What I’ve Learned About Writing From Roller Derby, Part Two: The Flashy Stuff is Generally Useless

A woman cruises along on her skates, leg extended back.  Another skater flies up and grabs the proffered ankle.  With a quick pull, the front skater propels the other forward, giving up her momentum to allow her teammate to fly around the track.  The crowd goes wild at the show just performed for them.  This maneuver is called a “leg whip.”

A blocker sees another blocker coming up.  She leaves her defensive wall and sweeps out like a wrecking ball, smashing the other player into the suicide seats.  The opponent sprawls onto the floor (and maybe a few laps), and the audience is beside itself with glee.

The problem with these techniques is–they’re generally useless.  If a skater is in a tight pack, then there’s probably no room to extend her leg fully.  Even if she does have the space to attempt such a move, she’s just asking to get knocked down.  An arm whip–less glamourous, maybe–will more than suffice.  As for our swooping, big hitter, odds are the opposing jammer has taken advantage of the defensive hole she has left in the pack and has zoomed on through.  Or, the other team has used the lack of walls to form one of their own, and have now possibly trapped the abandoned co-blocker, making her the “goat” they keep behind them (and thereby control the speed of the pack).  In any of these scenarios the result is the same, showboating gets you nowhere.

The same is true for writing.  You can plan in your head a heroine who does flying roundhouses, snaps necks with a flex of her well-toned (yet sensual) bicep, who dismantles nuclear weapons while speaking eighteen languages to six different covert agency operators.  You can implant her into every dangerous scenario known to man.  You can build up the action until it’s nearly boiling over.  But, if your character has no purpose, no meaning, no depth, then all you have is flash.  And while flash can be pretty and cool, it never entertains people for very long on its own.

For instance, have you ever stood in line to see the Hope Diamond?  Waited in that snaking, creeping line to get your turn at the glass?  If not, here’s how seeing it goes:

Seconds one through two:
“Oh, wow! Just…. Wow!”

Seconds two through eight:
“Man, that thing is big.  I’d risk a curse to have a diamond that size.”

Seconds eight through ten:
“How is it blue?  I like blue.  I’d rather have a blue one than a regular one.”

Seconds ten through twelve:
“I think that guy behind me is breathing directly onto my neck.”

Second thirteen:
“I wonder what the big elephant in the lobby is up to?”

And that’s it.  The flash has already waned.  And the more times you see it, the less special it is.  Soon, it’s just a rock in a case that thousands of people stand in line to see, while you walk by and think, “Suckers.”

Sure, that last part was a little jaded, but my every field trip from kindergarten to twelfth grade was to the National Mall and I’ve had more than my share of the Hope Diamond, so you’ll have to forgive me.  Still, I stand by my assertion; just like a leg whip, just like a swooping block, just like an over-hyped stone, writing with the sole purpose of blinding your audience with awesomeness is useless.  Without depth and meaning, those big moments will not be very big at all.  In fact, they’ll reek of the author’s hand in the story, and jade your readers faster than a twenty-minute line to see a rock.  Staging events just to have them will never ring true with fans, and–just like the blocker who swings out to make the grandiose hits–will most likely cause a giant hole to appear somewhere you don’t want.  

Instead, keep it tight.  Keep it effective and meaningful.  And if the opportunity for flashiness arises, be sure first and foremost you’re not doing your story any harm by taking it.


About Avery

I am a roller derbying, dark fantasy author. This blog chronicles my adventures in life, writing and skating. View all posts by Avery

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