Sport is a ready-made backdrop for writers

Sport has always played a big part in storytelling. The use of sporting imagery increases not only the interest factor but also adds a touch of action, particularly while characters are in a strict dialogue mode.

This often transfers well to the big screen, with boxing, baseball, basketball and golf top of the list for authorial diversion. Somehow, a sporting scene will hold the attention of readers and viewers better than if two characters are merely sitting across a bar room table discussing their blossoming romance or their plans to raid Fort Knox.

Golf appears to be the top choice of writers – and it’s not hard to understand why when you look at how some sequences play out in movie houses. Holywood is littered with golf scenes, some of which are the most memorable parts of even the most action-ridden films.

I’m not talking of movies about golf. We all remember such offerings as Caddyshack (Bill Murray), Legend of Bagger Vance (Will Smith), Tin Cup (Kevin Costner), Happy Gilmore (Adam Sandler), and Miracle on the 17th Green (Robert Ulrich). No, I’m thinking more of those stories where golf was meant to be little more than a diversion, but where the scene became a defining memory of the overall story.

Remember the golf sequence in Goldfinger? Sean Connery, who was a pretty good exponent of the game, squared up to Gert Frobe for a golf challenge that became an instructional video on how to cheat at the game! And who can forget Oddjob (Harold Sakata) squashing the golf ball into dust in his powerful clenched fist?

The most memorable of all was the performance of Fred Astaire in the 1938 film Carefree. Astaire, a low handicap golfer, was considered by many to have a career as a professional, when he undertook a tricky routine which involved hitting a sequence of golf balls while tap-dancing. What followed was the stuff of legends.

Astaire hit a half-dozen balls with an iron before switching to a driver and dispatching five shots off pre-set tees. The scene was shot only once, in one continuous sequence, made all the more remarkable by the fact that crew members later found the balls lying within eight feet of each other!

If you haven’t seen it, here’s your chance. It’s on YouTube at this link:

Prepare to be amazed!

But I digress. Using scenes like this provides writers with a surefire method of holding reader interest. I’ve tried it in my latest novel and enjoyed the freedom it offered in portraying an interesting backdrop that’s a bit different from the usual settings of boardrooms, bedrooms and hotel lounges.

Telling your reader that your hero/heroine paused to splash a bunker shot to within two feet of the hole seems to be better than saying things like “before responding he took another sip of tea from the china cup.”

It helps, of course, if you have a background in the chosen sport. I used to be a golfer (of sorts) and the stories that unfolded in my Saturday Fourball with Collie Coyle (now one of my blog followers), Ciaran McConvey and Kit Carson, could fill books with the humour and tensions played out on the fairways of Downpatrick Golf Club.

First-hand experiences are not, however, a prerequisite, though it helps immensely. We all watch sport of one kind or another and should be able to pick up enough of the nuances and terminology to make for a credible diversion within our stories.

Why not try it? Instead of sitting your character down to a burger and fries at McDonalds, or tea and cakes at the Ritz, take him to a ball game and allow the action to wrap itself around your story.

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One Response to Sport is a ready-made backdrop for writers

  1. Susan Condon says:

    Joe, definitely a great idea, but think I’ll leave it to the professionals – pitch and putt would be as far as I’d go with a golf ball and I don’t think that would have quite the same impact. But I do like the idea and can relate to it. For me, the scene with Pierce Brosnan as the playboy on the golf course in the remake of ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ springs to mind. My husband is a keen golfer so will have to let him take a look at the Fred Astaire video!

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