The NCAA basketball tournament is my Christmas. Okay, maybe not exactly. It’s like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one! I fill out brackets and watch the games and root for the underdogs and talk to anyone who will listen about Creighton or SLU or the Big Ten. It probably annoys every one around me but I don’t care. I get hooked every year. This year I took a moment between games to really think about why I’m so obsessed with this tournament, and came up with drama, insurmountable odds, and stakes.
All of these are also components of great fiction (funny how that works out, huh?) Every single player on the court has skin in the game. They all have something at stake: they’re a senior and this is the last time they’ll play college ball; they’re from a “Cinderella” school and will be unlikely to get another bid; they’re playing for their dying father; they’re underdogs and have a legitimate shot at knocking a giant out of the tournament; they hope to have a shot at the NBA; a coach’s job is on the line; a winning team stands to gain better recruits for their program. Sweat and blood and tears are spilled over the course of three weeks and every single drop symbolizes something for someone. It’s fascinating to watch.
Fiction that incorporates meaningful, emotional stakes is better than fiction that doesn’t.