A Step-by-Step Journey–Or, Words of Wisdom from a Fictional Minor-League Catcher

In the 1988 romantic comedy Bull Durham, there is one sequence when veteran minor-league catcher Crash Davis pulls aside the young pitching phenom Nuke LaLoosh to offer words of advice.  Davis knows talent when he sees it, and he knows that LaLoosh is headed, ultimately, for the Major Leagues.  Though raw, and with much to learn, the young pitcher has a golden arm, blessed with a rocket-like fastball and an off-the-table curve.  He has future superstar written all over him.

aloosh

 

But he’s arrogant, hot-tempered, immature, and, Davis is sure, not at all prepared to handle the fishbowl lifestyle of the Major Leagues.  And so on a road trip, as their minor-league team, the Durham Bulls, gears up for a new opponent, Davis instructs LaLoosh on the fine art of the interview.

crashdavis

 

“You’re gonna have to learn your cliches,” he says.  “You’re gonna have to study them.  You’re gonna have to know them.  They’re your friends.  Write this down: ‘We gotta play it one day at a time.'”

As LaLoosh does indeed write this down, he says, “‘Got to play’ . . . it’s pretty boring.”

Davis is quick to respond:  “‘Course it’s boring, that’s the point.  Write it down.”

durhaminterview

 

He provides two other canned responses to interview questions, as well, both as cliched and dull as the first.  Indeed–how many times have we heard this oft-repeated phrase:  “One day at a time; one game at a time . . .”

“So, are you looking forward to playing the Yankees next month?”

“Next month?  Next month?  This is this month!  We’re not even thinking of the Yankees.  Who are they?  We gotta take this one game at a time.  If we start looking ahead to next month, the series against the Yankees won’t even matter because we’ll have lost the next few anyway.”

onegameatatime

 

It’s frustrating for the interviewer and the audience alike.  We listen to this, and think, “Can’t they ever be honest?  Of course they look ahead.  They have to.  Anybody would.”

tellingtruthmakebelieve

 

But maybe, just maybe, it’s not always just a tired cliche.  Maybe sometimes, they’re actually telling the truth.

**********************

Have you ever been there?  You’re writing a novel, or a memoir, or any long work of literature, and you know that just down the road, perhaps as near as the next chapter, a major development beckons.  The protagonist will face a monumental challenge, a huge shift in the plot will occur, perhaps someone instrumental to the story will die.  Regardless of the specifics, it is a crucial development, one of the most important sequences of the entire work.

majordevelopmentcrossroads

 

But it’s not the chapter you’re working on . . .

Speaking of, the chapter you are working on is relatively minor.  There are no groundbreaking events, no epiphanies or “aha” moments, no twists and turns that will create a sea change for the rest of the story.  It’s a quiet chapter, understated, a small hors d’oeuvre before the meal is served, an undercard to kick off an evening where everyone in the audience is breathlessly awaiting the main event.

horsdeouevres

 

When I wrote The Eye-Dancers,  there were certainly moments just like this.  There is a short chapter where Ryan Swinton walks off from the group, needing some space to think and reflect.  Later on, toward the climax of the novel, Marc Kuslanski has a similar conversation with himself, exploring the troubling reality of paradoxes, that not everything can be rationally and neatly explained.

paradox

 

It’s precisely at such times as these that Crash Davis’s advice to his young teammate most applies.  Because–if we rush through the little scenes, the reflective and subdued chapters, if we slap them together without much effort out of sheer impatience to move forward, it won’t even matter what that earth-shattering revelation will be in chapter 29, or how our protagonist will manage to survive the dangers at book’s end.  Regardless of how mesmerizing the big scenes are, they are built, in large part, by the “small” chapters and interludes that precede them.

quietmoments

 

I have found that, when writing a novel, the task sometimes seems so large, so daunting–often literally taking years to complete–that it’s dangerous thinking too far ahead.  Granted, there needs to be some sense of direction.  I know, for me, I like to have an idea where I’m going before I begin the first chapter, and at times, during the course of writing the story, if an idea strikes me for a scene several chapters off, I’ll jot it down to make sure I don’t forget it.

ideawritedowndontforget

 

But if I start worrying too much about scenes as yet unwritten, developments around the bend, as it were, if I spend too much time stressing about specifics five or ten chapters hence, then I am in real trouble.  Suddenly the scenes I am working on become harder to write, and I find it more difficult to concentrate on the task at hand.  I may even get bogged down with doubts, wondering if the novel as a whole will be worthwhile or just some disastrous literary flop.

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Indeed, if I am about to begin chapter 17, as I am in the sequel to The Eye-Dancers, even as I write this post, I need to focus exclusively on chapter 17.  Not chapter 18, or chapter 19, or chapter 26.  Even more specific than that, I need to focus on the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph.  For, when it’s all said and done (a fitting description in a post talking about an old cliche!), a story is indeed built one word at a time, one chapter at a time.

The Yankees next month?  They can wait.

yankees

 

Just ask Crash Davis.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carrie Rubin
    Jun 06, 2015 @ 19:12:14

    I agree–thinking ahead too much makes it harder to focus on the scene at hand. But like you, if something comes to mind, I’ll jot it down. That way I can leave it be, secure in the knowledge that it will be waiting for me when I get there. Having an outline helps keep me grounded too. Makes me less anxious to skip ahead.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 08, 2015 @ 12:29:14

      That’s a great point, Carrie, and I find it to be true for me as well. When I have a good sense where I’m heading, it definitely helps me to focus on the chapter at hand. There is nothing worse than that nagging feeling, “Where am I taking this story?” Having a good idea about the destination makes the process much easier!

      Reply

  2. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Jun 06, 2015 @ 21:57:24

    Thanks, I needed that. Sometimes I think you can read my mind. Hmmmm…

    Reply

  3. moldyripegrape
    Jun 08, 2015 @ 05:25:24

    Spot on and well said! I’ll counter your (and Crash’s) cliche with a somewhat disturbing – but very apropos – riddle:

    Q: How do you eat an elephant?
    A: One bite at a time.

    Words I live by when writing!

    -matt

    Reply

  4. cindy knoke
    Jun 09, 2015 @ 22:23:14

    What a fascinating creative process and your results are so worthwhile!

    Reply

  5. Today, You Will Write
    Jun 10, 2015 @ 13:30:18

    Well said, Mike. Fantastic insight!

    Reply

  6. Today, You Will Write
    Jun 10, 2015 @ 13:31:29

    Reblogged this on Today, You Will Write and commented:
    Writing advice from the movies…let Mike be your guide!

    Reply

  7. Bruce Thiesen
    Jun 10, 2015 @ 21:45:43

    Good counsel delivered in your always fun style.

    Reply

  8. reocochran
    Jun 26, 2015 @ 05:29:24

    You are a natural at writing. I admire your sharing your thoughts and interest in helping novice writers. Good luck with your sequel and your chapter 17. Ha ha!

    Reply

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