Labor Day

Writing Rut? Stretch Yourself

Writing and 9/11



Writing fiction in a post-9/11 city makes for some difficult choices.

There’s no doubt that my beloved city is still scarred. When other places offer a brief news item on the day, we air the entire reading of the names of the dead, about four hours’ worth. We have a museum that walks people through what happened and how we coped. And are coping. There are thousands of people still receiving medical help (physical and mental) from the aftereffects.

But in writing terms, it’s a problem everyone faces. Do we mention a specific event? On the plus side, it gives our story a sense of time and place. On the minus side, it dates it. And for some people, mention of a real tragedy inside a fantasy novel might take them out of the escape they wanted.




A fellow writer once asked if any mention of it should be made in her novel. Her book had been started long before that tragic event and a group of us told her not to change a thing. Fortunately, the area she placed her characters in and the events that she created did not require it. Including it would have been a distraction. So she left it alone.

My own soon-to-be-released novel takes place on Long Island. I chose not to bring in any mention of 9/11. And when my main character needed to go into the city, she went to a different area.

I don’t know if future books will have my characters referring to anything or pointing to a landmark or if they’ll just continue walking to sit in Battery Park with no mention of the recovered globe that is there. Or whether I’ll make sure there’s no reason for them to go to the area at all. It’s a hard call, but it’s a call required of every writer who uses a real place, not just because a horrific tragedy occurred in their backyard.



* Image courtesy of satit_srihin at


  • Christine • September 13, 2015 at 1:09 pm


    You make some valid points.
    I don’t know if It May help you if share with you some thoughts I have considered when debating if I should mention the events of 9/11 when writing sermons, but here goes.

    The fact is that 9 11 did happen. And it has impacted everything in our world since then. For better or worse.
    How we cope and continue to cope is what makes our lives better or hellish. To leave this out is to create a world that simply is not. But then, you are writing fiction.

    From a writers perspective I should think it is a gold mine of opportunity. And perhaps a catharsis for healing. Think of all the stories that can be told. If you are creating completely different world for your character, then by all means leave out whatever does not work. If however you are writing about events before or after 9 11, then how can you not at least allude to this vent?

    I refer to the great conan Doyle who placed his character sherlock Holmes in what way for then, modern day London. He used the events past and present to enrich sherlock character which made him even more memorable. ( darn auto correct refuses to let me edit.. forgive the obvious grammatical errors )

    In the end it is always a judgment call on your part. If by including or excluding certain facts, it enriches your story. It would be a crime to do otherwise.

    Hope this helps

    • J. M. Levinton • September 13, 2015 at 7:04 pm

      For my novel, it would have made the story unnecessarily complicated so I omitted it. In many ways, my novel could have taken place in any suburb. We’ll see if that changes! Thank you for your insightful thoughts.

      • Christine • September 14, 2015 at 2:59 pm

        I am so looking forward to reading this novel.

        • J. M. Levinton • September 14, 2015 at 10:18 pm

          Thank you!

  • jan • September 13, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Of course – it all depends on the genre. I think nothing is more difficult for a writer than incorporating a real event in a work of fiction – it’s painful.

    • J. M. Levinton • September 13, 2015 at 7:05 pm

      I had to think it through. For myself, I know I made the right choice for this novel. Who knows? That could change in the future.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Recent Posts