3 Reasons You Should Tell Someone Else’s Story

by Joe Bunting | 13 comments

One of the great gifts a writer can give to the world is to tell someone else's story.

I learned this when I started ghostwriting: no credit, no glory, just the knowledge that without me, the story wouldn't be told. It's surprisingly satisfying.

If you're still trying to write stories about yourself, I want to challenge you to try your hand at writing someone else's story. Here are three reasons why.

1. You Learn More About Your Story.

By exploring the lives of others through our writing, we invariably explore our own lives. While we writers can be loners, life was not meant to be lived in a vacuum, and writing was not meant to be done without source material.

When you write about others, you get a new lens to look at your own life through. You see new details that never occurred to you before. You discover yourself. You also discover more about the lives of your characters. One writer told me he loves taking classes at his community college because he “finds more people to write about.”

2. You Give the Gift of Meaning.

Storytellers have always been imparters of meaning, and I think one of our responsibilities as writers is to provide meaning for others.

Some of the best writing I have ever done, I wrote for a small group of friends. It was so powerful because I was able to add layers of meaning to our shared experience. When you tell someone else's story, you can give them a window into their own soul.

3. You Touch the Divine.

A few years ago, I told an artist friend I was working freelance for a local newspaper.

“That's so great!” he said.

“Meh. It's okay. It's just a local weekly and it doesn't pay very well.” Newspaper writers are famously underpaid, and freelancing is even worse.

“But I think there's something of the divine in telling other people's story.”

I could be kidding myself, trying to cover my work in holiness when in reality it's quite profane, but I think he was right. By telling someone else's story you put down your own selfish, self-creation, and you serve someone else's story.

We all want to be understood. Consider showing someone you understand them and their story. Dive into it. Explore it's depths. Then, share it with the world.

Secretly, Incredible You Stories

My friend Jeremy Statton is hosting a contest for stories about people who are doing incredible things, people who are living incredible, inspiring stories, but they're living them in secret.

He believes there are people out there who are doing amazing things but no one is making movies out of their lives, no one is writing books about them. And he thinks that should change.

I want to challenge you to tell someone's secretly, incredible story. If the story you tell wins, you might be published in a book.  A real one. With paper and stuff. But even more than that, you'll get to tell someone else's story. That alone is worth it.

PRACTICE

Tell someone else's secret, incredible story.

Maybe about a family member who passed away, a friend who is doing amazing things, a stranger you recently met. Use lots of details, and interview them if you need to.

1. Share their story on the Secretly, Incredible You Contest page.

2. Share their story here, in the comments section. We'd love to read it.

Good luck!

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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13 Comments

  1. Dana Bennett

    I love this idea. I’m going to write about my sister, the difficult one, and talk about all the good, unheralded things she does for people in her community and for her family. This idea solved a HUGE problem for me. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Wow. Great idea. Thanks Dana.

  2. Annie Snow

    Titanium
    By Annie Snow

    He walked down the street with a limp.
    His clothes were plain and shabby. His hair uncombed and lacking the shimmer that hair often has when indicating it’s very clean. He had sleeping bags under his eyes and a heavy frown above them, his face tilting downward. He probably looked much older than he really was.
    No one talked to him, people just stared, their lips whispering rumors, he’s a drug addict, he’s a poor sick man… but the truth was that no one knew for certain what he was, he’d never talked to anyone.
    The street was drowned in silence; a strong effect of the summer midday, causing people to stay inside, escaping the fiery heat. He kept on pacing, dwelling in the quiet when he heard a rattle coming from somewhere. Halt. Turning left he saw a tall teenager—of maybe thirteen or fourteen—holding onto the balcony, his feet grazing against the brick. The boy didn’t seem to be falling or trying to commit suicide. From the twirling of his neck and the careful, concentrated expression his face wore, he was attempting to figure out a way to get down. But he was almost ten feet off the ground.
    “You shouldn’t do that,” The old man said, his voice loud enough to be heard but the tone too gentle in comparison, as if suggesting a silly, obvious answer, as if he were used to saying it. The boy’s eyes jerked to him. “Do you see these?” Both his hands pointed downwards at his two skinny legs. The boy remained silent, eyes however, following. “They’re both titanium. I once tried to do what you’re doing now. Don’t know why. Felt like Hercules. Stupid, what I was.” He shook his head. “It didn’t end well.”
    “I’ll be fine,” the boy yelled back. “I can come down easily.”
    “You can risk it and regret it later. What’s your call?” That was all the man said, and then he went quiet, lifting his head, eyes locked on the boy. Moments passed but the boy began to climb up. Foot after the other, he was already sitting on the edge of the balcony, legs inward.
    “I decided not to risk it.” The boy called out with a faint smile.
    “Good kid.” The man waved as he turned to his course, his smile almost shining.
    He walked down the street with a limp.

