Who am I
to write Hannah’s story?
Can an author who is lucky enough not to be a rape survivor do justice to the story of a character who is struggling to heal after being sexually assaulted?
Who Am I to Write Reinventing Hannah?
I’ve been working hard on turning Reinventing Hannah into one, cohesive story. The plot threads are starting to come together and I’m getting to know Hannah on a deeper level than I ever did throughout the other four drafts of this novel that I’ve written.
I’m starting to understand her story and to hear what it is she wants to tell the world through sharing her sensitive, painful journey back to wholeness after being sexually assaulted.
But as I sit down to write, in the back of my mind another voice whispers:
Who are you to tell this story?
Hannah’s story has been calling me to write it for over a year. It is the story of a girl who struggles to put the pieces of her life and identity back together after being raped.
I think it’s a powerful story and an important story, and one that I definitely want to tell.
But I am fortunate enough that I am not a rape survivor. So is this story really mine to tell?
Sexual assault robs people of power. The last thing I want to do is replace a survivor’s voice with my own.
I’ve thought about this a lot because this isn’t a story I just want to write. This is the story I MUST write.
So here's my answer.
I’m not writing a book about sexual assault. I’m writing a book about what it is like for this character to experience this traumatic event and what she does to try to move forward with her life after her world is shattered.
As a writer, that’s always been what I wanted to do — give voice to characters who are struggling with huge problems and who, underneath their struggles, really want to be who they are and feel like the world isn’t letting them.
I connect with Hannah’s feelings of powerlessness and desperation, her feeling that everyone else has the normal life that she does not, and her desire to somehow bridge the gaping chasm between herself and her friends now that this has happened to her.
Hannah is conflicted, stuck between wanting to stand up for herself and fearing the repercussions of refusing to just go along with what the world tells her she should be. I definitely know about that struggle and it’s a story I’m eager to tell.
I've thought about this a lot because this isn't a story I just want to write. This is the story I MUST write.
The fact that I’m even asking this question shows how sensitive I am to the fact that not every story is mine to tell and that people have the right to tell their own stories.
And that’s also the reason I’m the perfect person to tell Hannah’s story.
Hannah’s story calls me because it’s my story, with some creative rewrites thrown in. In high school, I was the kid who was as quiet as a mouse and afraid to be who I really was — in my case because, among other things, I was trans and had no idea that was even a thing.
So like I said at the beginning, I’m not writing a book about sexual assault. I’m writing a story about a young woman who is sexually assaulted, and telling the story of who she is and who she becomes as she tries to make sense out of what has happened to her and how the world responds to her differently because of it.
And that makes all the difference.
Have you ever struggled with the question of whether you were the right person to write your story? Share your struggle and how you overcame it in the comments!