Monday, March 22, 2010


There's no sporting event I anticipate like the annual NCAA tournament. March Madness baby! Woo-hoo!
Not only does liven up what is generally a drab month in Minnesota, but it is simply awesome competition. My family always fills out brackets and enjoys trash talking each other as our respective standings shift.

If you haven't been following it, this year's tournament has been off the wall. So many upsets. My bracket was pretty much ruined when Georgetown and Louisville were knocked out. But then the entire world's bracket was ruined when Northern Iowa took down Goliath Kansas, a team which even President Obama had picked to win the entire tourney!

This post is actually about writing.


Yep. Writing.

There are two key lessons for writers to be learn from the phenomenon that is the NCAA tournament.

1) Pacing

March Madness has unbelievable pace. It's heart in throat, pulse pounding action from the first buzzer. The pace is swift and unrelenting. In the space of 100th of a sec, fates are sealed. Teams go on, teams go home.

While I love college ball, I'm not a fan of the NBA. Why? Pacing. The NBA is bogged down. It's slow. It's boring. Come on - 7 game series? 7 games? In July??

The NBA playoffs are akin to an editor saying, hey just tack on another 100 pages or so - that way we can jack up the cover price of your book.

Yuck. No editor would ever say that. There's a reason writing advice is always telling you to cut, cut, cut and kill your darlings. Spareness of word count is mostly about pace. To succeed in your writing you need a killer pace.

2) Upsets

March Madness draws so many fans because it is full of surprises. Every year an underdog manages to take down one of the big teams. This year, with Northern Iowa's victory over Kansas, may have been the biggest upset for a long, long time. And it was thrilling.

Readers must be kept on their toes. If they think they know what's coming, and it does, they might have a smug sense of satisfaction, but they won't be screaming or breathless.

Always have the potential for upsest - big "I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT JUST HAPPENED!" upsets - in your story. Call them twists, surprises, whatever. If your characters and plot are predictable, you've already lost the battle.


  1. I LOVE THIS! Beautiful way to look at it.

  2. Great analogy, and so true. Just like in a game, pacing in a novel should fluctuate. If the whole thing is breakneck, then the reader suffers adrenaline burnout, and if it's flat they fall asleep. It's the ups and downs that keep it interesting. And, of course, the surprises.

    I was in Des Moines when Northern Iowa beat Kansas. Mayhem, I tell you. =)

  3. Love this post. Yes, we're big time into March Madness. Michigan State fans on my side of the family and my husband is an old KY fan. And I agree about the NBA. Boring. That Kansas upset was a blockbuster. I think everybody except Kansas fans loved it.

    Anyway....I wanted to tell you that I have soemthing for you so come on over to my corner of the bleachers and I'll give you a toss!

  4. I don't know anything about the sports scene, but I just got back from my cruise and stopped by your page to see what's up. I LOVE The cover of your book!!!!! Is that the final design? It looks amazing. Seriously!