It’s the curse of a writer to always be in critique mode. Once the inner editor is brought to life, there’s no stopping it. When I go to movies, I subconsciously pick apart plot problems and character inconsistencies. When I pick up a magazine or journal, I zero in on structure and format. And, when I watch The World Series on television, I find metaphors for the writing process. You didn’t expect that, did you? Neither did I.
Back in the days before television, imagine how exhilarating it would be to gather around the RCA radio, anxious to hear the rip of a ball against a bat and the rising ruckus of the lucky crowd. The commentator offered a play by play of the game, sometimes with the speed of an auctioneer. Listeners needed this “narrator” to tell what he saw in great detail. At home, radio listeners relied on two senses: Their hearing, and their imaginations. My, how times have changed.
Okay, non-baseball fans, stay with me here as I build up an important point that relates to writing… Last night was game six of the 2011 World Series between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals. (I obviously have a favorite in this game-it’s my birthright as a proud Texan.) At this point in the seven-game series, Texas had won three games. The Cardinals had won two. This game would either decide Texas as the World Series champions, or tie the teams’ tallies and move them both to the seventh game. For eleven innings, the game was a nail-biter with jockeying scores that remained mostly tied, right up until the last moment. And, yes, I was one of those folks who, long past my bedtime, leaned in ever closer with a racing heartrate. All that to say that there was a bit of tension in the air, on the field, in the stands, and at home.
Sports broadcasters don’t offer the same kind of play-by-play today, because they don’t have to. There are a bazillion cameras to show “who’s on first,” and “what’s on second.” We see every scowl, wince, anxiety, worry, frustration, and glee on the faces of players, coaches, managers, owners. Players must cover their mouths so that lip-readers don’t “hear” them, for goodness sakes. The “telling” mode of the radio commentator/narrator has evolved with the “showing” wonders of camera technology. And, thanks to instant replay, we viewers relive injuries and errors in slow-motion, until we feel like we’re there in the player’s cleats.
No doubt, people will gather around water coolers and school lockers, this morning, to retell the most exciting moments of the game in vivid detail.
That’s what writers aim for, too, isn’t it?
But, there’s one last observation I want to share. How many times did cameras span away from the field, zooming in on spectators? Our television narrators didn’t have to tell us it was cold-We knew by the coats, gloves, hats, scarves, misty breaths. They didn’t have to tell us how spectators were reacting, because we saw it on their faces. The same events elicited radically different emotional responses, depending on team loyalties. Folks in the stands were the emotional barometer for the game.
We felt that man’s elation as he waved the toy squirrel at the end of a stick (don’t go there;)
We felt that woman’s silent prayer, as she looked skyward;
Those young men with team logos tattooed on their faces? We felt their youthful anticipation;
We watched Nolan Ryan’s expression change from applause to glower;
We felt the anxiousness of the young ladies with linked arms and crossed fingers;
We watched that child’s fear melt into ear-to-ear grin when Beltre almost plowed over the railing and into his lap, stopping himself in time to pat the kid on the head;
We were there, but in the comfort of our homes, in a way radio could never deliver.
Thank you radio for evolving into a visual medium. And thank you Mr. Narrator for “telling” us just enough. Because nothing beats “showing” to reveal a more three-dimensional look at the human experience.