I was riding with my mom to school that day when we heard the emergency broadcast signal turn on…and then the reports started coming in. Students spent the morning watching the story unfold on the news. It was a surreal moment, knowing that people’s lives were in danger and the only thing you could do was sit there and listen about it.
Today, I was driving in my car with the radio on. The station I was listening to started playing a tribute with clips from the attacks and some music in the background. I thought about the videos we saw, how some people made the choice to jump from the towers rather than burn alive. Made me wonder how I would have reacted in that situation.
Of course, I’ll never know—and I hope I’ll never have to. Still, the thought alone was enough to make me cry.
I didn’t personally know anyone who was physically there at the Towers back when they were attacked on September 11th. Still, I can’t say that the events which took place that day haven’t altered my life here in America. We’ve exchanged personal freedoms for an increased sense of security—an exchange I question as to its effectiveness at deterring terrorists, if I’m honest. Our security measures were a reaction, and it makes me wonder if we continue to remain a few steps “behind” those we call our enemies. (Say what you will about al-Qaeda and other terrorists we face today, but they’re certainly not stupid.)
Of course, these thoughts and events have inevitably influenced my writing.
What 9/11 Has Taught Me About Antagonists
Like with the Nazis, it’s so easy to paint those who’ve terrorized America in a purely evil light, but I think it’s much harder to remember that these are other human beings who happen to see things in a radically different light than we do. I’m not saying what these people did and continue to do isn’t evil; it just makes me wonder: how, exactly, does someone get to the point where they resort to what we consider terrorism? So when I started one of the later revised attempts of TEROH and was considering a new antagonistic force for my story, I didn’t want your typical black and white enemy. I ended up drawing inspiration from the events of 9/11 and also the Somali pirate incidents a la Captain Phillips and the Maersk Alabama back in 2009.
Again, with the latter situation, I asked my self: how did those pirates get to this point? To me, this was the more interesting story—not because I didn’t want to see Captain Phillips and his crew freed but because it is usually the less considered viewpoint when your people or allies are on the receiving end of the attack. (If you’ve never seen the movie or ever researched the history behind contemporary Somali piracy, it’s actually pretty interesting.)
Hopefully (assuming I’ve done things right), when my first beta readers take a crack at my novel next month, they’ll also find themselves asking this same question as they unfold the tale of my characters, all of which see themselves as the heroes rather than the antagonists. At least initially.
What 9/11 Has Taught Me About Compassion
The thing about writing antagonists is that to do them well, you really have to understand where they’re coming from; that requires a degree of empathy. If you want to write about a heroine who aspires to protect others who suffer by the hand of that same antagonist, then that requires compassion.
That means that not only do you actually need to like something about people in general but you also need to see a reason to risk your sense of ease or security—and sometimes even your life—for those same people.
Those who risked their lives to rescue victims of the September 11th attacks did so because they had compassion for others; the people who attacked America in the first place did so because they lacked that same compassion. If you were to pit two foes against each other and yet neither demonstrated a regard for the lives of others, racking up collateral damage as they went without a blink of an eye, then at the end of the day they’re just the same. The struggle between them has simply become a war of egos.
Funnily enough, I think a lot of my story has to do with these themes: heroism and terrorism, altruism and self-concern, freedom and security… Not to imply these things are complete opposites or one is better than the other (negating terrorism perhaps), just that they get considered alongside one another. What differentiates a hero from a terrorist? At what point should altruism trump self-concern or vice versa? Is it possible to have complete freedom while ensuring a higher level of security; or can security be maintained when seeking a higher state of freedom?
These are some of the things my story considers and the things I find myself thinking about.
How has 9/11 impacted your life?
Did you know anyone who was at any of the attack scenes, someone who didn’t make it out alive? Where were you when you first heard the news? I think just about everyone can remember. If you’re a writer, has 9/11 influenced any of your writing?