Mark Terry

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ungodly breaking balls

February 17, 2010
Sorry for going all baseball on you today, must mean I'm hoping for spring. And when I start going all baseball, it usually means Bull Durham. And I'm not even going to talk about the part toward the end where Crash introduces Nuke to a friend who had a huge career in the minor leagues and Nuke shrugs it off as if being great in the minor leagues was nothing.

Nope. Today we're going to talk about fast balls.

There's a scene

about how in The Show (major leagues) the pitchers "throw ungodly breaking stuff."

I was thinking about this scene in the context of writing (and spring training). For want of any other metaphor, a novelist's skill--let's call it craft--and the techniques they use are all those pitches a great pitcher can bring to his game--a fast ball, a curve ball, a slider, an exploding slider, a spitball, etc. (I once talked to a woman who played some fairly competitive softball and she played against a college pitcher who went on to play in the olympics and she commented that the pitcher, because of the fast underhand pitch, had a rising curveball that was almost impossible to hit because, hell, who expects a ball to suddenly rise after traveling all that distance?).

But here's the thing. I don't think most bestselling novelists use all that many pitches. I think they can. I know that John Sandford has a lot of techniques and he uses them. I think Jonathan Kellerman does, too. Lee Child, yeah.

But really, I'm not sure they use them that much.

I suspect that bestsellers are fastball pitchers. I really do. I think for a novel to really break out it's probably got to be ripping across the plate. No real surprises, just a strong, powerful story that catches everybody by surprise. Yeah, to get technical, it probably will have some movement on it.

And to extend this metaphor a little further, I wonder if the reason so many midlist authors get so cranky about bestsellers is they themselves have all the skills of a successful pitcher--they can throw a curve, a slider, etc. But God didn't reach down and give them a lightning bolt for an arm. They find it hard to throw the fastball.

I don't mean to pick on Dan Brown. But he came to mind just a moment ago. This is a guy that seems to be throwing fastballs. I'm not really sure he's got that many types of pitches in his repertoire, though; or if he is, he doesn't use them much.

I suspect for longevity you've either got to have one hell of a throwing arm or you've got to learn some new pitches, you've got to mix things up. Elmore Leonard, I think, stopped throwing fastballs a long time ago, but he's got a lot of other arrows in his quiver, to mix metaphors a bit.

Sometimes pitchers, when they get older, stop throwing fastballs and start throwing a lot more mixed pitches, using control to nibble at the corners.



Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I love that movie. Well, actually... I used to just like it, but having been forced to see and hear it in the background at least 10,000 times, I've been brainwashed into thinking it's one of my favorite movies.

Never carry my bags, first class hotels, women with... wait a second...

Sounds like fun to me! :-)

3:22 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home