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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Finding the Story

A few weeks ago, my sister asked me what I thought of the Rangers this year.

Me: "Huh? The Rangers? Why?"

Sis: "We're going to make the playoffs, that's why."

Me: *shaking head to clear cobwebs* Maybe she means the New York Rangers. The NHL season was about to start, after all. But why would she care about them? And they were barely in pre-season training, so it was way too soon to be talking about the playoffs. "Our Rangers?"

Sis: "Yes, our Rangers. Who else?"

Me: *still confused* "The Texas Rangers, right? You know, the major league baseball Texas Rangers, not the law-enforcement Texas Rangers--the ones who haven't been in the playoffs in over a decade. The ones who have never won more than a single game in post-season history. Those Rangers?"

Sis: "YES." Her exasperation at this point was dripping so hard it could have been raining.

Me: "I don't know that I think anything of them."

You see, I grew up in the DFW area in Texas. I've spent my whole life as a casual Rangers fan.

My dad likes to tell the story of my first Rangers game. They were playing the Angels, and I was so young that I didn't really understand any of it. All I knew was that the "Wangews" were playing the "Faiwies." Over the years, my enthusiasm with the team has had an ebb and flow. I remember watching Nolan Ryan pitching in his final years, still striking out more batters than anyone else in the league. In my high school years, the team actually managed some success finally, and then not too long after that, they started to get into the playoffs.

The one thing that had been consistent through all those years, though, was that they always seemed more focused on bringing in the big names, dishing out the exorbitant contracts, than on putting together a TEAM. They were a baseball team that relied on those big names to hit home runs. If enough of the guys went long, then the team won--despite the fact that the pitching staff usually crumbled, and despite the fact that the defense was spotty from year to year, and despite the fact that they seemed to rarely just focus on getting a man on base and then moving him around until he got home.

In recent years, I'd pretty much tuned out. It was always the same ol' same ol'. So when my sister wanted to know what I thought of the Rangers, and the fact that they were going to the playoffs, that's what I thought.

Me: "Well, I guess I think that they'll do just what they've always done in the playoffs. We'll be up against the Yankees in the first round, and we'll get swept. That's the Rangers' story." At least, it has almost been the story. One of those years, we did manage to win one game. I'm pretty sure it was a fluke--one of those nights when we managed to hit more home runs than they were able to produce.

Sis: "I don't know about that. I think you should watch. I think this year's Rangers will surprise you."

So I watched. And I didn't recognize them.

There's only one single face on the team that I recognized from the last time I was paying attention to the Rangers and what they were doing. One. And he is a guy I didn't expect to make it very long in that organization, because he isn't much of a home run hitter, and he isn't an overpaid, big named dufus. I was sure he would only last a year or two before being shipped off to a team that had a chance at doing well, and being replaced by some slugger with an ego the size of Texas. I was wrong.

There were other things that made them unrecognizable to me, too. For one thing, not only did the Rangers have a great group of starting pitchers, they have a solid stable of relief pitchers. Having one or the other, wouldn't have surprised me. But to have them both? It took me quite a while to pick my jaw up off the floor after that realization.

But the thing that surprised me the most? This Rangers team can play "little ball." They get a guy on base, whether through a hit or a walk, or even through being hit by a pitch...and then they do what it takes to advance him. They steal bases! They bunt! They do all sorts of things that the Rangers I always knew would never have dreamed of doing.

And they used all of these things to win the first game. Okay, I thought to myself. Well, they've won one game in the playoffs before. I suppose this isn't entirely unheard of. This isn't completely rewriting the Rangers' story.

But it didn't stop with one game. Just Tuesday night, the Texas Rangers managed to win their series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Me: ???????????????????? !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You see, I thought I already knew the story. I thought that history was bound to repeat itself. I thought that the Rangers, the only team in all of Major League Baseball who had never won a series in the post-season, would stay that way forever.

They proved me wrong. They did the opposite of what I expected.

Tomorrow night, they'll begin their first ALCS, playing against the dreaded Yankees--the team that, up to this point, has been the Rangers' post-season nemesis. The albatross following them wherever they go. Part of me is thinking that this first series was an accident, and the next series will straighten out the world again. Part of me is expecting to see the Rangers slugging for the fences again, and to see the pitching staff fall apart, and to see the Yankees sweep them in four games.

Part of me is hoping that I'm just sticking to the story I've always known.

