whose story is it?

The story of Thanksgiving that I was taught growing up was mostly a bunch of hooey. 

That familiar fiction of friendly Pilgrims and helpful Native Americans getting along feels terrific to tell and hear, if that’s the only story you know. It has no bad guys. It both instructs and inspires. If only we could all be so peaceful, welcoming, and cooperative! 

The problem, of course, is that it’s not the truth. There’s a gut-wrenching history of slaughter and appropriation just outside the margins of the tale that I was taught as a child. 

In terms of writing craft, we’re talking about point of view. Who’s doing the telling? To whom? And, importantly, to what end?

It’s said that history is written by the victors, but serious historians are always challenging the narratives offered by their predecessors. New research and new perspectives can’t change what happened in the past, but they can bring the historical tale into closer alignment with the truth. This work is ongoing.

Writers of fiction don’t have the historian’s imperative to be accurate. We get to make things up, but our stories too will inhabit a perspective. 

What vision of human nature do we choose to portray? What forces of adversity do we give weight to, and which do we ignore? Where do we locate the moral center of our fictional universe? What sort of hero are we inviting our readers to identify with and root for? What happens to those we deem the villains?

What makes it onto the page, and what is left outside the margins?

The sum of all these choices coalesce into meaning, whether we intend it to or not. Stories are powerful, and with great power comes great responsibility (thanks, Spiderman). 

My personal rewrite of the Thanksgiving holiday centers on gratitude, connection to loved ones, reverence for nature’s bounty, and a renewed vow to stay awake to and engaged with the plight of indigenous peoples, here in North America where I live and elsewhere, too.

Today I’m grateful that old stories can be rewritten, and that new ones are created all the time. And I’m grateful for you! Through our collective work as storytellers, we strive to help humanity see itself better, be better, do better. Thank you.

TIP: Whether you planned it or not, your story offers some moral vision about how the world works. How does this vision align with your true intentions? What impact will it have on your readers?

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