Sunday, September 11, 2011


It's arguably the most mundane day of the week. It started that way, 10 years ago.

English class was drawing to a close. I think we'd gotten our progress reports (sort of a halfway point between report cards) and we were waiting for class to end. I remember looking at the clock at 8:45. For a moment, I felt a chill. It happens sometimes still, and I thought nothing of it then. The bell rang. On to Algebra. I was failing that class.

A guy in my grade mentioned that something had happened. I heard him say "World Trade Center", but the teacher I guess didn't know anything about it. We had class and got those stupid little reports at the end. Mine, miraculously, gave me a passing grade of 83.

I went to P.E. class, but that day my teacher had opted not to have us dress out. The girls in my small high school class spent our time in the art room, and the teacher told us of what had happened. She said something about Israel attacking us. I didn't know much about the world, but that just didn't seem right to me. This wasn't a military attack. This was something else.

It wasn't until 6th period that I fully knew what had happened. We'd been told stuff, but our American Government teacher was an older man who thought to grab a TV and turn on the news.

And over and over again, they showed the plane ramming into the second tower. They showed the devastated buildings, and the ash, and the Pentagon spewing smoke into the air.

September 11, 2001 unfolded before my eyes.

I knew that we were part of history. I never knew that life could not be the same again. I remember as a child being allowed to walk into the airport, be let past security and watch planes take off, because it was cool. I remember not being afraid.

We'd made it through the 20th century, through four wars and a few conflicts, not to mention the Cold War. Not once had one of those air-raid sirens gone off for any reason involving an actual air attack. We'd celebrated the new millenium. All was hopeful, and it was a beautiful day.

A few years later, in 2008, while working in a K-4 classroom, the jarring thought came to me that those kids, all born around 2004, will never know a world before September 11, 2001.

Ten years later, I am 24 and the world seems a much darker place. It's not simple and easy anymore. I came of age while a nation slowly healed from the rawness of it all. War became a reality of life, another thing that was always just happening. We talked about a possible draft when we were 17 and 18, hoping, as the guys filled out stuff for the Selective Service, that it wouldn't be something to worry about again. We wondered what if women were drafted, too. Osama bin Laden is dead, and from that I know that time is now divided. Before the attacks...and after.

So many people were lost. So many kids have grown up missing a parent. Lives were destroyed.

I don't know what we can learn from September 11. I don't have the answers. The attacks have in them no hope and no light, only darkness and chaos and fear and death. If there is anything on that day that we can look to for some courage, some fortification, it is the willingness of innocent people to just keep going, even when it meant that they had to sacrifice everything for the chance that someone else might escape.

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

To all the firefighters, police officers, military personnel, and civilians who perished on September 11, 2001, may you all rest in peace.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Writing Like You Speak...or Not?

"All I'm writing is just what I feel, that's all. I just keep it almost naked. And probably the words are so bland." - Jimi Hendrix

One of the challenges in writing fiction, whether or not you decide to make your setting a MAJOR THING in the story, is making your readers feel at home. I've already gone over your personal writing style and making your readers feel at home. Today, I'll get into something that can be more of a technical aspect. I use that term very loosely, because this part of writing fiction (or even non-fiction) is not much dependent on mechanics. You can't memorize a method for it or figure out how to do it from a textbook. It must simply be mastered. Want to know what this all-important thing is?

Writing like you speak.

Not so hard, right? I mean, it seems pretty easy. Just write stuff like you and everyone you know says stuff. Easy stuff. Slang, here you come. Colloquialisms abound. Awesome.

Or not.

Here's why. Ever read a transcript?

Yeah. Writing a sentence exactly how someone says it, every time, is as bad as trying to make your random hilarious true story into a scene in a novel. No one is going to believe it. Case in point: any time anyone tries to give characters a "Southern accent." I have read the word "gwine" too many times in my life. I still don't know how you're supposed to pronounce it. (Like swine, maybe? I'm really not sure.) I know it means "going" and is supposed to be Southern (or just Old Person Southern), but it gets on my nerves. A lot. It's a really bad way to have a character (old or young) talk because it's a good indicator that a) you don't know what you're doing and b) you've never been out the house or flipped on the TV. Same goes if you insert some New York or Boston or California slang stereotypes and try to phonetically indicate how people in a certain place speak. Unless you are making a movie and are the Coen brothers, it will not work.

So your real challenge is to make your writing, prose or dialogue, seem as though it is actually someone speaking. Nicholas Sparks is pretty good at this. Honestly, though I am from North Carolina, I wouldn't speak like he writes, but somehow the guy manages to convey a conversational tone without it actually being anything from a conversation.

So how can you do the same? Well...practice. Read books that feature that local flavor feel. And practice some more. Bounce your ideas off willing friends. The method and time are different for everyone, and it may take some work before you find that conversational groove for your fiction. But once you do, it will be all worth it.