May 4, 2010

What we can learn about writing playoffs!

I'm not going to lie - from now until at least next week, and hopefully well into May, pretty much all I'm going to be concentrating on is hockey playoffs. And work, of course. But really, hockey!

Montreal is making such an improbable run right now that I wouldn't put it past them to win the Stanley Cup (that's the Superbowl of hockey, you Americans) just because it would be so darn shocking.

Which brings us to this week's lesson in...perspective! Yay!

Very brief primer in hockey - The NHL is broken up into two halves: East and West. Each half has sixteen teams who play during the year. Based on how much they win during the year, the top eight teams make the playoffs. In the first round of the playoffs, the #1 team plays the #8 team, the #2 team plays the #7 team, etc.

The result of this is that the #1 team - which has probably had an amazing year and is feeling really good about itself - plays the #8 team, which has probably had a very middling year and squeaked in by the seat of its pants. Thus was the situation of Montreal (#8) vs Washington (#1 and for God's sake they have Ovechkin).

You have to win 4 games (out of a possible 7) to win the round and go on to the next one. Nobody expected Montreal to win even one game - they were meant to be a mere speed bump on Washington's path to inevitable glory and immortality.

But Montreal won. HAH! It was insane. We partied in the streets.

Now - here's what to think about - there are (at least) four perspectives you can look at this kind of classic underdog scenario from.

1 - You like the #1 team, and they win
2 - You like the #1 team, and they lose
3 - You like the #8 team, and they win
4 - You like the #8 team, and they lose

If you were writing a story like this, you'd have to examine all four of these and decide which one you want to go with. Which has the most drama/catharsis/rapture/agony? Is a win more exciting if you like the strong team or the underdog? What are the different effects of a loss from each perspective?

#3 - the underdog win - is your classic Disney scenario. And yes, it's awesome when you actually live through it. But in fiction, that's really what people expect, and it can get very old if it's not well done. Is there a way to make a compelling story out of the strong team winning, or the weak one losing? You bet there is! You just have to figure out how.

Final point. Even if you've decided already whether your main character is strong or weak, and whether they win or lose, it's really crucial to writing a rounded story that you look at all these other perspectives. So your underdog character wins. How would she have felt if she lost? Is she determined not to lose, terrified of losing, or resigned to probably having to lose? If your strong character loses, how badly did he want to win? Was he sabotaged by his own arrogance, or was he tired of the pressure of winning all the time?


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