.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 29, 2014

      Hahaha! I think the same thing sometimes; by the time I get to tell the really juicy stories, who’ll care? Will I even care?

  • tamaralikecamera
    October 29, 2014

    Such excellent questions. I write very personally and I’m often asked how I “get away with it.” Well I ask permission of my close family and friends generally, or else I’m vague or just omit information if it’s not my story to tell. It’s tough to balance!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 29, 2014

      Yeah, it’s definitely tough to balance. I sometimes wonder if a story doesn’t suffer from all its omissions.

  • rachealizations
    October 29, 2014

    This is an excellent question. I think we each have the right to tell our own stories…as writers, that’s what we do, yes? However, that said, I have held back, too, for the same reasons. I am pretty comfortable with discussing my own failings, but try to be sensitive to the privacy of others. If I can, I give the “other” a nickname (though, depending on the story/situation, that’s not much of a cover), or refer to him/her in a vague way (“my friend”). Generally, when I have something to say, I try to just talk about my own perspective, without necessarily explaining how I got there (like your example of spanking–I might discuss my views and omit my personal experience). And my own voice tends to be lighter and focuses more on funny than serious, so most of what I say might be slightly embarrassing, but not devastating. Those who write more seriously face a bigger conundrum, I suppose.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 29, 2014

      And my own voice tends to be lighter and focuses more on funny than serious, so most of what I say might be slightly embarrassing, but not devastating.

      Exactly! I think this is how comedic writers and comedians get away with making snarky comments about their family and friends – they make “light” of situations, rather than making fun of them.

  • Shahidah
    October 28, 2014

    That is something i think about often. I, like you, have quite a few untold stories for that reason and find i am too cautious. I dont want to be so restrictive in my writing but i dont want to iffend either. Oh, the dilemmas we face lol

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