In almost 3 years of working at Youth Ki Awaaz, I have read, edited and published thousands of personal stories. Users have shared powerful narratives that have gone on to reach millions, some have even created on-ground impact. And it doesn’t take much to write a strong personal story that resonates with thousands.
Here’s a quick guide to writing a good personal story on Youth Ki Awaaz:
Youth Ki Awaaz is a social justice media platform, so stories, even personal ones, that connect to an issue that affects more people are received better than others.
For example, in 2016, YKA user Jolly Mohan wrote about how the lack of an accessible toilet in the MNC she works at was forcing her to wear adult diapers only because she is a wheelchair user. Her story threw light on how much disability and accessibility are ignored in the country.
For the last 29 years, answering nature’s call has been one of my biggest struggles – because finding an “accessible toilet” in our country is like finding a needle in a haystack. When I took up my first job at a domestic call centre, I knew it had no lift, was on the first floor and came with toilets not designed for a wheelchair user like me.
Jolly’s story has been read over 180,000 times, and the MNC she works at reconstructed the toilets to make them accessible.
However, the issue does not have to be a huge national crisis that needs solutions. It could be a small, local matter that many people relate to.
In September this year, Sujayendra Krishna Nellore wrote about an everyday problem we’ve all faced at some point, but never thought much about – cars using high beams at night.
As I rubbed my eyes and tried to spot the things around me after parking my motorcycle in my house’s parking lot, I decided I had had enough and needed to vent. Before we begin, however, let me preface this by saying that when I say all Indians, I’m quite aware that not all Indians do this.
Sujayendra’s story started an important conversation on the platform and was read over 120,000 times.
The story can also entirely be focused on your personal experience, but a reflection of the society we live in, like this one by Isha Chitnis where she shares a horrifying encounter with a man on a train who masturbated at her and a friend, and how the police responded when she complained about it.
“Isn’t it a natural thing? Don’t make a big deal out of it.” “This is normal in India, just ignore it.” These are the reactions I got when I told people I took a video of a guy jerking off while staring at a friend and me in our train coach at CST Station in Mumbai in the early hours of the morning.
This story reached over 100,000 people and got the attention of Mumbai police who sprung into action and caught the perpetrator.
It’s your story and no one can share it better than you. So make sure you use pronouns like ‘I’, ‘me’, in the narrative and keep yourself at the center of it.
It’s important to hook your reader right in the beginning to make sure they read the whole story. Start your story by coming straight to the point. You can then move on to provide some background information to set context.
From there, make sure your narrative has a defined time sequence to it. You could be going from one phase in your life to another, even going back and forth between past and present, but make sure that gets clearly highlighted. You could do this by using dates, your age, or even different formatting to differentiate phases.
For example, in a story about your experiences as a child and how they have shaped your thinking today, just a change in tense (was, is), can make a distinction.
While narrating events in your story, try your best to use descriptions that can help paint a picture in the reader’s mind. The idea is to let them experience what you did. This can be done by describing the emotions you went through at the point, the expressions/behaviour of the people you’re mentioning in the story. Even describing the location of your story can help.
There are two ways you can describe walking down a street:
“I walked down a street to get home at night.”
“I walked alone on an isolated, poorly-lit street in the middle of the night.”
Sometimes, to make our stories seem more interesting, we tend to embellish and exaggerate. So instead of 3 people who trolled you, they become 15. You don’t need that, your story is as important as any and staying true to it will resonate with hundreds of others.
Each personal story stems from a strong emotion you’ve experienced at a particular point. It could be anger, fear, love, hope, confusion, but it was obviously strong enough to make you want to write about it. Channel that emotion, and let it reflect in your story. As you’re narrating, also describe what you felt at that time or how you feel about it now.
Another way of adding this emotion, and keeping your story active, is to use dialogue. ‘He said’, ‘she said’ with quotes keeps the story alive. Giving examples and anecdotes help break down a particularly complex situation.
Conclude the story by talking about why this experience was significant and how it has shaped your outlook and actions. If you’re linking it to a bigger issue, this is where you talk about it – could be in the form of news reports you’ve read, data, or even something a public figure said. Close the story with what this experience means to you today.
The point of your story is to share something you experienced, and your learnings from it, not to save the world. It’s perfectly fine to not delve into finding solutions to bigger issues. Stick to talking about things you are certain of than forcing unresearched solutions.
When you’re sharing a personal story, it is common to stray to other aspects of your life that may not really be relevant to the narrative. Once you finish writing, put on editor glasses and chop off elements that are not adding anything to your story. You will need to take a step back and not let emotions cloud your judgement. If revisiting the story is too hard, ask a friend to go over it.
If you’re writing about an experience that could threaten your physical or mental safety if your name is revealed, you can choose to write under a pseudonym or anonymously. Stories of abuse, harassment, fraud etc. would fall under this category. However, if the story focuses on achievements or positive experiences, then hiding your identity takes away all credibility, so don’t do it. If you’re sharing account of abuse or an incident that should have been reported to the police (or is under investigation), avoid naming the perpetrator(s) unless you have evidence to back it up. You could run the risk of being accused of defamation.
The final thing to remember is – don’t think your story is not important enough to share. Just because a lot of people may have shared similar experiences doesn’t mean yours doesn’t hold value. So if there’s something that’s been on your mind for a while, pen it down. Your experience could mean so much to so many.