The NFL season is almost over and I'll admit that it's part of the reason why I haven't been as focused on my novel and blog as I should be (after all, I missed a blog post last week because my thoughts were on the NFL).
When I was younger, my thoughts about the NFL almost always focused on the Denver Broncos, because I grew up in Colorado and the Broncos were the first professional sports team Denver had that was considered part of a "major" sports league (the Denver Bears baseball team had been around longer but played in the minor leagues). When I was in my 20s, I focused more on the excitement factor of football, but as I got older, I came to appreciate the complexities of the game and what goes into building a quality football team.
Most of the stories people read about football, whether that person is a huge fan or whose interest is limited, tend to summarize every game and team as if they come down to one factor determing everything. Case in point: last week's AFC title game in which the narrative is that if Stephen Gostowski had not missed that first extra-point kick, the Patriots would have only had to kick the extra point following their final touchdown and we'd go to overtime.
The problem with that argument is that it assumes that, if an early situation had been changed to a different outcome, everything else would have stayed the same. But there's no guarantee that would have happened. Additionally, there were multiple instances in which a play affected how the game unfolded and they must be considered when determining the bigger picture. Finally, who is to say that the Patriots wouldn't have just gone for the two-point conversion anyway, because they want to try to win the game in regulation and not go to overtime?
There are too many factors involved to say that one instance alone would have changed everything. It's no different for any other football game -- it's a complex situation in which multiple factors influenced the outcome.
It sounds a lot like life, doesn't it? Or, for authors or those who aspired to be one, it sounds like our writing process.
One bit of advice authors follow is that their characters should drive the plot rather than the other way around. That means our characters make choices based on their personalities and traits. This may result in a character making a choice that somebody would point to and say, "If the character had made the opposite choice, then everything would have been all right."
The problem with that argument, though, is that the author going back to have the character make the opposite choice, does not mean that the same outcomes will follow. The author may find out that the character, from making the opposite choice, is faced with new challenges or struggles and must determine how the character will overcome those.
Writing a novel is a complex process and those who write put their characters into complex situations, and while it may be fun to go through a book and say, "If that event happened differently, everything would have been fine," there's no way to say that for certain. Like a football game, like any sports event, like life in general -- there's more to how things develop than can be traced to a single event or element.
But learning the complexities of football has provided me more enjoyment for the sport. I imagine the same applies to anybody who has learned more about the complexities of writing a novel.