Saturday, October 16, 2010

There Are Many Sides To Every Story

There's a popular saying that  there are three sides to a story. My side, your side and God's side ( or whatever omniscient Higher Power you believe in). Then this morning I listened to two friends give me an account of an event they attended, and they told completely different stories. Not contradictory stories, but their life experiences, biases and expectations completely coloured the accounts. It made me think that there are as many sides  to a story  as there are people involved.  And I'm sure that's not an original thought (LOL), but it was my Aha! moment for today.

The event was a prize-giving ceremony of the 13-year old sister of one of the friends. It's a private boarding school in a small town and this was a very special visit. The friend's account centred on how happy the girl was to see her family, more explanation on what the award was about, and a short mention that the school is in the middle of nowhere but offers no extra things that the girl can get locally.

[quoting almost verbatim]: Oh, the little girl was soo happy to see us! she's a really beautiful girl and so easy to please. Her mum brought her a couple of apples, and you should have seen her thank her for them and eat them as if they were a beautiful gift. The food's good there, so she just loved the apples because her mom brought them. And he and her friends were very well-behaved when we later took them out to KFC..... you get my drift.

The sister's account was a critical analyis of the school, the students' behaviour and dress, the principal and teachers' failure to enforce discipline and the way her sister had caved into behaving in a manner that reflects the school's rot. No mention of her sister's feelings, award or what she's good at, or that they took the girl and her friends to KFC afterwards and their general behaviour on an outing. Just outrage that they were able to get the girl's friend for an outing without comment, even though they have no legal right to the girls  and practically speaking, endangers the girls(cos it means anyone, even a paedophile, can pull kids out of that school at night during an event without the principal or teachers noticing).

I'm not debating the merits of either story my friends told me. I just found it fascinating, as a human being and as a writer who constantly grapples with telling other people's stories and creating characters, that they both saw different things from the same event. And to the writers in our midst, I'm sure you can see how this would influence your characters' motivations and create conflict, even if you never explicitly say so in your story.

I'd also be curious to hear what you picked out of my perspective of this incident, and I'll bet, based on your life experience, interests etc, some things that I said stand out more than others. Talk to me!

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