What does tennis have to do with writing? The Authors Collection

OverMyDeadBody-julie final front cover 2S

BACK IN MY YOUNGER DAYS, I played a lot of tournament tennis. The other day, it suddenly struck me that writing a novel was much like playing tournaments.

In both cases, much early preparation is needed to develop the necessary skills. For tennis it was developing the various strokes and the physical conditioning. For writing, it means learning how to write a good sentence, then how to make a good paragraph and a satisfying scene.

When the match is near, one needs to develop a game plan, much like constructing a novel’s plot. For a book, you need to create interesting characters. This can be likened to preparing your mental attitude for a match. The book’s prologue can be associated with the pre-match warm-up.

Jim Callan in his tennis playing days
Jim Callan in his tennis playing days

In writing, you are counseled to have a good opening “hook.” In tennis, a good, strong beginning is also important. It gets your game in sync and doesn’t let the opponent gain extra confidence.

A novel depends on a conflict and tension. Your opponent across the net will certainly provide conflict. If he has a solid game, perhaps even better than yours, there will be tension enough. Can you keep a positive attitude even as he wins many points? And you must deal with his attitude and perhaps comments. You need clear, strong dialog.

Novels are often accused of having a “sagging middle.” That is, after a strong hook at the beginning, the middle drags. The ending may be strong, but perhaps the reader will never get to it, having bailed out during the poor middle.

In tennis, there can be a letdown after the first set. If you win it, you might relax, thinking the battle it won. And that’s just the pat on the back that your opponent needs. Of course, if you lose the first set, you may get discouraged. A dull start of the second set is not uncommon. Like the sagging middle of a novel.

One should always want a strong ending in a novel. It is the last think the reader sees and you’d like to leave her with a definite desire to check out your next book. In tennis, you need to close it out. The match isn’t won until you close out the last game. Weaken here, get over confident, and you may end up losing. Always close the match out with strong play.

If you are writing a series, you can associate that with a tournament, when one win leads to the next round and another match. And if you win the tournament, that’s like a best seller.

Over My Dead Body releases the first week in May. In writing it, I followed the successful plan of tennis matches. I constructed a good plot (a winning game plan), and created a set of memorable characters (a positive mental attitude). I used a good “hook” to open the first chapter (a strong start). Conflict and tension invade each scene (strong opponent), and this prevented a sagging middle (no let down in the second set). A strong conclusion wrapped things up (capture the final game). Over My Dead Body is the second Father Frank mystery (the second round of the tournament), and prepares the way for a third in the series (the next round in the tennis tournament).

So good habits established years ago on the tennis court helped bring about a strong mystery, one in which Father Frank has to use reflexes he learned on the basketball court to stay alive and solve another murder.

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