Writing sports-themed action scenes provides an opportunity for an author to engage the passions of three different readers: enthusiasts, well versed in the particular sport featured; others unfamiliar with the specifics of this sport, yet athletes nevertheless; and non-athletes not involved with sports in anyway. To capture these three diverse groups of readers, to pull them into your story, an author must serve up the contest with enough recognizable morsels for each to come away satisfied and fulfilled even having left items on the buffet table unappreciated, or even passed over.
This guest post is by Strat Warden. Warden grew up in rural Nebraska in the 1960s. He was an accomplished high school and college athlete, and served as a corpsman with the US Marines before earning a commission in the US Navy Medical Corps. He completed his training as a general surgeon in the US Navy and served in that capacity until he entered private practice in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Dr. Warden retired in 2005 to spend more time with his children; devote more attention to ZirMed, Inc., where he served as Chairman of the Board until retiring in 2012; and to write Huskers, in hopes that it would help his children, and others, to understand the “true awards” of participating in sports. Connect with Strat at StratWarden.com, or Facebook.com/Strat-Warden, and @StratWarden on Twitter.
To carry this analogy further, we Wardens enjoy dining at a locally owned family restaurant for their salad bar. My wife crafts her salad from the choices of fresh greens and homemade dressings; I gorge out on the assorted pastas; and the kids empty out the bowls of in-season fruit. We’re all aware of the others’ choices—sorta, but each of us prefers our own selections. When it’s all said and done, we all enjoy our meal and look forward to the next visit.
This is your goal when you sit down to craft your particular sport’s “action scene”: to satisfy your customer, your reader, regardless of their palate, their familiarity with your sport, or even sports in general, to leave them full and eager for dessert, to read on.
For the reader knowledgeable in your story’s sport, the contest must include enough specifics to maintain their interest. Whether it’s football, as in “Huskers”, or curling, or synchronized diving, the contest needs to have a degree of recognizable complexity necessary for the reader, who has participated in the sport, wants to, or is a devoted fan, to believe in its authenticity. It must be real.
For the general athlete, unfamiliar with your chosen sport, the contest must involve those aspects of the sport common to all sports, the competition, the teamwork, the effort, the “agony and the ecstasy”, etc. The specifics won’t matter, if they are captivated by common themes with which they are familiar through their own athletic endeavors.
The last group, the non-athletes, might seem to pose the greatest challenge; not really. Their interest must be captured well before the contest begins through the character development of the players immersed in the contest and the “story” you have woven leading up to the contest. If your reader is invested in the individuals participating in your “game”—who they are, your readers will engage in your players’ struggles, pain, joy, success, or failure; and it makes no difference what the venue might be. The particulars will be background noise, choices they left for others. Though, perhaps, alien to them, your readers will form a gestalt awareness of the specifics of the contest, and this will serve well enough for them to follow their characters through the “game” and share in their passion and grow from their experience.
When your reader exclaims to a friend the delight they enjoyed from the account of your “game,” it may be the “option,” or the “trap play,” and how well they were conceived and how well they worked; or the pain and exhaustion of the players efforts in the mud and cold of the final moments; or the ultimate triumph of the downtrodden loser, who, through the course of his character’s arc from the beginning of his journey to the its end, achieved the thrill of a victory beyond any of his previous dreams.
The challenge of writing “sports-themed action scenes” is your opportunity to satisfy readers of various levels of experience in your chosen sport, all hungry for what they know and like. Oh! And be certain to serve it up on beautiful china with polished silver. Bon appetit!
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.