Spinning a Story

I started writing an entry for today the moment I woke up. Actually, I've been mentally writing it for a couple of years, at least, since it's one of my "Stories I Haven't Told" (which are also, apparently, "Stories I Must Tell So I Can Finally Stop Writing Them In My Head"). I spent quite a bit of time on it, thinking about what to leave in, what to leave out. There are a few different ways I can go with it, depending on what I want to emphasize. How sympathetic do I want to seem? Is there a bad guy, or does everyone just make some misguided choices?

There are always so many choices to make when telling a story, I find. Subtle changes in phrasing are like lighting on a set, drawing attention toward or away from certain details. Even if you follow the "show, don't tell" rule, you're still guiding the reader in a certain direction. One reason I like writing stories from my own life is that I can examine situations with a kind of detachment just plain remembering doesn't usually provide. As the author, I gain some distance and can eye the characters more critically. Especially for stories from the relatively distant past, once-upon-a-time-me is separate enough from the person I am now that I can take a slightly more objective view, while also having the benefit of remembering at least some of what went on inside her head.

That's a major advantage since, of course, I'm the author but also (nearly always) the POV character, as well. Presumably a little more sympathy is going to fall to me, if nothing else than because I'm the only one whose thought processes are (more or less) transparent. Knowing what someone is thinking goes a long way toward explaining their actions, and even if you disagree with what they do, you can usually at least understand why. Sort of. Sometimes, writing the story helps me understand why I did certain things that otherwise seem out of character or completely illogical. Writing things out, holding the story in the palm of my hand and looking at it from all sides and with the perspective of history, I can usually come up with some kind of reasoning. Not necessarily justification, but since a story requires things to fit together in a way that makes sense, the sensemaking is usually enough for me.

It's easy to be sympathetic when you're the victim, or at least vulnerable in some way. Not so easy when you don't treat other people well. The story in question is one of the latter kind, although I suppose there's some vulnerability there as well, and I'm finding it interesting to see how the pieces fit together. I am understanding things about that time that I've never really understood before now, and a lot of it has to do with being forced to find a narrative. "Finding a narrative" doesn't mean making things up, or even stretching the truth (well, it can and often does, but not in this particular instance): it just means figuring out what parts fit together, and what can be left out. I find myself thinking about situations and events that I have often thought of as disconnected, and seeing how instead they intertwine. Finding a narrative has helped me realize why I made some of the mistakes I did. Or at least, some reasons that may have led me to make them. Who can say, now, what the exact chain of causation was?

I could take the same set of circumstances and tell the story in very different ways (in fact, it's something I've often thought about doing, although not with this particular situation). Depending on where I aim the camera, what parts remain in shadow and which are brightly lit, who is onscreen and who is off, there is no need to change the "facts" (or even the perceptions) in order to produce very different messages.

You see, now, why I'm so fascinated with spin. Ever since I was little, I've practiced telling different versions of events. I often say that spin is my superpower--which, despite common perception, doesn't mean I'm a pathological liar. (Mostly.) It's also a curse, though, because it means there are so many decisions to make, and I need to reason through the implications and consequences of each one before committing to a certain version.

The story's not ready yet. But it will be, before the month is over.