Dear Future Publisher,
I love the Olympics.
Like, really love the Olympics.
I don’t like (most) sports. Especially the ones for which people get paid obscene amounts of money. I find it impossible to sustain interest over the course of a whole season. So the compressed nature of the Olympics, the fact that results are immediate or nearly immediate and the whole thing is over before you blink – that suits me.
But the real reason I love the Olympics, the real reason it draws me in and inspires a nearly obsessive focus in me, is that the Olympics are a hotbed of narrative possibility.
This is something I’ve thought about. Why is it that this sports event, this one specifically, is so engaging? What is it about the Olympics that draws me in?
As a writer.
That’s the key. The Olympics is just a string of stories, pearls of stories, stories filled to the brim with huge stakes and the heights and depths of human emotion. Stories about underdogs and upsets, David and Goliath, about tragic or nearly tragic accidents, about controversies, about love and support, about struggle and triumph and defeat. Stories about little countries that no one takes seriously taking the world by surprise. About women kicking ass. About giving it all and still coming up short. About firsts, and lasts.
I would never – I think I would never – write a dedicated sports novel. But these stories aren’t specific to sport. They’re about overcoming, they’re about dedication, they’re about twists and surprise endings and struggle and disappointment and grief and elation. How often do we get to see genuine, unscripted, uncensored human reactions in life? And yet here they are in bunches. Tears of joy and exhaustion and pride. Tears of gutting devastation. Smiles that could arc over the world.
Because each win is two stories – the story of the winner (Did she come from behind? Was she expected to win? What does it look like, feel like, when she realizes she’s won?) and the story of the loser or losers (Did she get passed at the last minute? Did she give it her all and it wasn’t enough? Does she have regrets? What does her loss look like, how does it feel?).
It’s just stories, the meat of stories, the fuel of stories, and it feels like I’m submerged in this ocean of shifting tales and it’s thrilling. I don’t experience stories like this in my day to day life. I don’t witness stories like this. All of the near-misses, the injuries, the wins from behind, every victory, every defeat, every high-stakes struggle. Each is a story, a complete narrative jewel in this priceless diadem of the Olympics. It is food, for someone like me. I cheer in triumph with them and cry with them, too. It feels like solidarity. My heart soars and sinks with these arcs, with these characters, with these real people struggling against each other and themselves and their own best performance, striving always to do better, to reach greater heights, to push further.
My favourite is the story of the unexpected winner, that athlete who gives the performance of her life to overcome a heavy favourite or lay down a personal best – the one who surprises herself and can’t believe her own success. The one whose joy is mingled with the shock and dismay of the one upset by her, the one who lost when they were supposed to win, who failed where they were promised to succeed. It’s a bitter-sweet melange of narrative perfection. Ripe for the picking.
We writers are thieves, seizing snippets of story wherever we find them, tucking them away.
You’re a bad influence, future publisher. You encourage me to steal stories that don’t belong to me. To stockpile them in the basement of my mind.
Each tendril I snatch, each story I savour, I do it all for you.
This means watching the Olympics counts as research, right?