basketball and writing a page-turner

Squirrel Finnegan the wannabe dog pupThe process of improving my fiction writing continues to parallel the process I devised for learning to shoot a basketball.

There are an infinite number of variables in each sport. It seems that the more of those variables I control or eliminate, the faster I improve.

In learning to shoot a basketball, it was easy to eliminate the unessential movements.  Give the shot a little random head tilting and an inconsistent jump and you might as well move the hoop during the shot. So forget practicing like everybody else does.

I stood close to the hoop, didn’t change position, didn’t jump, bend my knees, or worry about what was going on in my mind. I kept my shoulders and head steady during every shot.

Then I shot a hundred times per day for quite a while. This isolated my arms, hands and fingers – the minimal number of uncontrolled variables essential to sinking a shot.

After a while I could get the ball through the hoop every time from that one spot. Then I brought a jump into the deal. Then a little more distance, and a little more.

Did it help?

Yeah, like magic. I went from pathetic to annoying. There were a few games where everything I shot went through the hoop. If I’d been decent on defense, I could have made the D league for the vertically challenged.

No brag, just fact.

With fiction writing I’m taking the same approach – eliminating variables to isolate the essentials.

The main thing I want to create is a novel that’s difficult to stop reading. You might call it a page-turner, I guess. I want it to be meaningful. It would also be nice if literary critics around the world would send flowers to my wife.

To identify the essentials, I’m studying the work of best-selling fiction authors. These people are doing something right. I want to discover what it is, so I can practice like a fiend.

Of course, I intend to continue posting all my epiphanies here.

Each highly successful popular author I’ve studied seems to have a set of talents that is slightly different from the next. Some are not so gifted with words, but have interesting ideas and characters. Some are able to write like poets and yet weave complex plots involving a large cast of characters. Others write simple plots with few characters, simple words and breathtaking dialogue. Some don’t seem to stand out in any way, except that I can’t put their books down.

The combinations of the different underlying writing talents are probably infinite.

In basketball, a person must have rare talent in almost every aspect of the game if he’s going to have a chance to play professionally.

In writing fiction, it doesn’t seem like that at all. Yes, there’s a common thread connecting best-selling authors, but it’s thin and subtle, not thick and obvious, as in basketball.

When you find what your main talent is as a writer, you’ll be able to isolate it and work on it. If you keep at it, you’ll probably be able to write a page-turner. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a fairly decent chance of becoming a professional.

There are a few people out there with great advice on selling your novel, but if your novel isn’t difficult to put down, you could be wasting your time.

Maybe I don’t want you to do that.

Identify your strongest writing talent. Isolate it from the noise. Build its muscles. Write things that depend on that talent.

This approach will produce the sort of page-turner you’re capable of writing. It will be unique to you.

Of course, not all writers want to write page-turners. Not everybody wants to reach millions of people.

That’s understandable.

In the final analysis, all fiction writers succeed – because it’s this journey we’re on that matters, not so much the destination.

M. Talmage Moorehead

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