Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Because of the Stories...

This is the week. Now is the time. Millions of us, the world over, are glued to our TV sets as the athletes of the world unite for the Olympics in Beijing.

And as I sit here watching the women’s gymnastics final with baited breath (Go Nastia! Go Alicia!) I am reminded that it’s not so much the sports we are watching, but rather the people – yep, it’ s the stories.

Oh sure, we say we watch the Olympics because of the sportsmanship; because we love diving, or gymnastics, or beach volleyball, or track and field. And probably we do. But it’s the stories behind the games that bring us to the edge of our seats.

We writer’s can learn a lot about characterization and plot conflicts from our own emotional experiences during the games!

So, who do we remember from the Olympics so far? And why?

We’ll of course there’s Michael Phelps, the swimmer from the U.S.A who has now succeeded in winning more Olympic medals than anyone else in history. But for many of the millions of people cheering him on, it was not just his swimming prowess that had us rooting for him – it was his story. Raised by a single mother, taken under the wing of a caring father-figure coach, and now here at the Olympics giving each bouquet of flowers he won at his gold medal ceremonies to his sisters or his mother who sat crying in the stands. Yep folks – we fell in love with Phelps because we’d learned a bit of his story.

Then there were those female swimmers with the soap opera lives – two girls from two countries who both fell in love with the same, dashing man. The second one stole the first one’s boyfriend after the first one left her country and her swim team to move closer to the boyfriend in a foreign land, no less. And here they were racing each other for gold in the grand Olympic pool. The story -- the rivalry -- had conflicts on so many fronts that in our hearts we all took sides. That’s what happens when there’s a powerful story.

Of course there were hundreds of these stories: There was the world champion beach volleyball star that lost her wedding ring on the court; The male and female U.S. gymnasts who trained all their lives, got hurt right before the competition, and had to cheer on their teammates while wrapped in bandages at home or on the sidelines. There was the white water kayaker who braved the rapids to win his country their first ever Olympic medal; the Chinese coach who told his country he’d jump off the tallest building in Beijing if his team didn’t win the gold (thank God, they did!) but … the list goes on and on.

Even people who weren’t athletes pulled at the hearts of the world: A little boy who survived the recent earthquake, smiling in the arms of a hero, as they carried the Chinese flag in the opening ceremony; A little girl who sang the anthem, but whose face her nation thought was too unattractive to put on TV. (There’s a sad story for you). And there were so many more.

So, hooray for the Olympics (both the inspiring and the sad stories)! Though we writers may sometimes fear that reading is a dying hobby, these games have shown again and again that stories still make the world go ‘round.
If there’s a heart-touching tale out there for the telling, the whole world will tune in to listen.