I took a lot of writing classes in college. At SUNY Binghamton they didn’t have a journalism major so I took the closest thing offered: Literature/Rhetoric. Yeah I had to sit through Shakespeare and various lit classes but the rhetoric side offered a ton of writing classes. Creative writing, poetry, etc. My favorite of the bunch, though, was Ghost Writing.
Definitely not an easy thing to teach, but mastering the ability to write in someone else’s voice is an incredibly powerful weapon to add to your writing arsenal. At this point in my career, I honestly don’t even recall that many specific lessons from the class. It really comes down to practice, practice, practice. Know your audience and know your speaker/author’s general tone. Serious, jokey, stuffy, etc. The only tip I do recall from that class is on subtlety. If you’re writing in someone else’s voice, pay attention to the little details. Do they use contractions? Do they have a few “go to” phrases? Do they refer to themselves by name or first person? Adding as many small details like that can go a real long way towards molding your words to someone else’s style.
One of the coolest assignments we had in my Ghost Writing class was to take Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and rewrite it in someone else’s voice. That someone could be anyone. Another president. A celebrity. Fictional character. A relative. Anyone. I recall my classmates choosing the Smurfs (just substitue every third word with “smurf” or “smurfy”), President Clinton and someone’s dear Grandma Bubby.
I thought long and hard over who to pick. I considered Homer Simpson and then Winnie the Pooh but neither really did it for me. And then it hit me. One of my favorite celebrities from the ’80s. Someone with real charisma and a very distinctive voice. Someone who always cracked me up. And someone I had recently seen speak at a comic book convention. Yep, I chose Mr. T.
Now if you’ll let me digress for a minute (like you have a choice?), let me briefly mention my crazy infatuation with Mr. T. I’ve always loved him on the A-Team, Rocky III, his hysterical Snickers commercials, his “just be yourself” appearance on an episode of “Diff’rent Strokes.” Then there was his cartoon, comic book and even a Mr. T cereal. No, I don’t have a huge shrine to the guy or anything (though I do own Mr. T soap-on-a-rope!). I just think he’s one of the most entertaining characters alive.
Anyways, I chose Mr. T for my Gettsyburg assignment and it was one of the most entertaining processes I ever had to go through. I had to put myself in Mr. T’s head. Start talking about myself in the third person. Say “pity,” “fool” and “suckah” a lot. It took quite a number of rewrites, but in the end, I was fairly pleased with myself. My class thoroughly enjoyed it too. Oh, did I mention we all had to read our assignments to the class? In the person/character’s voice? Yeah, I put on my best gruff Mr. T voice and recited his rendition of the Gettysburg Address.
For years, this historical document has been locked away in my desk. But I figured it was high time I dusted it off and shared it with the world. Maybe if I’m lucky, my version of Lincoln’s classic Gettysburg Address with start making the Internet rounds and somehow catch the eye of Mr. T himself. Nothing would make me happier than to have T (his friends call him T) read it aloud. So now for your reading pleasure, I give you…
The Gettysburg Address… As Told By Mr. T
Fourscore and seven years ago, that’s a long time ago, a long time ago, our fathers and mothers and all our other relatives, even Mr. T’s relatives, created this nation you’re in right now, just so you can live in peace.
Now. Right now. That’s right. Right now we are at war. We’re at war to see how strong our nation is. Mr. T knows that war isn’t good. Fighting isn’t good. But testing is good. This nation is a strong nation and it will survive. Mr. T knows that. That’s why Mr. T is here. That’s why you’re here. To honor the people that fought for the beliefs of this country. We can’t bring these people back from the dead. You know this, and Mr. T knows this. But we can honor them and dedicate this here land to those soldiers who gave their lives for this nation. They ain’t no cowards. They’re heroes and should be remembered as such.
It’s easy for Mr. T to stand here in front of you and dedicate this land, this land is in honor of those heroes who died valiantly for this country and all that stuff, but Mr. T is no fool. These here men who died or were injured fighting have more honor in their actions then in any piece of land. I pity the fool who thinks that dirt is worth more than a soldier’s life. Mr. T can give this speech a hundred times. A hundred times. To a hundred different people. A hundred different people. But it won’t mean as much as what these people did before. Instead, you, your family, Mr. T, Mr. T’s family, all of us will be a remembrance to these brave soldiers. We will devote our lives to the cause that these men fought for.
They are dead. They are gone. They ain’t ever coming back. But we’re alive. I’m alive. Mr. T’s alive. And Mr. T knows that a person never truly dies as long as memories of them live on. We’ll take these memories and use them to strengthen our beliefs and strengthen this country. When we do this, we’ll ensure that our country, our free country, will still be here on this earth. And I pity the fool who thinks that all of this fighting and arguing is going to tear apart this country and destroy it forever.