Sunday, April 18, 2010

Balls and Strikes

Watching Brandon Inge play over the weekend, along with reading a few more traditional mystery stories gave me some insights into my plotting troubles. I don't know why exactly, perhaps it was my age, or limited exposure to all of the genres tropes and stocks in trade, but when I first started writing mystery stories and until I gave them up a year or so ago, I thought every mystery story I wrote needed to be a home run, every twist amazing, every ending a huge whamo surprise ending. And while I never hit that home run, I struck out quite a bit. Just like Brandon Inge.

Inge is a guy who has had some huge hits in his career for the Tigers. Well-timed home runs or grand slams to win the game. But when he's not winning the game, he also strikes out a lot at very inopportune times and I think it's because he's always hitting for that big hit. He doesn't quite get the value of a single or double just to get on base. In my reading, I came across several stories that were more "small ball" if you will. The stories succeeded on a string of well-timed singles and doubles, and even a few triples, which made for entertaining and memorable stories. None of them blew me out of the water, but they didn't have to. So this is how I need to start plotting my stories.

I've talked in the past I've talked about how much I like stories that turn on small stakes as opposed to massive, world-altering, stakes and I think this sort of follows the same lines. When you're constantly hitting homers, eventually people become bored with them. This has happened to two of the few thriller writers I was ever able to read consistently, Harlan Coben and Jeffery Deaver. The first few books I read I was shocked and awed by the twists. But as I read more of their books, I started seeing patterns and began spotting the twists way ahead of the game. With Coben I was still able to enjoy the books because I like his characters, but with Deaver, who relies almost entirely on plotting to sustain his books, once that formula is cracked the books lose their energy.

So that's what I'm doing with my novella, trying to get a couple of good singles and maybe an RBI double and give the fans something to see. Anybody else have a way to cram an awkward baseball metaphor into a writing blog?

10 comments:

Dave White said...

Stop arguing with the umpire and play the game.

Scott Parker said...

Good post. I don't try to hit homers; I always think I need to hit a grand slam. Every. Single. Time. No matter the story. You have given me something good to think about today.

John McFetridge said...

There's a camera move we see in movies once in a while, the dolly in-focus out, which doesn't really change the framing of the shot but it takes the background out of focus.

The really famous ones are Chief Brody on the beach in Jaws and the one in the restaurant in Goodfellas.

It's a great way to signal that some new piece of information changes someone's perspective completely.

We need to find those kinds of things for our prose, those small signals that let us feel that everything is different now that we know... whatever.

Bryon Quertermous said...

Scott: Sounds like you and Dave share the same desire for HUGE stakes.

John: I think you're right about those little moments. What I've figured out really makes me think a story is good, is not a totally unexpected suspect but a totally unexpected motive.

Jay Stringer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryon Quertermous said...

Okay Jay, you had me at football metaphor then you went all off and talked about volleyball and midfield and strikes and tackles. Pick a sport already. Sheesh...

But yeah, I like the small battles set against a bigger backdrop, even if that big backdrop is just surviving life in Detroit.

Dana King said...

I severed relations with an agent and explained it with a metaphor much like yours. She wanted to send only to big New York houses. (Hit home runs.) having already struck out there, I wanted to try some smaller houses and build an audience. (Get men on base and move the runners.)

Your football metaphor works well with hockey as well; I like to watch the guys digging the puck out of the corners. This is why I think Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world. He'll build the piano, AND play the hell out of it.

Jarrett said...

This reminds me of something I heard at a recent writers conference in a session on plot. A. Lee Martinez was the speaker and he said that instead of worrying so much about plots and twists we needed to be more concerned with creating moments for the reader because that's what they remember. They remember scenes or dialogue exchanges more than they do a character's story arc.

I know that's not directly related to your point, but I thought it was close enough to share. It was the most eye-opening/aha moment I had at the conference.

And excellent metaphor, Jay. I got every bit of it even though i haven't played or watched soccer/football since I was a kid.

John McFetridge said...

Crosby - scores one, sets one up that looks like pond-hockey, schoolyard fun - and keeps one out of his own net. Most guys who score as many goals as he does don't even know where their own net is.

And Jarrett, I think you're really onto something with the "moments" - they're certainly what make or break movies.

But like Steve's post today about research, the moments have to arise organically out of the story with no time being spent to set them up. They can't look laboured.

Bryon Quertermous said...

As a Red Wings fan I can only say

Fucking Sidney Crosby...