HOW TO WRITE w/ Professor Matt is an animated web series that teaches the basics of narrative writing.
In this episode:
-Figure out what’s working
-Dramatize, don’t summarize
Title: “Play Ball!”
A scene from my childhood that I hold dearly to me would have to be the first time that I played softball. I remember distinctly waking up in the morning to a clear blue sky and a warm breeze coming from my bedroom window. I was ecstatic for what the day was going to hold and in my haze slowly creaked out of my bed and made my way to the bathroom. As I climbed up my little step stool I stretched my arms as high as they could reach and displayed the biggest smile that I could give. Directly after smiling at myself in the mirror I turned to my right to see my Mom in hand with my outfit for the day. Next to her was my tee ball bag that had my miniscule bat and glove along with my cleats. I have never felt so much excitement, I had been waiting for this day for what felt like ages! With all of these thoughts in mind I decided it was time for me to start getting ready for my full packed day of fun. My Mom helped me get dressed into my uniform and before I knew it I was ready to venture downstairs so that I could get a hearty breakfast in before I headed off. As I made my way down the stairs step by step I came to the table where I was welcomed by the most delectable looking breakfast. Some mickey mouse shaped pancakes with chocolate chips, a couple pieces of bacon, and a small glass of cold refreshing orange juice. It was exactly what I needed to start my day off right. Once I was done shoveling my breakfast down I grabbed my lunchbox which was filled with snacks and a water bottle and made my way to the infamous minivan where I was to venture off onto my journey in. One of my favorite parts of riding in the minivan is the fact that we have a television that sits directly in the middle of the van which was always very exciting for me because I adored all 1movies especially while in the comfort of a vehicle. As I sat down a little lower in my seat I was quickly mesmerized by an episode of Rocket Power and before I knew it the ride was over and we were on the field. I had in one hand my water bottle and in the other my lunchbox with my parents not far behind carrying my bag. Once I make my way to the benches I look up at the sky to see the glimmer coming from the sun and how it reflects off of the batting cages. It is quite beautiful and leaves me in a momentary trance. I realize that I am up to bat as the game has started and as I make my way to the plate I take a deep breath and pull back my bat and full force slam right into the ball on the tee.
Now watch the tutorial and see the text the way a published author sees it. You can apply what you learn to your own writing.
*If you’re a teacher showing these videos in class, you can have your students add their feedback in the comments before watching. 1) Favorite line or image, 2) What you liked about the scene overall (what is its potential?), 3) How can it be better?
Matthew Ross Smith is an author and award-winning writing professor. His first novel, Lizzy Legend (Aladdin Books/Simon and Schuster) is out in early 2019.
I’m most comfortable writing longhand, in pen,on a legal pad. Although my prose almost always improves when I type it out (I think?), I still dread “getting it on the computer.”
The other night, as an exercise, I decided to type out the first page of one of my favorite novels, The Sportswriter. I was curious how such sacred prose would look in an ordinary, bland Microsoft Word document. Would it still lift off the page in the same assured way? Create the same momentum? Would I worry about evening out the lines as I typed, trying to make the paragraph blocks as symmetrical as possible, even altering my prose to do so?
No, I didn’t care about the shape of the text. (A relief.)
And yes, when I re-read it, it still drifted right up off the page.
So maybe something for you to try if you’re stuck or bored.
My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.
For the past fourteen years I have lived here at 19 Hoving Road, Haddam, New Jersey, in a large Tudor house bought when a book of short stories I wrote sold to a movie producer for a lot of money, and seemed to set my wife and me and our three children—two of whom were not even born yet—up for a good life.
Just exactly what that good life was—the one I expected—I cannot tell you now exactly, though I wouldn’t say it has not come to pass, only that much has come in between. I am no longer married to X, for instance. The child we had when everything was starting has died, though there are two others, as I mentioned, who are alive and wonderful children.
I wrote half of a short novel after we moved here from New York and then put it in the drawer, where it has been ever since, and from which I don’t expect to retrieve it unless something I cannot now imagine happens.
Twelve years ago, when I was twenty six, and in the blind way of things then, I was offered a job as a sportswriter by the editor of a glossy New York magazine you have all heard of, because of a freelance assignment I had written in a particular way he liked. And to my surprise and everyone else’s I quite writing my novel and accepted.
And since then I have worked at nothing but that job, with the exception of vacations, and one three-month period after my son died when I considered a new life and took a job as an instructor in a small private school in western Massachusetts where I ended up not liking things, and couldn’t wait to leave and get back here to New Jersey and writing sports.
My life over these twelve years has not been and isn’t now a bad one at all. In most ways it’s been great. And although the older I get the more things scare me, and the more apparent it is to me that bad things can and do happen to you, very little really worries me or keeps me up at night. I still believe in the possibilities of passion and romance. And I would not change much, if anything at all. I might not choose to get divorced. And my son, Ralph Bascombe, would not die. But that about it for these matters.
Why, you might ask, would a man give up a promising literary career—there were some good notices—to become a sportswriter?
It’s a good question. For now let me say only this: if sportswriting teaches you anything, and there is much truth to it as well as plenty of lies, it is that for your life to be worth anything, you must sooner or later face the possibility of terrible, searing regret. Though you must also manage to avoid it or your life will be ruined.
I believe I have done these two things. Faced down regret. Avoided ruin. And I am still here to tell about it.
–The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford