Sometimes We Have Just Nine Words…

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photo (1)“Three Firefighters Killed, Four Injured in Washington State Wildfire.”

I was sitting on the metro this morning on my way to work, reading The 10-Point from the Wall Street Journal (which is how I get most of my morning news because I’m too lazy to scroll through a thousand headlines), and the above was the title of an article I found under a section listing the top news stories in the U.S.  I don’t know exactly what caused it, maybe it was the mood I was in, or because I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet, but it gave me pause.  So I read it again.

“Three Firefighters Killed, Four Injured in Washington State Wildfire.”

I had almost glazed over it.  It was just another headline, after all.  One among thousands just like it that had been run in the past year.  I had glazed over those, too.  So had most of America.  Sitting there on the metro, next to a half-dozen other morning commuters reading the newspaper, listening to music, wondering if today was going to be a difficult day at work, wondering what they were going to have for dinner, if that girl from the bar would text them back, if their child would get in trouble at school again, if anyone else on the train could tell they hadn’t showered that morning, and I joined them in wondering. Except I was wondering how many hundreds of thousands, or millions, of people had glazed over that headline about a wildfire in Washington State and those three dead firefighters.

I mean, given the thousands upon thousands of words I read every day, what did these nine words mean to me?

There was a fire.  Three people were dead and four more were injured.  But what more?

Have you ever seen anyone die in a fire?  I haven’t.  Okay, sure, I have in a movie, but not in real life.  And so my imagination started to run wild.  How intense was that scenario, those seven firefighters standing there as they were overtaken by wild flames that started out warm and got so hot they started to melt plastic and metal?  How fast must those flames have been moving to overtake the firefighters?  I imagined that they must have been yelling, calling to each other as they tried to get away, to save each other and themselves.  What were they thinking about?  Were they thinking about their families, their friends, each other?

I don’t mean to get too graphic or deep into the tragedy of it all, but I want to make a point, because that’s just what this was. It was a tragedy.  And whoever wrote that nine word headline only had those nine words to convey so much more.  They only had nine words to convey the fact that three people, three firefighters, had lost their lives in a fire. That they were out there trying to stop a force of nature so that it didn’t hurt other people, and that the manner of their death was probably more intense than we could possible imagine. They were trying to tell us that three families and sets of friends had their worlds turned upside down.

As I sat there on the metro on my way to work, I thought to myself that it would be nice if the train was a few degrees colder because I was starting to sweat, all the while I was reading an article about a fire that took the lives of three people on the complete other side of the country.  It reminded me again of that word from my last post: Sonder.

The headline was just nine words.

I think that’s something important to remember, both in life and in our own writing. Sometimes we have just nine words to convey an entirely different world, and we should strive with each and every word we put down to bring our readers into a new place, a new life, a new universe, complete with its own friends, family, dreams, hopes, fears, desires, cultures, heroes, beliefs, etc.

The fact that this particular headline managed to do that for me might have been random – it certainly could have been written better – but I think the point is to realize that every sentence you write has the potential to be the one that sparks a reader’s imagination and finally draws them into the world you are creating.

To get a small sense of what I’m talking about read this article about the fire and the brave firefighters who lost their lives yesterday.

And while you’re reading it, remember that somebody out there had just nine words to convey it all.  “Three Firefighters Killed, Four Injured in Washington State Wildfire.”

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