Sunday, March 11, 2012

It's Like Baseball...

We watched our 4 ½-year-old grandson play t-ball yesterday. It was the best kind of heart-warming comic relief. While a few of the youngsters seemed to grasp the idea behind baseball, the vast majority of the children were just happy to put on their uniform and run around, usually in the wrong direction. This morning, when we recalled the light-hearted events we’d witnessed, it made us think there could be a baseball analogy to writing novels.

 Like baseball, writing an engaging novel-length story requires understanding a set of non-intuitive rules. Not only must you develop writing skills, but you must employ them in ways that make the story you are trying to tell understandable and engaging. Of course, there is some latitude. That’s why we like different kinds of stories and storytellers. An analogy to baseball might be that radically different stances can still be successful when hitting, but you still must have a talent to put a round bat on a round ball. And you can’t football tackle a base runner because that would no longer be baseball, just like you can’t just slap 75,000 words down and expect it to be understandable, let alone a pleasure to read.

And, like baseball, to be good, novel writing takes practice. We’re on our way to a million words that no one but us and a few advanced readers will ever see. And we’re sure we are not alone. Most novelists must hone their craft before they are any good at it just like most ball players must scoop up thousands of ground balls before they’re proficient fielders.  Luckily, in both baseball and novel writing, there are people around that will help you get better, much of the time out of the goodness in their hearts.

It used to be that the baseball analogy would hold true to novel publishing, but not anymore. While there is still only one MLB where the very best players can showcase their talents in the USA, the publishing oligarchs, thanks to eBooks, are now in decline. Before major league baseball could face the kind of difficulties major publishers are, virtual reality would need to be sophisticated enough so that watching an internet baseball game would be more entertaining than watching it on TV. It would have to offer at least some of the experience of going to the ballpark. If that could occur, individual players could then be free to associate outside of baseball’s monopoly and form teams among themselves while their fans, incased in their own virtual enclaves all over the world, could cheer them on. If this were to happen, no doubt heated debates would flair over the purity of the game, but, we’re sure, the ease, comfort, and cost for enjoying virtual baseball would soon put the kind of pressures on the MLB that Amazon is putting on Random House. While we grew up loving bookstores, it is a simple fact that eBooks and the internet provide a greater wealth of stories than we would have ever discovered wandering the aisles of the bookstore. And if you love reading stories like we do and can get over the need to hold bound paper, it is so much easier to get lost in the words when they are delivered electronically. We know this is sacrilege to some and we still have hundreds of paper books at our house, but the writing is on the virtual-wall. EBooks will one day soon be the norm and paper books a luxury. Whether this ever happens to baseball, we can’t predict. In the meantime, we’ll drive over to the ball fields and watch our grandson put the glove on the wrong hand and wave to us in the stands with the other one.

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