project nightingale survivor story guidelines
2-3 pages (can be longer or shorter).
Describe one incident: it can be the rape, assault or abuse you experienced, it can be an anecdote about how it affected your life afterward (telling your next boyfriend/girlfriend), dealing with the system (the rape kit experience in the hospital, dealing with the legal system, therapy), or something very specific to your experience (is there something about what you experienced that is special, surprising, uniquely yours, a story around it that needs to be told?) and then reflect on what that means for you.
Provide the details and some reflection on what it means for you and for others.
An exercise to help you get started, not how you would organize your story.
What happened to you? Be specific.
How did you feel during the incident(s)?
Who did you first tell, if you told someone?
What was your experience working with the system: hospitals, social workers, lawyers, court, etc?
How did this play out in other aspects of your life?
Did the rape, assault or abuse have an effect on you physically? How did your body and mind respond to it?
How long has it been since this happened? How are you now versus how you were then? How has your relationship to it changed?
What are the nuances about what happened to you different than what might have happened to other people?
1 ACTION: JUST GO FOR THE FACTS.
-- Start in the action OR with an interest-creating-device (e.g. provide the “bait”)
Be constantly raising questions.
-- The devil is in the details, so give concrete details.
PERSONAL: Were there bruise marks on your throat? Dirt under your fingernails? Did you try to scream but found yourself completely still instead? Begin with details.
SCENE: What did you look at? For example, if you’re being cross-examined at the stand, did you find yourself staring at the clock in the back of the hall because you couldn’t make eye contact? Or during the abuse or assault, did you see the crack of light from a door? Or did you close your eyes as if that would make it go away?
CHARACTER: What do you remember about the characters you encountered during your story? For example, do you remember how someone smelled? Or simply hearing their breath? Or do you remember the way the social worker touched your hand like she knew you?
2 REFLECTION: REFLECT ON WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW.
-- A good story doesn’t just tell the facts but lets the listener/reader in on what it all means.
How did this make you feel?
What did you learn about yourself?
What did you learn about other people?
How did this challenge you?
Did it leave you with a message for other survivors?
-- Often times, what rings as true is what is honest.
-- The word “essay” comes from the French word for “try,” so consider this simply trying; it is an exploration. Write what interests you.
-- And at the end, it should have a feeling of discovery; about yourself, about this situation, about the world. Writing is the splendid gift of not knowing! Behind it is the need to make sense of life behind the impulse to write.
3 STAKE: LEARN HOW TO FAIL BETTER SO YOU CAN FINALLY WIN.
-- Have something at stake. What did you win or lose? What have you been carrying that you can relate to this situation?
-- Having something at stake is being human, and after all, this is an exercise in what it means to be human and what it means to live life.
Sample Categories of Focus:
CATEGORY 1: What happened
CATEGORY 2: The aftermath
CATEGORY 3: Back to the real world
"Everything is more compelling when you talk like a human being, when you talk like yourself."
— Ira Glass