Every couple of years, like so many people, I become obsessed about sports I otherwise pay very little attention to. Mostly, it’s figure skating and gymnastics, but as Neil Patrick Harris tweeted this morning, “I never thought I could care so much for people or sports that I just learned about six minutes beforehand.” Moguls had me oohing and ahhing last night, Luge has me cringing, and Nordic Combined offered more interest than I would have ever dreamed. The NBC broadcasters (if you’re here in the US) get mocked a lot for their soft-focus features on the athletes, but damn if they don’t make me care a lot more about people and events I never thought I’d care about.
So how does this relate to books? Two ways: first of all, I want to reiterate my interest in a great YA novel set in the highly competitive world of amateur athletics. Especially figure skating or gymnastics, but where’s a novel about the next Venus Williams or a young Bode Miller? We see a lot of team sports novels — probably because they’re much more common in high school — but there’s a particular drive about individual athletes that I’d love to see in a YA novel.
So that’s one.
But also, I think authors can take a lesson from the commentators at the Olympics. They have a real knack for focusing on the drama in the athletes’ lives and stories — this one is snowboarding with three broken ribs, these two skaters hate each other and undergo counseling between practices, another skier is is competing in her first Olympics with her father. How cool is that?
As a writer, how can you hone in on your characters’ passions? What drives them? What obstacles do they have to overcome to get where they want to be?
Even if the profiles on TV are seen as extras to the true sporting events of the Olympics, like a diary entry you might write in your character’s voice without ever intending to include it in your manuscript, they add some intriguing backstory.
So how do you like your Olympics? And what do you think about the profiles — both for the athletes and for your characters?
6 thoughts on “Sports Talk”
What can I learn from the Olympics. Emotion sells. Have an emotional hook and you are gold.
Lots of other stuff too, but men's down hill is on.
I'm also a complete sucker for all things Olympic. I love the figure skating the most, but as you mentioned, it's not like I follow the sport the other years. However, I'll often skip through the athlete profiles. I'm all ears if they talk about the athlete's triumphs and tragedies in the course of their commentary, but I don't want that interruptive segment. I think this matches with the concept of interweaving backstory into the narrative. Bring the past into the present by making it relevant to *now*. Don't completely stop the forward momentum of your story to reflect on the past.
You'd think for someone who used to test the fitness level of elite athletes that I'd be glued to the Olympics. Maybe I'm not for the exact reason Jami mentioned. Give me action and less backstory! Nice analogy by the way, Jami. 😀
My hubby and I are Olympic watching nerds. We don't usually watch television yet we were glued to the tv for the entire Summer Olympics and have watched most of the Winter events this week. I LOVE the athlete profiles and based on a random short biography, I've turned to my hubby saying "Oh, I really want them to win." Never mind that I had no idea who they were five minutes prior. I'm in awe of people who have conditioned their bodies to perform at that level — in writing, it reminds me to write a character that people will route for no matter the challenges they face along the way.
I'm a bit late to the party, but a great book about an up-and-coming tennis star is Amazing Grace by Megan Shull. I love this book so much.