Reflecting on the I Have A Dream Speech for Our Daily Writing

Dream Speech. We all have a dream.

On August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., one of the most impactful speeches was delivered to a crowd of over 250,000 civil rights supporters. We’ve heard highlights of the Dream Speech in school and saw clips of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering the powerful and ambitious rhetoric that every American should want to live by today. Dr. King not only moved a nation with his words, but he had the world paying attention to the climate of what America was.

How awesome would it be that our writing could be revered as a masterpiece of our time? To write a story that millions of people would live their lives by. To have a character as deep-rooted, admired, hated, loved, cherished, and three-dimensional as the late, great Dr. King. The Dream speech changed the lives of millions and there will never be another, but we can apply the same principles to our everyday writing.

Dr. King had always implemented the “Dream” concept in his speeches since 1960. Most people (including myself) don’t know that the speech given so eloquently in D.C. was not the final draft. In fact, the Dream speech has several versions, written at several different times. Even more so, Dr. King worked on the Dream speech hours before he had to deliver it. The point is, we’re never finished. When you have your first draft done: pat yourself on the back, take a few days off, and go right back at it to tear it apart. Rewriting repeatedly may seem monotonous, but it is indeed the life line to your project. Because writing is so subjective, it is nearly impossible to please everyone on every aspect of your story.

One time I entered a screenplay of mine into the Bluecat Screenplay Competition and all entries received free feedback from professional readers. Once you made your corrections based on the feedback, you had the opportunity to resubmit the screenplay for a nominal fee. I had two readers and Reader A absolutely hated this one plot point in my script. So much so, that this person wrote a paragraph on why it shouldn’t be in the script.

On the other hand, Reader B loved the same plot point and described how well it flowed with the script. Who do you listen to? When it comes to your work and your career, who do you trust more? Yourself or someone you’ve never met?  Dr. King came across a similar dilemma when his adviser, Wyatt Walker (someone he knew and respected), suggested he not use any of the “dream stuff” in his speech, calling it “trite” and “cliché” per nymag.com.  You should always have an open mind, but you should also trust your gut. It is, after all, your writing and no one knows your vision better than you.

The persona of Dr. King should be every writer’s dream to emulate for their chacters, male or female. He wasn’t a very big man. He didn’t have all the money in the world.  But what he did have was something that resonated with millions of people. He is the perfect imperfection that makes a character iconic.  Fearless, but with some insecurities.  Larger than life, but still one of us. That undeniable human factor that sucks us in from the moment he speaks. That’s how we should write our characters.

Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with readings of “Letter from Birmingham Jail” on January 17, 18, and 19.

Whether it’s the protagonist or antagonist, making a three-dimensional character involves having some flaws. This is something I had to learn the hard way. I’ve written stories where I wanted the main character to be likeably to the point where they were nothing less of perfection. The result was the exact opposite. Readers don’t like a “goody two-shoes” character because they feel like the character is above them and needs some struggle to come down a notch. The same with a villain.  No one likes full on, 100% evil. It can be 99.9% evil, but that .01% must have some type of redeemable quality. That’s why we love The Grinch, Hannibal Lector, Darth Vadar, Lord Voldemort, ect. These characters have a certain degree of evil to them, but they also have that speck of light that allows us to show some empathy toward them.

You know you have the perfect, or the perfect imperfect, character when your audience/readers don’t know who to root for. Dr. King was that imperfect balance. We loved him flaws and all and that’s what makes him the perfect protagonist in the story of life.

We can gain endless amounts of wisdom from the rhetoric of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His speeches, his association with the Civil Rights Movement, or just him as person are all things we can take from and use in our everyday lives. As far writing is concerned, The I have a Dream speech and its deliverer are a writer’s gold mine. The dedication and focus it took to write the speech is something we can apply to our daily discipline of writing.

Rewrites are crucial and should never be looked over. You’re not finished until you’re finished. Being open-minded to criticism, but also trusting your gut is also an asset to be equipped with. This is your story and you choose how things go. And finally, building strong, relatable characters is something that can always be improved on. Love him or hate him, Dr. King showed us the sacrifice it takes to be immortalized as one of the greats. You can do the same with your potentially iconic characters.

I hope you take this and apply it to your daily writing. Good luck to you all on your literary journey and don’t forget to subscribe below the comments.

Ty Mitchell

Author: Ty Mitchell

I write books and help writers get through their literary journey. I am the author of The Color of Love. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity. Follow me on Twitter @Ty_Mitchell or on Facebook @the-vpf.

Ty Mitchell

Ty Mitchell

I write books and help writers get through their literary journey. I am the author of The Color of Love. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity. Follow me on Twitter @Ty_Mitchell or on Facebook @the-vpf.

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