My arm felt like it was going to fall off.
I was in my forties at the time, and I was pitching batting practice to a bunch of high school baseball players. In batting practice, my usual goal was just to get the pitch over the plate—nothing fancy. But for some strange reason, on this day I decided to throw my first curveball since my high school days.
When throwing a curve, you bring your arm down in a twisting motion that is not natural for a normal arm—especially a 40-year-old arm. My elbow ached for hours, and I have never thrown a curveball since.
So what in the world does this have to do with writing?
Writers are always searching for ways to throw a curveball to their readers—ways to give them an unexpected twist that catches them unaware. But, just like in baseball, if you don’t throw a curve at your readers in the correct way, your story will suffer as badly as my elbow did on that day when I pitched batting practice.
If we break down the mechanics of throwing a curveball in baseball, we can learn something about throwing a curve in writing.
Get a grip on your characters. When throwing a curve in baseball, it’s all about the grip. How you position your fingers helps to determine the rotation of the ball.
Similarly, in writing a story, it’s all about getting a good grip on your characters. When you understand your characters—their motivations, their desires, and their fears—you stand a better chance of figuring out a twist in their storyline. The twist will rise up naturally.
Set up your reader for an unexpected curve. A good pitcher mixes it up, so the batter doesn’t know what to expect. Will he be throwing a fastball, slider, curve, or what?
It’s the same with writing. Give your story the freedom to go off in multiple directions that even you do not anticipate. Don’t be locked into one set storyline.
As you think about the many paths that your character might follow, jot them all down. Then ask: Which paths are too obvious? Which path will propel the story in exciting and surprising ways? Which path will create the most tension and conflict?
Be natural. The ending to the classic baseball movie, The Natural, is quite predictable. But the movie does include a nice twist or two leading up to this dramatic (but inevitable) ending.
A good twist is surprising but doesn’t seem artificial or forced. To use the title of the movie, a good twist should feel natural. It should surprise the reader but also leave them thinking, “Oh yeah. I should’ve seen that coming.”
A good twist is logical and organic to the story, while an arbitrary, ineffective curve comes out of left field…or right field…or center field. So think it through. After all, you don’t have another writer warming up in the bullpen to bail you out. The ball is in your hands. So is your story’s plot.
* * *
5 for Writing
- Get writing. Find the time to write. Then do it.
- Learn by listening—and doing. Solicit feedback, discern what helps you.
- Finish your story. Edit and rewrite, but don’t tinker forever. Reach the finish line.
- Thrive on rejection. Get your story out there. Be fearless. Accept rejection.
- Become a juggler. After one story is finished, be ready to start another. Consider writing two at once.