For all of you non-Super Bowl fans out there, I will share with you a not-so-well-kept secret: This year's Super Bowl was not so super. It had a lot of good elements to it, and the preparation was all in place, but I think it was one of the matchups that ended with a shrug rather than a cheer. The past two weeks were a big run-up to an international spectacle that can best be described as, "meh." For all of those actual football fans, tell me I'm wrong.
Do not be alarmed - I am not going to go into analyst mode. But if we break down the whole Super Bowl situation in terms of how a story is supposed to go, we can learn something about storytelling in the process. This will not dwell in the world of football, so if you don't know what a nickel defense is, you're safe here.
Let's look at some positive writing elements for the game:
- Clear contrast of the opposing forces. This was a matchup of the young upstart versus the crafty veteran, the next generation versus the old guard. These kind of matchups let the reader choose a side, taking one team versus the other, then letting two forces collide in an epic matchup.
- Subplots. More than just being about these two players, team sports have a lot of players, each with their own stories to follow. Aside from the main arc of the two opposing stars, there are plenty of individuals to root for on their own merits.
- An underdog. Everyone loves an underdog, especially when they are written as someone who is not guaranteed to pull it off in the end. Rocky, The Bad News Bears - classic underdogs who ultimately lost but we loved them simply for the act of never giving up.
Now the negatives (an abridged list, considering all the shortcomings of the game):
- Tunnel vision is death for a writer. When there are several stories to manage and subplots to pursue, too tight a focus on your main character makes those other characters vanish. Our Super Bowl announcers kept our eyes trained on our two heroes, and didn't let up. After a while, we got tired of hearing about them,. As readers, we would lose interest.
- No back and forth. In good writing, the tempo should change and vary throughout the entire piece. Some parts should make you cheer for your favorite character while others make you worry about their outcome. We should never go with the same pace for too long, or it gets boring - like that game did.
- The ending became apparent way too early. Any story should leave you guessing until the end, or if the big reveal comes early, there should still be obstacles on how the character will succeed in this goal. I had friends texting me about boring stuff by the third quarter. If your readers are thinking about other things three-quarters of the way through your story, you gave away too much, too early.
Maybe next year will work out better; we never know. The only thing I took away from the game (since none of my betting squares won) is that I could've written a better one. Any writer could. Any maybe I'll try that just to get some belated satisfaction from yesterday's game.