Tag Archives: tennis

Writing Monday: Vary your Shot Selection

As I watched more than one match from the US Open, the absolute dedication and training of the players struck me more than once as a sight to behold. It was an exciting two weeks, and I only witnessed the matches from the comfort of my home. What a thrill it must be to actually step onto Ashe Stadium or any of the courts as a player. No matter whether the player lost in the first round or progressed further, each has an accomplishment to be proud of, their hard work paying off with entry into one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world. As a tennis fan, I loved listening to the commentators and watching the matches. And what matches I enjoyed, among them possibly the biggest upset in tennis history, an improbable but entertaining women’s final, and a truly astounding men’s final. And more than once, I heard so many great life lessons, most of which can be applied to the craft of writing.

Vary your shot selection. One of the joys of watching the men’s final was watching the great skill and mastery of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Djokovic’s backhand is one of the best ever. Whether he spins it in, slices it, or nails it down the line, there is always a glimmer of his intelligence and foresight into the how he is trying to manipulate the point. Federer has incorporated new shots into his game, including what was termed the SABR (Sneak Attack By Roger). Even though he has won seventeen Grand Slam matches, he’s still trying something new.

Throughout the tournaments, there were forehands or backhands, volleys or lobs, some with spin, some without. Players vary their serve, some going down the line, others going out wide. They vary their shots and their shot selection. They know when to settle into an exchange and when to press and hit a winner.

In the same way, an author varies his sentence structure. It would be very boring to read a bunch of simple sentences that all have the same pattern. So, too, an author should have variety in his arsenal. Sometimes a stretch of dialogue is needed for banter. Sometimes short, terse sentences are needed to convey tension. Sometimes long, meandering sentences are needed for a break from continuous action. Authors know when to vary their shot selection.

Authors can also learn from the sneak attack play. Whether an author is a plotter or a pantser, an author can take a page from Federer’s playbook and throw in something when the reader least expects it. I recently read Mary Connealy’s Swept Away. (Spoiler alert for an event 60% into the book.) One very likeable character was Big John, a Texas Ranger whose job was to deliver a wanted criminal to the proper authorities. Did I see him getting attacked by the prisoner and being left for dead? Not a bit. Ms. Connealy snuck up on me and placed one of her characters in mortal danger when I least expected it. Whether an author follows the three-act play format or breaks down the book into quarters, throwing in something completely unexpected, but still within the boundaries of the book, can help to vary the shot selection and keep the reader turning pages.

For example, to keep advancing the hypothetical romance from my last blog (quick reminder: romantic suspense, hero detective in France falling for sister of art thief who happens to work at the museum where the painting was stolen), as an author, I want to keep moving the plot forward and vary the shot selection. In the tense scenes, I’d use short, compact sentences with sharp, pointed verbs. Then say, a quarter of the way, I would make sure there is a surprise to add to the conflict. Say the hero discovers the heroine is the sister of the thief. Then halfway through, I might choose to kill off the detective hero’s partner who got too close to capturing the villain. This also would amp up the conflict between the heroine and hero.

Surprises and sentence variety can go a long way to hooking the reader.

What are some of the favorite surprises in your favorite books? Let me know.

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Writing Tuesday: Keeping Your Eye on the Ball

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I love to watch professional tennis on television. Now I can even watch even more tennis on my iPad as more matches are available through various apps. The way Roger Federer can hit a backhand while making it look so effortless is a thing of beauty. Serena’s aces? More powerful than a locomotive, and I often realize I’m glad I’m not on the other side of the net as she booms those serves. I can’t imagine trying to return one. My poor WH knows this is not a newfound hobby for me. One year for his birthday, we had convinced my parents to watch Kath (who, at the time, was an only child) so we could get away for a much needed couple of days away. There was just one problem. There had been so many rain delays the gentlemen’s finals of Wimbledon fell on Monday, his special day. Patrick Rafter v. Goran Ivanisevic. He still sighs whenever he remembers his waiting for me until the final ball was struck and Goran Ivanisevic held the trophy high. Yeah, I couldn’t leave with the outcome of Wimbledon hanging in the balance. But the amazing thing is how much you can learn about writing the more you learn about tennis.

Originally I had four points in one blog about what I’ve learned from tennis, but it became a really long discourse. So I decided to chop it up into four different weeks. The great thing about that is it gives me my next four writing blogs.

Keep your eye on the ball. The very first thing my first tennis teacher told me was to keep my eye on the ball. When you lose sight of the ball, you can’t hit the ball and you’ll lose the point. If you ever watch tennis on television, one thing strikes you: the intense concentration on the tennis ball. Even in still pictures sports photographers snap of the players, the players’ eyes never veer from the ball. If you don’t know who he is, google Novak Djokovic. There’s a reason he’s number one in the world. The sheer desire of anticipating the ball and intense focus on striking it back across the net is written all over his face. There’s a reason he’s one of the most entertaining players in tennis, and when he plays Roger Federer or Andy Murray, well, my husband knows I’ll be watching the match.

As a writer, I’ve learned one very important lesson from the best: WRITE. In writing, you have to write. If you lose sight of writing the words or revising the words, you lose sight of the story. If you don’t write them down, you don’t have anything to rewrite. No matter whether you’re the type of writer who can write a strong first draft or if you have to edit your book twenty times, you have to keep your eye on the story. Write, write, write.

There are times it is so easy to find yourself distracted away from the ball/story. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Oh, it’s so tempting to go spend five minutes here and there on social media and click the yellow circle at the top of my document to minimize the page. But then, I sometimes remember the concentration of the best in their field. Tennis players focus on the ball. In a number of workshops, all the authors say the same thing: write. Get the words in, then you can indulge in social media or ten pages of reading your book.

So keeping your eye on the ball is the first thing tennis has taught me. Next week, I’ll be discussing moving forward. Do you watch any sports? What life lessons have you taken away from sports or some other activity (quilting, cooking, gardening)? Let me know.