Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Set Up

Mike Lupica’s Travel Team opens this way:
He knew he was small.
He just didn’t think he was small.
Big difference.
In just three sentences, Lupica sets up the major issue confronting Danny, the story’s main character: his size and its potential for keeping him from doing what he wants, which is to play basketball.

Plus, he gives the reader a sense of Danny’s character–the way he feels about being small, and the way he sees himself in relation to the world.

That’s the set up, and the story flows out of it like the opening jump. Lupica tosses the ball–the underlying issues and questions driving the story– into the air, and the reader turns the pages to see how the game turns out.

Here are just a few of the questions that Lupica tosses into play as Travel Team unfolds:
  • What are the challenges facing Danny and the other characters?
  • Who are the good guys, the bad guys?
  • What’s at stake for Danny? (What does Danny have to lose?)
  • What’s the time frame? (Is there a deadline?)
  • Can Danny move the ball down court?
  • Is he alone on the court or does he have friends to trust?
  • And does he have what it takes to sink the basket under pressure?
These questions drive the story as Lupica zeroes in on Danny’s struggle to overcome his size to make the town’s travel basketball team.

Of course, Danny’s size is the major problem, but it’s not the only problem. His uncertain relationship with his father serves as another plot-line.

A former NBA player, Danny’s father is small like Danny, but overcame his size, only to lose his chance to play in the big league when he was injured in an auto crash his first year with the NBA.

Since then he’s drowned his regret in drink and moved from job to job, leaving his marriage and Danny behind. But now he has a chance of redeeming himself by helping Danny in his struggle to play ball.

Once Lupica completes the set-up, the opening gambit of the story, he moves the reader into the next stage of the story, accelerating the pace as the competition heats up between the rival travel teams and their coaches, and as Danny and his father (and mother) struggle to become a family again.

But it's the set up that hooks readers and draws them into the story.

For more on set ups, visit:

1 comment:

Jack said...

Nice classic structure, with all the story elements.