All of this really makes me think about the stories that I read, and the stories that I write. So often, I'll read something and think I know where the author is headed, only to be taken down a completely surprising path that is far better and more exciting than the expected. But then sometimes, I'll think I know where we're going, only to discover that it is exactly where we're going. I leave that feeling disappointed.

As a writer, I don't want to disappoint my readers by giving them exactly what they expect. I want to surprise and delight them. That means I need to work harder, to be sure I don't repeat what is already out there (or what I've already done).

Are there stories you wish you didn't already know what was coming? Do you find yourself stuck in a story rut, rehashing the same plot points again and again? And are you following the baseball playoffs? Which team's story are you most interested in seeing change?

9 comments:

  1. Which team's story? I've been a Cub fan my entire life. I think that says it all :).

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  2. Catherine,

    I'm so not a sports fan, but I really enjoyed your blog. It was an interesting take and I can relate to your message.

    I too am disappointed when I think I know where a story is going and I'm exactly right, especially if there is any mystery involved. I don't like figuring out who done it at the beginning of a mystery.

    Lately, I've focused much less on writing a story like it's supposed to be written. Now I write stories I want to read and follow my instincts on how to tell it. We'll see what my editor says. Maybe I'll be crying in my soup about it later. :)

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  3. Amy, it takes a lot of dedication to remain a Cubs fan this long. LOL. Here's hoping for you and all the other Cubs fans out there, that they manage to rewrite history sometime soon.

    Samantha, I'm glad that even non-sports fans can take away from this. I think you write with surprise. Let's just hope that your editor and readers agree!

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  4. I'm more into football than baseball. Since I grew up in Kansas, I was forced into being a Chiefs fan. They never seem to win...anything. But this year, I was totally siked when they went undefeated longer than any other NFL team! Then those Colts came along. Sigh.

    Oh well. I married myself a Packer's man, so I'm more into Green Bay lately anyway. Plus, I think their quarterback Aaron Rodgers is BEAUTIFUL!!

    I have sensed a rut in my writing. I explore the same plot a lot...but in differnt ways. I have two widower stories coming out, though they're totally different from each other. One widower hero is silent and moody, and the other is a loud-mouthed jokester. Hmm. Does that still mean I'm stuck in a rut?

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  5. I thought Texans were supposed to like football! Rangers or no, baseball will always be a North-easterner's sport to me.

    As for plots, it took me a long time to figure out that all my stories are about bringing people from totally different worlds together. Our similarities are greater than our differences. That's the story I write most often.

    I like to think that I'm going to step away and do something different when I write my mother-in-law's true life story about a massacre during the French and Algerian War. I really don't see anyway to work that universal theme into it. But somehow, I'm sure when I finish, I'll look at it and realize I've written the same story all over again. LOL.

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  6. I'm a football fan and I don't think I've ever watched a baseball game in my life. I know sad isn't it, since it's America's game. But I love to sit with my man, drink a beer and watch football, despite the fact that my panthers team this year is really... Okay I'll behave I promise.

    I don't think my stories take on the same plot, as they're all pretty different but I have noticed my heroines all seem to have many of the same qualities. So maybe that's where I need to shake things up a bit. Great post Mindy, loved your enthusiasm for the game!

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  7. Linda, I'm sorry your Chiefs had to face my Colts. LOL. But at least we can agree on the Packers. I think its good that you can recognize how your stories tend to be the same, because then you'll be aware and make more of an effort to make changes. Thanks for coming by and commenting.

    Clarissa, Texans like SPORTS. Who woulda thought that there would be die-hard hockey fans in a state that virtually never sees snow? But we love our Stars as much as we love our Cowboys. But yes, football is THE sport in Texas. (Just don't tell anyone I'm not a Cowboys fan. Shhh. It'll be our little secret.) I think its great that there is a common theme running through your stories. You manage to give enough variety in the plots that there isn't a problem, in my eyes.

    Melissa, baseball is an acquired taste, in my eyes. It is a much slower game than football or hockey or basketball. It's not for everyone...and watching it on TV is an entirely different experience from watching it in person. Getting variety in your characters is sometimes difficult to do, but it's very much worth the effort.

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  8. Catherine - the very first major league game I went to, I was with my grandfather and Nolan Ryan was pitching. Of course he was an Astro then, and we were in the Astrodome. I had to STOP being an Astro fan when they failed to re-sign Mr. Ryan and he went to the Rangers!! I've got a whole other "know-how-the-story-goes" story for the Astros. Heartbreakers, the lot of them. :)

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  9. Lydia, I've always been an Astros fan more than a Rangers fan, so I have an idea about your know-how-the-story-goes story.

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