Thursday, August 09, 2007

Throw A Slider On The Outside Corner

I'll admit it. I'm still watching the Texas Rangers (the baseball team, not the law enforcement group), even though their hopes of making the playoffs are laughable at this point. Why? Because of my own background in baseball. I enjoy watching the duel between the pitcher and the batter. Unless your name is Nolan Ryan, it involves a lot more than just throwing the ball as hard as you can and muttering, "Okay, hit it if you can."

In Little League, I was taught to throw the ball over the heart of the plate. None of us had good enough control to do more than aim in that general direction and hope. In high school, I had to develop a different pitch--in my case, a "slider" that breaks down and out to a right-handed batter. Now I had a couple of pitches to keep the hitter guessing. In my brief career in semi-pro ball, I learned to throw to all areas of the strike zone instead of just getting the ball over the middle of the plate. Now the batter had to wonder both what was coming and where it would end up. If I'd opted for professional baseball instead of medicine (Yeah, right. As though I had a chance), I would have had to nibble at the corners with my pitches, aiming for the edge of the strike zone. That would give me a fair chance of confusing the hitters. Well, that's what I still watch for nowadays in baseball.

In a previous post, I promised to discuss the book that has most deeply affected my attitude toward writing fiction. That, of course, is Donald Maass' book, Writing The Breakout Novel. Maass challenges the writer to do more than just follow classic patterns of structure and character. In the chapter on premise, for example, he shows how you can take a typical plot idea (a young boy with dreams of winning the world series), change the character, the setting, the goal, and end up with a Special Olympics participant mentored by a Nigerian athlete who is in this country temporarily, and.... Well, you get the picture. Don't just throw the ball. Nibble at the corners with sliders and an occasional change of pace. Too often, authors aim for good writing but don't have good plotting. In his book, Maass leads us through considerations of premise, stakes, setting, characters and plot, at each turn urging the writer to deepen the tension, raise the stakes, and go beyond the usual and expected. I'd like to have had him as a catcher when I was pitching. He'd undoubtedly call a great game, keeping the hitters off-balance for the entire nine innings.

By the way, I'm preaching to myself as well as to the writers among you. I've just received a critique of my third novel, one I'd written as an experiment in suspense fiction. The verdict: the writing was good--middle of the plate fast ball--but the plotting was insufficient to carry it forward--low and in the dirt, ball four. So, here I go, back to Maass' book, trying to put his admonitions into practice. I'll let you know how it goes.

I'll be away from blogging for a couple of weeks. While I'm gone, look at your own work and see if you can change things up a bit to keep the reader off-balance. Good luck.

3 comments:

One More Writer said...

*sigh*

I'm right there with you, Richard. Good writing, mediocre plotting. And I still need to get Maass' book!

Ane Mulligan said...

Hey, Richard, have you read Debra Dixon,s book GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict?

It actually helps plots out! Also Jim Bell's book, Plot & Structure are really good.

Both those helped me with that problem. And believe me, I had it bad. But not now. :o)

Ane Mulligan said...

Hey, Richard, have you read Debra Dixon,s book GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict?

It actually helps plots out! Also Jim Bell's book, Plot & Structure are really good.

Both those helped me with that problem. And believe me, I had it bad. But not now. :o)