Monday, October 27, 2008

Bottom of the Ninth

In which I explain why I love baseball, and why your writing should mimic it.

The Phillies played the Rays on Saturday night in Game 3 of the World Series. The score was tied until the bottom of the ninth, when Carlos Ruiz came up to bat. The bases were loaded. Now, Carlos Ruiz is not a great hitter. And he'd already hit one home run in the game, so odds were he was done. Carlos Ruiz is also slow. He's so slow that Tampa pulled one of their outfielders into the infield to keep him from getting a hit. This is like your older brother and his friends letting you play, but yelling, "Bring it in!" whenever you come up to bat. There were Rays players all over the place. So what were the chances of him hitting the ball and making it to first before being thrown out? Zero. He had no chance.

And get this: the reason the game is tied? Ruiz blew it with a throwing error earlier in the game. So he already feels bad.

Also, there was a ninety minute rain delay, so by the time Ruiz gets up, it's almost 2:00am. Everyone's exhausted. And soggy. And they have to play again Sunday.

The pitch comes and Ruiz makes contact. He hits this bouncing, slow-motion dribble down the third base line. Evan Longoria, the Rays' third baseman*, charges the ball. The guy on third is sprinting for home. Carlos Ruiz is chugging to first. Longoria fires the ball towards home.

And 46,000 fans scream. 46,000 fans who sat through rain and delays and a bad call by the umpire and their team blowing the lead, and they're all still there. Philadelphia hasn't won a sports championship of any kind in 25 years, but there they all are, screaming.

Because in baseball, there is always a chance. You can't leave. You can't turn off the TV and think, "They'll never come back." Because time can't run out and the team that's ahead can't kneel for three downs or play keep away around the court. They have to keep pitching the ball. So you just never know. You have to stay standing up and screaming.

Why am I telling you all of this? Two reasons:
1) I'm a baseball evangelist.
2) This is what I want you to no, seriously, just try this week. I want you to make your book like baseball. I want you to look at your story as a whole. I want you to print it out or lay it out on the computer so you can see every page. Now tell me: in which scenes are your readers going to be standing on their seats, praying and holding hands and screaming? In which scenes is Carlos Ruiz at bat and fans all over the world stop breathing? Circle those scenes in green, or decorate them with stars or do something to celebrate them.

Now, in which scenes are your readers going to sit down? When will they go get another hot dog? Cross those scenes out. Seriously. You want your readers refusing to pee because it would mean putting the book down. Don't give them a commercial break, and don't ask them to stick around for hours after your climax, watching your team run out the clock.

Sometimes we get so caught up in making sure our plots work, making sure our readers have the information they need, that we forget to leave them breathless. So this week, I challenge you to make sure every page of your book finds me tense with anticipation, and screaming on my seat because, like baseball, I just never know what. might. happen.

Oh, and I know. I didn't tell you what happened. You can read it here.

* no relation to Eva


Sara said...

Great post, Jacqui. I like baseball because of the food. And you can actually see the players. And 90% of the time, I know what's going on. :)

Stephanie J. Blake said...

Thanks for the advice! I am not revising right now, but you know I will be after Nanowrimo...or if the superagentgirl ever gets back to me.


Stephanie J. Blake said...

Sara...yes the food! Plus baseball players are kind of cute.

J.A. Palermo said...

I've let my MG that's been "oh so close but no cigar" sit for a few months before taking another look and crackling through another revise. I'll use your tip as I work through it.

Oh, did I mention it's about baseball?

J. Thorp said...

This post is a gem -- and not just because I like both baseball and writing. Way to take us to the bring and leave us there! Way to make really salient points that stick in our heads.! And way to acknowledge the secret cause of the uromysitisis epidemic sweeping avid readers worldwide!

Brianna Caplan Sayres said...

Love this post Jacqui! The analogy between writing and baseball is perfect. Now to apply it to my current picture book revision. (And hopefully, one of these days, my Mariners will be the ones fighting for their lives in a World Series! :o))

Jacqui said...

Sara and Steph, oh how I miss hot dogs at Comiskey Park!

J.A., welcome! I can't wait to see your baseball book someday.

Thorp, thank you for your compliments and for that fascinating connection :)

Brianna, good luck (with the pb; I cannot wish good things for the Mariners, I fear. Too much baseball in the 90s when they beat down any team I cheered for).

Nandini said...

Game 5 is tied 2-2, I'm checking out verlakay during the rain delay, and I find - this! You're spot on! Not only are 46,000 cold, wet fans standing up, a Red Sox supporter (me) is staying up wondering if those pesky Rays are actually going to get out of this one!
Now I have to check if they're playing again!

Jacqui said...

Nandini, I KNOW! I stayed up too. I think the umps were just waiting until Tampa scored so they could call the game without giving it to Philly. Grr. See you tonight.

Marcia said...

In which I explain why I love baseball, and why your writing should mimic it.

LOL. I hate baseball, but I've managed to use it in two of my books. And changed the title of a third because the title suggested baseball and there was no baseball in the book. Go figure. I know this isn't really what you're getting at, but it's my baseball/writing connection.

Jacqui said...

Marcia, I'm fascinated at how baseball ended up in your books if you hate it. Maybe you are meant to be a fan after all?