Good afternoon all!
Every writer wants to write the Great American Novel. I'm sorry, with so many books out there and so many more online, who defines what that is anymore? Can we be great American writers? Sure...I mean, if you're an American, of course.
Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cather, Falkner. These are the great American writers. Many would argue that Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is THE great AMerican novel. (Okay, I would argue that.) And there are a lot of authors who fit the profile, whatever that might be, of the Great American Author.
But in recent generations, there has not been a voice like that. There hasn't been a Jack Kerouac since...well, since Jack Kerouac.
Some might argue that the publishing industry isn't where the great thinking minds are going. Film directors are the gold standard now...instead of looking for the great American Novel, we should be looking for the Great American Film. Well, as a writer, I'd like to point out that unless the director actually wrote the screenplay, the writers are still the ones churning out the stories, hence we're back to the Great American Novel.
I'd like to point to something completely different. I believe the search for the Great American Novel is over because we find it and reread it every single Sunday.
I'm talking about American Football. Not everyone is a fan of American football, but writers should be. Hear me out on this.
1) There is a hero.
2) There is a villain.
3) There is a dramatic backdrop.
4) There are hundreds of ways a game can end, like a riveting story.
5) There is a damsel in distress.
6) There is always commentary on the times we live in, and the values our society sets forth, and how those values change and shift.
Now if that doesn't lay out the Great American Novel, I don't know what does. Some can argue that every sport is like that, but I say NO. Why? Because of point #4. Baseball, hockey, soccer all end the same way. You get one point per goal scored. Basketball is a bit closer with free throws and 3 point shots, but basketball is played indoors. That removes a key element, a key roadblock, for the hero.
Let's start with point one. The hero is either the team or a specific player on the team. Generally the quarterback, but in the days that the late great Reggie White played for the Green Bay Packers he was the hero every time he stepped onto the field. The hero is the guy who is going to save the day in the end.
The villain is the opposing team. If you want to get specific about players on the team, fine. My father in law loathes the Manning Brothers. I can't stand Lovie Smith, coach of the Chicago Bears. There are specific players or teams you can say are the villain. Randy Moss, comes to mind. The Minnesota Vikings are the sworn enemies of the Green Bay Packers.
The back drop can be simple. A sunny fall day where two teams collide. There's always a story behind the teams that generates interest. (Unless you're watching the Buffalo/Detroit game. Sorry, there's very little interest there.) But football tends to give us more dramatic backdrops: The weather is HUGE. Maybe, as in the case of New Orleans a few years ago, the city needs this win to keep up hope. Maybe playoff implications are on the line. Maybe a coach's job is on the line. Maybe a team will leave the city if it doesn't win this one game.
The mathematics to winning a football game is complicated. There are a hundred ways to win and lose a football game. Case in point: Yesterday, the Detroit Lions decided to let their rookie linebacker, Ndamukong Suh, a start player in college, but a guy roughly 3x the size of your normal kicker, kick an extra point. (apparently he is their back up field goal kicker. I'd think someone else might fit the bill a bit better?)The player missed. What's one point? No biggie, right?
Wrong. Had the Lions made that extra point, they would have won the game in regulation time. Instead, they had to go to overtime, and they lost. One point. In a game where you an score 1, 2, 3, or 6 points on different plays, in a game where a ref's call can change the entire outcome of the game, one point makes all the difference, and you can get that one point a hundred different ways. Just like a novel, right?
There's always some kind of commentary during football games. The talking heads talk about the players, the coaches, the contracts, the city the game is in, the food in that city, (I love the shots of the sauerkraut factory in Green Bay.) the commentary is endless. And that commentary reflects where the game has been, where it is, and where it's going. It reflects what we as a viewing public want to see and hear, and what we think of as important. Sometimes we don't like what the commentatory says. My father couldn't STAND John Madden. Sort of like a ground breaking novel.
But Sarah, you say, you skipped point 5. Where is the damsel in distress? Who is the hero saving?
The fans. My friends, the fans are the ultimate damsel in distress. Fans live and die with the wins and losses. Fans stand, in their houses, during games played 300 miles away. (I've done that.) Fans weep, pray, and make promises to their deity that if this kick would just go through....
And the hero takes the field, and saves the fans from, well, from sorrow, from humiliation, from loss.
Just like a novel.
This is why, my friends, I no longer wish to write the Great American novel. I don't need to put that kind of pressure on myself. It's been done, and it gets done again and again everytime an American football team does battle against another American football team.