Writing a novel is not easy. It requires time, hard work, and dedication. Granted, that can be said of many things, but the thing with sports novels is that their audience is a part of a niche that requires a delicate touch. Let me explain what I believe makes a good sports novel.
Who is your target audience? Are you trying to write an inspirational sports novel for children, or a gritty tale of trying to stay afloat with the difficult competition, all the while battling teammates, teams, one’s own problems, and injuries that would put a player out of commission for good? When writing a sports novel, you need to make characters that are believable and relatable.
The way to do this is often to make sure your characters are approximately in the same age group as your audience. If you are writing a book for teens, make your athlete a teen. If you are targeting middle-aged sports fans, make your character middle-aged, with something to prove. This makes the novel appealing and helps the readers connect to your characters.
Which sport are you writing about? It may seem like a trivial question, but it also depends on your area. If you are writing a baseball book outside the US and Japan, chances are it is not going to get the level of reception you may have been hoping to achieve.
In addition to that, you need to come up with a solid premise. What is the background of the characters, the club, and the sport? Why is the sport in question relevant to the characters? This question brings me to my next point.
Motivation and Growth
The big selling point of sports novels is that the main characters have a dream. This dream could be to achieve greatness or just to be able to play their favorite sport. They are passionate and work hard towards achieving it.
Sometimes, there needs to be disillusionment. Maybe the sport or the club wasn’t what the character was hoping for. Maybe they were told they weren’t good enough, or not the proper race/gender/build to compete. The characters must find a way to overcome their obstacles and thrive in the face of adversity. This trope borders on being a cliché, but it is there for a reason. We need to connect to the character, to hope that the character will succeed and overcome the odds.
When making a character, and this goes for any type of writing, make sure they are not one-dimensional. It is good that they have a defining characteristic, but they are human beings, with faults, confusion, underlying issues, doubts, love, and/or so many other things.
Your characters must be able to be real. When reading a novel, it is much easier to connect to and remember a character we know more about than just their amazing pitch, scrappy attitude, or their origin. These things are a part of who that person is, but they are not the only ones. Expand and explore.