    ============

    Note: I realize it’s too short, 400 words, but I wanted to keep it like this. Plus it’s a true story, I witnessed this event. Not sure if I should submit it though.

    Reply
  3. Beck Gambill

    I love telling stories! Actually I did a blog series last year called Women Who Inspire; the Sisterhood. I highlighted a woman each week, that I knew or had heard about, who inspired me. I enjoyed writing that series very much.

    Reply
  4. Sherrey Meyer

    Joe, this is a rather amazingly coincidental post for me to be reading tonight. We’ve just returned from an unexpected trip to assist with a family emergency involving my husband’s brother. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s compounded by Lewy body dementia about a year ago, Jim has seen a horribly rapid progress in his decline. Last weekend he began to have additional difficulty in walking. By Monday, his wife couldn’t handle lifting him on her own. At 4am on Tuesday morning 911 was called to help lift him from a fall. We arrived four hours later, and it took all three of us to transfer him. It quickly became apparent she could no longer care for him at home on her own.

    Long story short, following an admission through ER to a local hospital doctors and social workers helped us find nursing care in a very good facility. Needless to say this was an extremely emotional time for all of us but it was a necessary move.

    Reflecting on those individuals caring for Jim at the nursing facility, I began to reflect on the goodness I remember in my mom’s life and the values and qualities she instilled in me as I grew. My current drafting of my memoir has been reflective of her verbal and emotional abuse I received from her. Yet as I thought of all the good she had done in her life, and even the goodness she’d directed to me despite the harshness of her parenting, I’m considering a change in the focus of my writing about our relationship, perhaps a contrast of the dichotomy seen in her actions and personality.

    This post couldn’t have been timed any better! Thanks so much for once again inspiring me, Joe!

    Reply
  5. Unisse Chua

    Writing about myself, or things happening around me has always been quite easy for me because of the first hand experience but I’ve always wanted to try telling someone else’s story and I tried writing about a suicide after I heard the news that a guy jumped inside a mall from the fourth level because he had cancer.

    Something good came out of the idea (although the story’s really far from talking about why a guy would commit suicide because of a sickness), I submitted the story to Flash Fiction World and it got accepted!

    After that, I’ve been thinking of finding stories to write – stories that aren’t my own.

    Thanks for the reminder Joe 😉

    Reply
  6. Lisa Littlewood

    I love this post…I feel a deep desire to use my passion for writing to tell other people’s stories in some way someday…I’d love to learn more about ghost writing as I agree that there is a deep satisfaction in using your gifts as a gift to help others communicate their lives and their stories in a way that they wouldn’t be able to on their own. I organized/edited a short collection of women’s stories through our church this past spring– we were able to distribute them on Mother’s Day to thousands of women. It was an incredibly rewarding experience to hear how just giving these women a place to voice their their stories helped give meaning to them…it’s a very cool thing. 

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      That’s so cool, Lisa. Sharing stories is one of the best ways to bring people alive. I’m glad you were able to facilitate that.

  7. Kim

    This is an inspiring idea. I love it!! I related this post immediately to my experience and training as an actress. On stage it has always been my role to tell other peoples stories. And over time I have discovered how much we all live in a story and how our stories are connected. How amazing that in telling the story of someone else we are revealing our own heart! Not only do we become better artists but we become more empathetic human beings.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Yeah, Kim! I love that.

  8. dedektif

    The comments expressed in this article are very organized, well-researched and very easy to read. There’s no mistaking the points you are making. I agree.

    Reply
  9. Real Estate Developer, Home Builder, Real Estate Agency

    Your article is very informative, interesting and useful. I have enjoyed reading it and considering the many good thoughts in your content. I agree with numerous points and others need my full concentration to consider.

    Reply
  10. M Dianne Grotius Berry

    Interesting. Although I’ve already published several books, I was with a family member who just recently remembered a ghastly experience as a child that I had to commit to writing. I had her write a draft so that I could edit and submit it. Thing is. I don’t know how it should be listed in the authorship. Am I considered author, co-author? Also, so that she gets credit, how will I list her? “As told by Debbie?” I already have it titled, Thanks.

    Reply

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