By, Alina Adams
Want to be a better writer? Watch the Winter Olympics.
Not only because the figure skaters and the skiers and the snow-boarders and the lugers and the hockey players are the living, breathing, ridiculously physically fit embodiment of never giving up, having a thick skin, picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and starting all over again no matter what, but because of the way in which television chooses to present the Games.
Listen to the announcers. They’re not just dryly reciting stats, standings and final results. Each athlete comes with a story.
The technique was pioneered by ABC (for whom I worked as a researcher and producer during the 1990s, and was nominated for an Emmy – end brag; I lost) and their Wide World of Sports Up Close and Personal profiles, which introduced viewers to athletes from sports they may have never cared about – by making them care about the sportsman.
Whether it’s the kid going door to door doing odd jobs to fund his Olympic dream, the single mom struggling to make ends meet while going for the gold, the comeback from an injury or the out of nowhere surprise contender, everyone has a story to tell. At ABC, it was your job as a researcher or producer to find that story, and to tell it in a visually compelling manner – in under three minutes.
When I was there, some skaters made it easy for you. For instance, Russia’s Elena Bereznaia was struck in the head by her partner’s blade. She required brain surgery, suffered a stroke, needed to learn to walk and talk all over again – and went on to win Olympic Gold with her next partner (whom she was also romantically involved with).
Israel’s Misha Shmerkin trained at an ice-rink so far North that he had to regularly duck rocket attacks from across the Syrian border.
France’s Surya Bonaly was born in Africa (later, that part of the story proved to be untrue, but it was fun while it lasted), adopted by a French couple and switched to skating after becoming a World Tumbling Champion. She eventually fired her coach and began training with her mother – who’d never ice-skated.
But then, there were people like World Pair Champions Marina Eltsova and Andrei Bushkov. At one point, the Senior Producer and I were brain-storming ideas and the best I could come up with was, “They are the most boring team to ever win a major title.”
Potentially true, but not exactly the Up Close and Personal Way.
Eventually, I pitched presenting them as a metaphor for the collapse of the Soviet Union. They trained under one system, but just as they were set to reap the expected rewards, it collapsed, leaving them floundering without a road map – or funding.
Later, a fellow sports journalist told me our piece was the first time she ever gave a damn about Eltsova and Bushkov.
In other words, the Olympics aren’t just about what an athlete does, it’s about who he or she is. It’s about making him or her root-able – and making you keep watching.
We writers are in the same boat. We have our plot, and we have our characters. Who a character is (hopefully) determines what he or she does. But, it also determines whether or not the reader cares that he or she has done it.
Granted, we’ve all read page-turners with cardboard stock figures going through the motions. Motions that, nonetheless, kept us up way past our bedtimes to determine whodunit or who’s going to get it.
But, why not have both? Sure, a downhill race on skis is thrilling in and of itself. So is a quadruple jump attempt. But, isn’t it a lot more thrilling when you know why/what/who each candidate is racing and/or jumping for? (Naturally, this makes it tougher to root for just one champion – a good Up Close and Personal should make you fall in love with every player in the field. But, on the other hand, TV also has a tendency to anoint good guys and bad guys ahead of time – think Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding - to make your task easier. They’re very thoughtful that way.)
That’s why, when I sit down to plot out a novel (and I’m not just talking about my Figure Skating Mystery series), I try to think of the action as the sporting event… and then make sure I’ve got enough of an Up Close and Personal in it to make readers cheer. And care.
For the 1st time ever get all five, best-selling Alina Adams Figure Skating Mystery novels, originally published as paperback originals by Berkley Prime Crime, in one electronic volume with this exclusive, enhanced collection that includes...
BOOK ONE: MURDER ON ICE
At the World Figure Skating Championship, the Ladies' Gold medal goes to Russia's dour Xenia Trubin over America's perky Erin Simpson thanks to the vote of one judge. Who then promptly turns up dead.
Who killed Silvana Potenza? A skater? A coach? A fan? An official? A parent?
It's up to Bex Levy, intrepid television researcher, to figure everything out before the end of the competition, or lose her job - and maybe even her life...
BOOK TWO: ON THIN ICE
Bex Levy’s search for a pair of athletes who mysteriously dropped out of the sport years earlier leads to a host of shocking secrets, a kidnapping – and a murder!
BOOK THREE: AXEL OF EVIL
Bex Levy races to discover who killed an ice skating coach during a competition in Moscow. Igor Marchenko defected from the USSR to the States in 1977 and this is the first time he's been able to return home. But he soon turns up dead, poisoned by a pair of gloves. And once Bex does the rounds, she finds that plenty of people had plenty of reasons to bump him off.
BOOK FOUR: DEATH DROP
Bex Levy investigates the mystery behind an infant left in the arena at the Nationals, and why the baby's mother, an ice dancer who mysteriously took off a year ago, is hanging dead from a sequined belt. But leery from events in the past, Bex is hesitant to follow the clues that will uncover personal secrets... and a killer who'll do anything to keep them from coming out.
BOOK FIVE: SKATE CRIME
When a world-famous coach is murdered on the eve of his televised tribute, the suspects include the former partner he dumped as soon as something better came along, the much younger new wife that he turned into a clone of his old one, his resentful daughter who always had to battle Daddy's students for his attention, the skater whose life he nearly destroyed, and the one he guided to Olympic Gold.
Alina Adams is the NYT best-selling author of soap opera tie-ins, romance novels, and figure skating mysteries. The latter have all just been released in one, electronic volume with professional skating footage included!
The Figure Skating Mystery series (5 Books in 1)
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Alina, thank you for guesting today! Hope everyone sticks around for a bit to chat. Please feel free to post your comments below.