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In my case, my character is literally a spectator. They're at a sporting event. There will be a major event which ramps up their plotline that occurs at this event, but I'm finding the event itself (while a part of the normal life) is a set piece right now. My POV's interest and those around her is entirely on the sporting event.

I thought I'd go to the source for speculative fiction sporting events and consider Harry Potter's many quidditch games; but only one of those has the POV as the spectator: the quidditch world cup. The tension in that chapter of who will win the worldcup is overshadowed by the the other conflicts: class-conflict, Voldemort, personal goals of our POVs, etc. In the book they actually show the cup, in the movie it's cut entirely because it turns out it's fluff. But, if you ask someone who read the books, everyone's pretty bummed the world cup wasn't actually shown on film. So there was still something about that scene that worked. But it only worked after Quidditch had been established as existing in four prior books with plenty of POV from primary actors going on.

So, having considered that, and acknowledging that this sporting event in my story is not part of the main thread, I'm left wondering how to make it interesting enough without having it gobble up space in my story. I'm starting to wonder if it's a darling, but if it is I have to lose an entire set of characters (my POV's childhood friends who all knew her from the sport team they grew up on together).

I'm more than happy if you answer this for any sport that exists, real or imagined (could be calvinball); or for scenes where characters spectate events while the plot develops sufficiently for them to be able to step in and take a leading roll again.

Things I've considered:

  • POV switch to some of the players/people who are more invested in the sport than my character. I've been intentionally staying away from POV switches, but maybe that's right here. Other people are definitely more invested in the goings on of the games. But it's likely I'll never return to their POVs, at least the players in the game itself. It is possible for me to switch to a spectator with higher stakes who I intend to have around.

  • Creating a direct external threat that my characters would have to deal with while also trying to watch the game. I'm worried this may be too much of a problem. My characters are already looking for a specific thing that might be going on, but their movement is restricted for reasons. At this point the way I've written so far, they are captive until the event I have coming will occur.

  • My primary problem has been that it feels like the characters aren't invested in the problem of "who will win this game." Maybe that's the only mistake I've made and I've got to make them more invested in preparation for this moment. Maybe the answer is to go back and seed that these games, when they happen, are important?

What else am I not considering? Are there more generic things to consider for planning out a passive, POV as observer scene?

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Full Disclosure: I am not a sports fan; but I do have family and friends with that disability.

Basically tension in a story is created by making the reader wonder "what happens next." That is why they turn the pages, you must interleave a few horizons in your story: What happens in the next few pages; what happens by the end of this scene (or chapter); what happens by the end of this Act (about 1/4 a book); and what happens at the conclusion of the story.

If you have a sports game and you want that to be interesting, you have two of those horizons: What happens beat-by-beat within the game (and why it matters), and what happens at the end of the scene: once the game is won or lost (and why that matters).

In order for the beat-by-beat to matter to the POV character, they need to know a lot about the game and players and the stakes.

In order to accomplish that in writing, from a cold start, you need your POV to have a foil: Somebody along for the ride that doesn't know, so your POV can fill them in (and therefore fill in the reader).

All of that said, You may have a darling. If none of this matters to the story, if it doesn't change the POV character to win/lose and this whole game is just a tempest in a teapot, then it doesn't belong in the story. Scenes need to shape one or more characters that will exist after the scene: Their thinking, their motivations, or even just to give them a metaphor for later in the book ("It's like the game against Northern, that great double fake in the last minute! We're doing that!")

So to prevent it from being a darling, you need something in your game that is an analogy or inspiration for something later in the story; perhaps the POV character learned something about deception, or persistence, or strategy, or making a sacrifice in order to win in the end.

Subconsciously, that may be why you are driven to write it; the competition is like a metaphorical version of your story as a whole. Or, maybe, it is a darling that serves no real purpose, just a short-story you got enamored with that blew up too big, I find myself doing that when I get stuck on the main story. That happens.

If the game does play some role in the plot, maybe teaches the POV character something, then the way to make it interesting is to make the plays you describe mean something in the eyes of the POV: A serious setback if they fail, or even a loss. And if they succeed, something that either preserves hope, or means a win and celebration.

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"Maybe the answer is to go back and seed that these games, when they happen, are important?" This sounds like your strongest option - make the game itself a source of conflict. Give your PoV character a reason to be on the edge of her seat, agonizing about what's happening on the field.

Here's a couple of examples:

1) Two of your characters bet a large sum of money on the outcome of the game. They both thought it would be a sure win... but they can't all be right. What are the consequences for your POV character, who's currently in danger of losing? Did she borrow money from a loan shark, and she's worried about what happens when she can't pay them back? Is she desperately trying to avoid a divorce, and she knows that gambling all this money away will finish off her marriage?

2) Give your PoV character a personal connection to someone on the field. One of the POV's childhood friends from the sport team is good enough to play professionally. (The friend could also be a sibling, or love interest.) What does this match mean for the player's career? Is she still recovering from an injury, and a mistake can mean a lot of expensive surgery and she can never play again? Is there a talent scout in the crowd, and this is the player's chance to make it to the big leagues?

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Use inner dialogue to create tension. Watching a sporting event as a fan always includes constant, intense inner dialogue (and some not so inner dialogue). There is no need to change POV. That could get confusing. You do not need to create a personal connection with one of the players. Even a casual fan already feels a connection to ALL of the players (By casual I mean someone who attends games often but not always). You know their names, their positions, their strengths and weaknesses. And you want them to win.

I'm partial to basketball, so let's start there.

Your team is introduced and they come onto the court. The crowd stands, clapping and shouting. You get caught up in the excitement immediately. As the game progresses You alternate between cheering and watching. And inner dialogueing.

"Bob is wide open, why doesn't Gary see him?"

"Holy cow, I can't believe he made that shot!"

"John looks like he's about to pass out, I wonder how long he can last."

"Why are they switching Joe out now? There's still 2 minutes on the clock."

"They need to put Bill back in or they'll never catch up."

"That's not going to go in. Oh my gosh, it did!"

"#24 just double dribbled! Are the refs blind?" The rest of the crowd will also notice the double dribble and everyone is yelling now at the refs. I doubt there has ever been a refereed sporting event in history where a call wasn't missed. This tends to upset the crowd.

By the end of the game, your hands are sore from clapping, your voice is hoarse from yelling and you're pumped full of adrenaline. Unless your team lost, then everyone is a little more sullen. Or still mad at the refs.

Drop hints about the event you have planned into the inner dialogue. Make the game and the plot compete for the POVs attention.

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