Storytelling with Heart

Camille DePutter

Camille DePutter. Storytelling with heart.

I am not a bracket. (Or, how not to be an accidentally exclusionary writer.)

So I’m about to read a book about a sport I like, about an athlete I admire.

The book is a rock climbing memoir, and it’s co-written by the athlete and by a professional writer/editor.

At the beginning of the book, the sport of free soloing (a style of climbing), is described as: “a man (or woman), with only rock shoes on his feet and chalk on his fingertips for better purchase, against the cliff.”

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Notice that “woman” is in brackets.

Now this curious grammatical choice has nothing to do with women’s participation in the sport of climbing — which is significant — and has everything to do with the inherent assumptions of the editor/author.

Brackets suggest an afterthought. A rarity. An exception to the rule.

Suddenly, I feel excluded. Talked down to. Omitted.

This language and punctuation says: This book is not for me. It is for men. For male climbers.

I feel like putting it down. No, I feel like throwing it off the next cliff I climb.

And I’m only on page 8.

Think I’m over-reacting? This tiny little grammatical choice (not to mention the use of “he” and “his” rather than the gender neutral “they”) speaks volumes.

So here’s the lesson. For all writers and editors, whether you’re professional or not: do not underestimate the effect of choices like this on your reader.

I am not obsessive about grammar. I encourage people to write rather than worrying about getting it perfect. I encourage people to focus on clarity and communication rather than grammatical nuances.

But this, right here, is when grammar (and punctuation and word choice) matters. When you’re accidentally cutting people out.

If this is something you care about — i.e. you don’t want your writing to be exclusive and you do want it to engage all readers — work with an editor who is attuned to these kinds of things. They don’t have to be a professional; they can be a friend or colleague who just really ‘gets it’.  

Preferably, work with someone from a different perspective than you, whether that’s a different gender, industry, age, ethnicity, life experience, etc. They can help you see your work in a different light.

Tell them that you want help identifying and tempering your own bias. Invite them to challenge you. Then be willing to be challenged, to question your assumptions about who you’re writing for and what their perspective will be.

And most of all, never treat a human being like a bracket.


This may be one of my favourite stories I've told. 

I remember writing it 2016, while staring at the three sisters mountain range, in Canmore, Alberta. The memory brings me peace. And what I wrote resonates with me because lately, I've felt this need very deeply: 

The need for silence. 

That need might resonate with you, too. So I'm sharing this story again today — along with my permission (not that you need it) to seek out a little silence for yourself.

Does your story need some silence?

This week, I’ll be camping and hiking in the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies. 

Mountain backcountry is a great place for storytelling. Not just because we’ll have a campfire or two. Not just because of the adventure. (Previous reports of me fighting off a bear with my left hook were greatly exaggerated.)

But because of the quiet.

Suddenly, amid the power of mountains that are so much bigger than you, something inside falls silent. 

Words are noticeably absent.

And that is a very good thing. 

The best stories can come from meeting our own speechlessness. 

If you’re struggling to put words to something that feels wordless, if you're trying to talk about something that feels indescribable, one answer may be... to wait.

Don’t rush to tame the feelings with your words. Just be there. Meet the story as it is happening.

Sit with a quiet so powerful that it lays your mind down like a sleepy child for a nap. 

Be with the beauty around you that is so sweet and gentle it hurts.

Hold the pain like a still object in your hands.

Feel that love that has no business being described. 

Speechlessness is a very good thing for stories because it means something is happening. In time, the words will settle within you. In time, you’ll tell them. In time, you’ll share and make something marvellous. 

But for now, just be here. 

Because stories don’t exist without someone there to live them first. 


"Things are not as easily understood nor as expressible as people usually would like us to believe. Most happenings are beyond expression: they exist where a word has never intruded." -- R.M. Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet