When we write personal narratives, we are both the participant and the spectator, both a character in a story and the narrator of that story. From each position, we can adjust the angle of vision, moving the camera slightly, in order to increase our understanding of the people in our lives and the situations that make up our experiences. Too much “me time” isn’t necessarily good for our narratives, which can start to feel claustrophobic if the writer doesn’t invite us to see and feel from perspectives located less closely to the interior.
Writing is an act of love, an act of empathy. Even when we’re writing about less than admirable people—perhaps people who have wounded us—we need to make an attempt to understand the sources of their behavior. Not just because we want to be better, more forgiving people, but because we want to create a fuller and more thickly layered experience for our readers—and, yes, for ourselves as we look back upon the moments that make up our lives.
So here are some strategies for adjusting the camera’s lens in personal narratives.
- We can move the camera to a position somewhere outside the experience we’re portraying, perhaps imagining what someone watching a significant moment would make of it.
- We can write about ourselves in the third-person, thereby providing a more distant point of view that will provide some objectivity.
- We can imagine someone in our narrative as a child, moving the camera more to that person’s perspective to see what happens to our degree of understanding and empathy.
- We can pose a question and then speculate on answers, thereby inhabiting another person’s point of view.
To see what this might do for a piece of personal narrative, here’s a writing activity:
- Think of someone who hurt you. It could be a major betrayal or a small slight—anything that hurt your feelings.
- Write about the specific moment—the thing said or done—that wounded you. Write about it from your perspective as the one who suffered.
- Then shift the camera’s lens by utilizing one of the four strategies listed above. See what that does to your understanding of the person, the situation, and yourself.
We tell our stories in order to understand them better. If we’re willing to write from perspectives outside our own, we can often come to some measure of acceptance and, yes, even healing.