November 2, 2009
Last night I flew into Seattle. After we landed the steward made the standard announcements as we taxied to the gate.
He began, "let me be the first to welcome you to Seattle."
The voice inside my head screamed "noooooooo. You’re speaking to us. This announcement is about us and not you. Who cares if you are the first. The message is that we’ve landed safely in Seattle. Just say ‘Welcome to Seattle.’ And perhaps smile while you say it."
He continued with his instructions about staying still and his admonition that the baggage in the overhead compartment may have shifted and he finished with my least favorite part of the standard announcements.
He said, "If you live in Seattle, welcome home. If not enjoy your time in Seattle or …" I winced knowing what was coming next, "… the city of your final destination."
No one talks like that. I know this isn’t NaNoWriMo where you have to be particularly tuned to your characters voices, but when you write you should sound like you.
Sure, our flight attendant was reading a script, but someone wrote that script for him. That person probably began the outro with "If you live in Seattle, welcome home." She typed it up and took it to her boss. It was friendly and simple. It ended the announcements on just the right not.
"But," her boss said, "what if they don’t live in Seattle?"
She looked at him not knowing quite what to say. "I welcomed everyone to Seattle at the beginning of the announcements. Here I’m wrapping things up and throwing in a little personal note at the end."
"But," her boss said, "you really need to include the people who don’t live in Seattle. They’ll feel left out."
I need to interrupt here to make sure you know that they really won’t. When you write you don’t have to cover every case in painful detail. Certainly not now while you are writing your first draft. There will be plenty of time to smooth out the cases that you might have missed. Now you are crafting the core of your story.
Our writer knew her boss was wrong but he wasn’t really interested in her objections so she came back with the next draft.
"If you live in Seattle, welcome home. If not enjoy your time here."
"But," her boss said — he always seemed to begin his sentences that way, "what if they aren’t staying in Seattle. What if they’re flying on to Vancouver or driving to Portland or staying in Tacoma. This is after all the Seattle-Tacoma airport."
Our writer can’t believe she works for such an idiot but she says, "What about, ‘If you live in Seattle, welcome home. If not enjoy your time here or wherever you are heading.’"
Her boss pretends to think a moment and then says "But, that’s not really clear. Where is ‘here’ and ‘wherever you are heading’ could be a bar. We don’t want to encourage them to enjoy their time at a bar. We’re in the airplane business. We move them from one city to another."
And that is how we get from a fairly friendly statement that does all it needs to do and get to the least welcoming welcome phrase you can imagine.
Right now keep writing fast and fresh. Tomorrow we’ll talk about authentic voice.
This post originally appeared in the Pragmatic Life blog.