What I Was Reading:
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest novel, Carrie Soto is Back, tells the story of retired tennis champion Carrie Soto who decides, while watching a young player tie her record for winning the most Grand Slams, that she will return to the game and reclaim her title.
In this scene, Carrie faces a challenger at the French Open:
Moretti strides onto the court in a white-and-navy-blue tennis dress, waving to the crowd. She blows kisses to the stands. She is sponsored by Nike, so it’s no surprise that she is covered in swooshes from head to toe. When she turns to look at me, she gives me a big smile.
I nod at her.
She starts strong after winning the toss. But I’m stronger.
15-love becomes 15-all. 30-love becomes 30-all. Deuces become ad-ins and then back to deuces and ad-outs.
Three hours in, we are now in the third set. 6-6.
The crowd is cheering. I look up at my father who is sitting elegantly behind a flower box.
It’s now my serve. I need to hold this one and break hers. And then I’m on to the quarterfinals.
I close my eyes. I can do this.
When I open my eyes again, I’m looking directly at Moretti. She hovers over the court. Her hips swaying side to side as she waits for my serve.
I breathe in and serve it straight down the middle. She returns it with a ground stroke to the center. I hit it back, deep into the far-right corner. She runs for it, fast and hard. There’s no way she’s gonna make it.
But then she does. And I can’t return it.
It’s fine. It’s fine. I can feel my knee twinging, but I have plenty more to go.
I look up at my father again in the player’s box. He catches my eye.
I can feel the hum in my bones, the lightness in my belly. I serve it again, this time, just at the line. She dives and misses it.
I hold my game and then begin my assault on her. By the time I get to match point, she’s exactly where I want her. I set her up so she’s on the far side of the court. I return it to her backhand and that’s it. She’s done.
What Moves I Notice the Author Making:
- The way the writer plays with time by speeding up and slowing down the action really stands out to me in this passage.
- After a scene-setting paragraph describing Carrie Soto’s opponent, the rest of the passage is organized into a series of short paragraphs—many are only a single line—that reads like a list.
- The description of the first three hours of the match comprises only a few lines. Short sentences with a pattern of repetition (“15-love becomes 15-all. 30-love becomes 30-all.”) reveal the progression of the play.
- At the third set, with a 6-6 tie, Jenkins Reid slows the action down and builds suspense by including detailed description of the narrator’s thoughts and observations, the serve, and the subsequent rally.
- Jenkin Reid’s use of sentence break in the line “But then she does. And I can’t return it,” intentionally slows the reader’s pace by emphasizing the pause between the two thoughts. Separating one sentence into two is another interesting strategy for controlling the action in a scene. This also seems to be a pivot point in the passage as the details become more compressed and the action accelerates.
Possibilities for Writers:
- Notice and name other interesting craft moves in this passage.
- Watch for interesting pacing strategies in other texts you read.
- Develop a scene and experiment with time by using some of the Taylor Jenkins Reid’s techniques.
- Try organizing ideas into a series of short paragraphs to give your writing a list-like quality that conveys many details in a concise structure.
- Revise a draft in your writer’s notebook by incorporating some of the craft moves you notice in this excerpt.