Collision: Football and Storytelling

Those of you who write know that writing comes to invade much of your life. You see an expression on a face in a crowd and think about how you would capture it in words. You see a news item that makes you add a twist to your plot. Putting words around life becomes a constant. Which brings me to football.

A few days ago, I read the beginning of my fourth novel to a critique group. One of the members said. “I like the beginning, but then you take me into a biotech development hub. Interesting, but it slows the story down.”  I was contemplating that comment, going back and forth about whether to cut the offending section.  I took a break to watch a University of Florida football game. (If you’ve lived in Gainesville, Gator football puts a stamp on you, even after you leave.) I was half thinking about my writing dilemma when Florida captured a Tennessee fumble, or seemed to. There followed a half-dozen video replays, shots of refs conferring, several minutes of ads, replays, conferences. Finally, a decision. By the time, I had lost track of the game. I had just read an article in which a sportswriter talked about the new safety rules and technology that made it possible for millisecond, millimeter measurements slowing the game, destroying its rhythm. The writer credited falling viewership on the delays that alter the rhythm, which is to say the emotion, of the game.

The same is true is true about writing, it seems to me. Like football, there is a rhythm to a story, and that rhythm needs to be ever-present in a writer’s mind, because rhythm is an important component of the emotional bond between the reader and the story. That bond makes the reader turn the page.

Looks like that bit about the biotech incubator is out. I loved writing it. I worked there (well, not the fictional one) for several years. I know the people, the structure, the kind of events that go on … and I neglected rhythm.  

Maybe I’ll get a chance to put it in later.

Time Passing and Dreyer’s English

I started this blog over six years ago to chronicle the experience of learning to write.  I knew it would be a journey, even though I believed myself to be a good writer already. (Ha!) I thought at the time it would be a process somewhat like getting a power boat up on a plane:  Plowing slowly through understanding structure and technique, reading the classics in my genre, learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Finally rising to the plane, where my writing would zip along.

To some degree, that is the way it’s been, although the plowing process has been longer than I expected. And continues ad infinitum, I think.

Along the way, I joined critique groups that have helped me immensely, though I often feel that my critique earns me a red-lettered ‘stodgy’ across my forehead.  Yes, my formal training took place a long time ago. Yes, I use Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk & White. But calling out an incorrect lie/lay or take/bring sometimes gets flared nostrils and a roomful of sighs. And we’re not even talking about the singular use of ‘they’ or the vanishing comma.

Pertinent to grammar and style, I just ran into what I think may be this generation’s style guide:  Dreyer’s English, by Benjamin Dreyer. It’s an erudite, clear guide to the way English should be written with an emphasis on clear communication, rather than hard and fast rules. Also, funny and fun to read. He begins by exhorting we writers to go a week without writing Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers like very, rather, really … you get the drift. We should all go many more weeks than one with very (oops) few of these.

Another thing I like about the book is Dreyer has been at this work for two decades. I think that gives him acute judgement about which changes in style are transient and which are here to stay. All in all, a fine book.  Who knows? I may be able to rub out that ‘stodgy’.