Digging the Past for Rich Story Plots

Is it a bad idea to pry and write about family skeletons
or an expired confidentiality agreement signed by some kin?

Is Sherlock looking for clues about Dr. Watson’s NDA past? (Photo by mohamed hassan from Pixabay)

One’s past could be many things. It could be happy; it could be sordid. It could be riddled with colourful phases, or washed-out in forgettable facets.

It could be a combination of many which, I believe, makes an individual steeped in all-round life’s learning.

But, what about being close to someone who had, in the past, signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)? What feeling or reaction would we have if this someone would not give a hint of what secrets, if any, are stored in their mind regarding that NDA?

Awe or anxiety?

Fascination or funk?

“You can’t make me break my NDA,” was an oft-repeated reply to my stubborn nag, “even if its confidentiality had expired.”

Curiosity is a factor in my interest. However, my being curious is not the irreverent type. I believe that succeeding generations in a family would be interested in their history.

If such were not shared, how do we know the roles our forebears played in their life that might have affected others?

Confidentiality agreements are not exactly rare

NDAs are not uncommon. You and I could have signed such agreements, even more than once in a lifetime, when signing work contracts.

Celebrities and influential people (and royalties as well) are known to require their incoming staff to sign confidentiality agreements. The same with corporations; they need to make sure their corporate secrets are not divulged by staff, hence, the NDA.

In the public sector, signing an NDA after a thorough vetting is a requirement for new hires in some agencies.

But, it is known that some signers of confidentiality agreements (even official secrets acts) do not feel beholden to the NDAs they signed.

Those connected to government’s secretive departments, and who broke their NDAs were marked with opposing appellations. But first, they get to be tagged by some as whistle-blowers. Then they are perceived as either traitors or heroes for exposing secrets that are deemed critical to national security.

Of course, the tag – hero or heel – depends on which side of the political spectrum the observer is entrenched.

In the private sector, the leaking of corporate secrets are deemed to not hit front-page news – unless the issue is so huge that a whistle-blower is viewed as doing the public much good.

Meanwhile, in exchange for money and maybe also for revenge, we get to read purported secrets of some celebrities, who are likely already controversial in the first place, splashed in gossip magazines. A case in point is this controversy.

(For the purposes of this piece, however, that of sharing a writing tip, I shan’t touch on the corrosive aspects of NDAs.)

What about secrets from the family closet or an NDA past of a kin?

Much as the above scandals could amuse or unsettle some of us, what about the undisclosed secrets held by those close to us?

They might be just an ordinary cog in the scheme of things, a regular John or Jane Doe. But being ordinary does not mean that one is not capable of making a difference in other people’s life.

The NDA signer might have served in the Middle East and against orders, helped a young child, who was cowering in hunger and fear in a bombed-out enemy camp, to safety.

If this fictive soldier were a relative of ours, could we not consider this as an act that changed a life? An act that is worth sharing with the generations succeeding us?

Or, it might be possible that the NDA signer witnessed highly improper acts done by the boss (maybe a celebrity, or a private or public official).

Be warned, however, that breaking
a confidentiality agreement
requires legal advice.

But after considering whether or not to share with one’s kin down the line such irregularity, would lifting the veil of secrecy not prevent other future wrongdoings?

It might, just might, also save a family member of future generations if such incident was written about.

A task not for the faint of heart

Recording, whether on paper or in digital forms, one’s family history for posterity is not for the faint of heart. This is especially so if a kin reveals a skeleton in the closet or perhaps had an expired-NDA past.

It is a writing project that requires dedication and tenacity in doing research. I also strongly believe that one should, instead of being judgemental, remain objective in presenting the history of one’s previous generations.

If anything – and this is for budding writers out there – writing about one’s family history can be regarded as an exercise in creativity, that of writing creative non-fiction.

It is quite possible that the writers in us, while digging the history of our family’s previous generations, can see plots so palpably rich which are waiting to be developed for creative endeavours.

We will never know until we channel The Sherlock Holmes in us.


First published by The Coffee Times on Medium.

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