<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=252463768261371&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Why You Should Write Your Personal Story Like 'Baby Reindeer'

May 24, 2024
6 min read time

A dark past can sometimes lead to a brighter future, and that’s especially true if you become aware of how to use your experiences to change your perspective or touch another life. Richard Gadd has done those things in spades since first adapting his one-man show, Baby Reindeer, into a hit limited series on Netflix.

Autobiographical to a pain point, this narrative portrays the darkness in the life of Donny Dunn (Richard Gadd), whose encounters with a stalker named Martha (Jessica Gunning) are all too real—and all too nuanced to be cheesy. 

Instead, one beautiful thing about this show is its verisimilitude. With each flaw of Martha’s, there are admissions from Donny, the audience’s surrogate for Richard, about how he sees things he did to invite attention from her. As much as we root for Donny to get out of his situation, we see how he feels—and, at times, why he even makes choices to bury himself deeper.

His story—this warts-and-all marriage of real-life thriller drama and self-aware black comedy—has become a call to arms for writers everywhere: “Tell yours.” If you’ve lived through something you feel needs to be shared, you can follow Richard Gadd’s example. If you’ve been afraid or unwilling to do it, though, we’ll give a few reasons that might convince you to follow in the footsteps of a powerful tell-all like Baby Reindeer.

Donny Dunn (Richard Gadd) sitting on a bus on 'Baby Reindeer'

Touching the Hearts of Others

A story that’s based on actual events makes it utterly attractive to audiences in ways that a fictional narrative never is. Every aspect that makes it onto the screen captures the audience's attention, drawing them closer to the empathy behind the story. 

That might sound scary. That might sound invasive, exploitative, or otherwise unwelcome. But that said, it’s your story. It’s yours to tell—and Gadd shows us how even the darkest moments can be portrayed in ways that can move people. As Donny shares news of his sexual assault, even his father is moved by the information and shares his own experience. It’s this power that audiences feel when they watch a true story unfold in an adaptation.

Read More: How To Give Your Screenplay Your Voice

Sharing Your Perspective

It can feel like no one will understand what you’ve been through. Good or bad, it’s hard to share your truth in a way that people “get it.” But Baby Reindeer dives deep into Donny’s psyche as he walks us through his thought process in each life-changing moment. Every time Martha escalates, there’s a thought process—for every time Donny fumbles and gets cornered, there’s a thought he shares with the audience.

When a real-life story comes out, it’s often the case that we develop our understanding of what happened and what people were thinking. It’s human nature to guess at motivations—at reasons—for everything that happens, but that’s where sharing your own experience can change everything.

Stephen King notes this when he says that Baby Reindeer’s “great gift” is to help us understand why Donny takes so long to get help—giving us empathy for him and Martha in the long run. That empathy is the most important tool in a story like Gadd’s, and it’s generated masterfully within his viewers.

Donny Dunn (Richard Gadd) doing a standup act in 'Baby Reindeer'

Processing Your Experience

There’s usually something very healing about externalized reflections. Putting your thoughts, worries, and experiences on paper can be beneficial for some people. But many people, including Richard Gadd, see the value in putting hours of work into getting the experience down as thoroughly as possible. Telling his story through an adaptation has made the story make more sense to him, giving him the tools to work out his feelings about what he went through.

Trauma is difficult for many people to even think about, but, in Gadd’s method, the story gains a sense of closure, even if there was none in his real life. 

Writing about difficulties in a “based on a true story” piece might be able to help you find closure to the story, and could help people emotionally who are going through something similar.

Read More: 7 Simple Strategies to Stay Productive & Take Care of Your Mental Health

Checking In on Yourself

In the same way that processing your experience is a healing experience, you can see telling your story as a growth experience, an exercise in knowing yourself. Richard Gadd himself states, “I had to constantly check myself to be like, ‘Does this feel truthful to me, to my experience all the way through?’” 

To keep himself to the “emotional truth” of his lived experience, he used the story as a long-term, high-intensity way of keeping himself in check. He didn’t want to “sell out” with this story, making it exploitative or invasive. He wanted to make sure he was becoming the artist he wanted to be, the writer he knew he could be.

It just so happens that the instrument he used to refine himself there was his own life—his circumstances and lived experience.

Donny Dunn (Richard Gadd) and Martha Scott (Jessica Gunning) talking in a bar in 'Baby Reindeer'

True stories are powerful for various reasons: The wider appeal, the intentional reflection, and the added emotional value to each conflict are all good examples of that. But more than that, a true story is powerful because, if done right, it shows who you are—to yourself and others.

Your “based on a true story” story must come about because that’s what you want or need, whether you do it to get in touch with yourself or because you need the world to hear your voice. Just make sure to let that story ground you, the way Gadd does with Baby Reindeer. Keep it true to you—and it’ll resonate with the audience you find along the way.

Read More: Take 5: ‘Devotion’ and the Art of Adapting a True Story

Untitled Document