Why Writers Must Enter the Stories They Tell

From Jeff: This is a guest post from Brooke Gale Luby. Brooke is a freelance writer from New Hampshire, living in Texas. She loves cooking, coffee, thrift store shopping, and getting lost in foreign cities. She has worked with non-profits in ten different nations and shares her experiences in a self-published collection of poetry called All Things Are Becoming New. She blogs at Brooke Gale Luby Writes.

“And then, I stabbed him. I killed the man that raped my baby girl.”

Painful Stories - Boy in Gutter
Photo credit: Ralph Repo (Creative Commons)

The words tumbled out of her mouth as tear drops grew thick in her dark brown eyes, matching the teardrop tattooed to her face symbolizing the life she had taken.

I wiped my own tears, filled with grief of the painful story this woman had endured her entire life.

I was visiting a recovery home a few years back. The women there were fresh off the streets, many of them involved in lives of drug addiction, prostitution, and violence.

Sadie and I immediately connected. She was old enough to be my mother, and despite her horrific past, she had fallen into a deep peace that you could sense.

We began talking, and three hours later, we were still going.

“This is the first time I have shown anyone this.” She looked me in the eyes and  gave me her life story, scrawled on a yellow notepad.

“I wrote this from prison.”

I took the ragged notebook in my hands, and was filled with a great sense of honor and humility, that this incredible woman would choose me.

Entering into someone’s story is a gift and privilege

There is something that happens, something beyond this time and place when we get to enter into someone else’s story. Something sacred.

Something that trumps the sense of pride or journalistic excitement when I meet someone I can’t wait to write about.

It goes beyond having something good to blog about or hoping that it will one day be a bestseller.

This is a way of sharing in each other’s suffering

Artists are generally hyper-emotional people.

I embody this stereotype to the max. Sometimes I feel so much for my part that it feels like an overwhelming burden to feel something for someone else.

As a writer, I have a choice to approach the lives of people objectively or subjectively. My conscience says: Don’t get your emotions intertwined. It is a safer approach; it is easier to not involve yourself. It is easier to half-heartedly breathe a sigh of relief that that is not my life.

But when I choose this path, I miss out on something extremely valuable in the human experience.

We also get to share in their redemption

It wasn’t over for Sadie.

After she was released from prison, she found herself wandering the streets yet again. Only this time, she ended up at the back door of a pastor’s house.

His wife let her in. And she showed her an unconditional love she never knew was possible.

Sadie enrolled in a recover program and began to heal and grow. Now, she is reaching out to her children, reconnecting after years that had been stolen. She is happy and alive for the very first time.

Now she is ready to tell her story.

Redemption must have a voice

The life of Sadie may never be best selling books. But now because you have read this, one more person has entered into it.

As any good story, it spreads and multiplies one person at a time, a whisper in an ear, a chat over coffee, a shout from the rooftop.

Light enters into dark corners, truth beats deception, what was unknown is suddenly known.

Redemption wins.

Storytelling is much more then an ancient art around a campfire, or a group of kids in a circle at the library.

It is much more then building your platform as a writer or fame and glory. It is eternally important.

The daring act of speaking truth or putting it on paper is courageous. It is lighting a candle where there was only darkness before. In doing this, we bring a little bit of heaven to earth.

Further Reading: The Ethics of Storytelling

How have you entered into someone else’s story? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: Ralph Repo (Creative Commons) — This photo has quite the story to it. Read it here.

33 thoughts on “Why Writers Must Enter the Stories They Tell

  1. Nice to meet you, Brooke! I am very familiar with the not involving myself that you talked about. It’s easier to hear things as stories, and to forget about the reality behind it. I think that in many ways it’s because I’ve become desensitized to it. Thanks for the reminder to enter into others stories and share my own. 🙂

    1. Nice to meet you too, Melissa. 🙂 I know what you mean about feeling desensitized, it is a natural reaction, one I am constantly fighting! It helps to know we are all shouldering painful stories and as we share each others we will lighten the load.

  2. Brooke, this was the most powerful thing I’ve read today! I was particularly moved by your casual flip of a phrase that “redemption must have a voice.” Simply awesome – thanks for sharing your gift.

    Jeff, thanks for the daily education and elucidation that your blog affords! Great stuff!

  3. This is exactly what I loved so much about my previous job as a hospice social worker: honoring others’ stories.  My patients experienced so much no matter how long or short their life.  That they would open up to me and share the highs and lows was such a gift.  I learned so much from their vulnerability and willingness to face their past. 

  4. “Redemption wins.” Truth.  Thank you. That’s why God entered into the story, that’s why Jesus became the story and that must be what compels us to tell meaningful stories, too. I know people who are called, if you will, to tell other peoples’ stories. Compassion is the trait they have in common — without compassion, it’s just a news story, not a true story of redemption.

  5. Man I LOVE this. It’s so powerful. 

    We need more of this. We need storytellers. We need raconteurs. 

    We don’t need more bloggers, writers, regurgitators. We need more stories. 

    Never underestimate the power of the <strong element. It is difficult to convey true passion across a two-dimensional screen, and we have to manipulate our pixels. 

    I love how you do this.

    Thanks for sharing this. 

  6. Man I LOVE this. It’s so powerful.
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  7. Okay, so my parents divorced, right? A good Christian family that went to church and home schooled the children, strong moral values, respected in public, and screaming matches behind closed doors. But I could handle this. This was my family. My family would stay together through it all.

    The divorce started me on the road to depression and even suicide.

    That’s all in the past, of course. Hakuna matata. But it opened me up to a far deeper level of compassion and awareness. Do you have any idea how many young stories I’ve listened to similar to my own? I’ve spoken in college groups and had girls come up to me with secrets they haven’t shared to anyone. I’ve emailed high school students and been a listening ear for insecure or heartbroken young people. I would not trade My Three Years of Darkness for anything, because I have been invited into so many stories because of it.

    And now, three is my lucky number.

  8. “Reclamation wins.” Truth. Much obliged to you. That is the reason God went into the story, that is the reason Jesus turned into the story and that must be what urges us to tell significant stories, as well. I know individuals who are called, maybe, to tell other people groups’ stories. Sympathy is the quality they have in like manner – without empathy, it’s only a news story, not a genuine story of reclamation.


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