Control and Command
I'm a baseball fan. Most readers of this blog probably know that already, but you never know--anyone with access to the Internet can read it, so maybe my love of baseball is new to somebody.
Some people say baseball is boring. On a superficial level, I think I understand what they mean. For much of the time, the defenders stand around in the field waiting for something to happen. Meanwhile most of the team at bat sits or stands in their dugout, waiting for their turn to hit. Clearly, much of the important action--in literary terms, the conflict--of baseball occurs in the confrontation between pitcher and batter. The rules require that the pitcher throw the ball into a small area near the batter (strikes) or else the batter will get a free base. The rules further say that if the pitcher does throw strikes, the batter must hit it fairly or be declared out. The contest between pitcher and batter is a constantly changing battle, affected by the ball/strike count, whether there are runners on base, the score of the game, which inning it is, and other factors. Generally speaking, people who say baseball is boring have not learned to recognize the subtleties of the pitcher/batter confrontation.
In regard to pitching, baseball people distinguish between "control" and "command." We say that a pitcher has "control" when he is able to consistently throw strikes. In youth baseball, from little league through high school, mastering control is the number one essential task of would-be pitchers. Many are the parents of youth baseball players who have had to endure the slow torture of a team whose pitcher has lost control. Walk follows walk, the batters stop even feigning interest in swinging, and the runs mount up.
In higher levels of baseball--high school, college, and the various levels of professional ball--pitchers without control have been weeded out. All the pitchers can throw strikes most of the time, except that now they must move to a higher level: command. We say that a pitcher has "command" when he is able to throw the ball precisely where he wants it to go. He throws a strike on the edge of the plate or at the bottom of the strike zone. Sometimes, the pitcher deliberately throws a ball out of the strike zone, but close enough to tempt a batter to swing. Command requires a much higher level of precision than does control. Even at the highest level, major league baseball, most pitchers fail to command many of their pitches. Major league hitters (the good ones anyway) try to anticipate pitches thrown without command--that is, pitches in the strike zone but not where the pitcher intended. The difference between a "pitcher's pitch," thrown exactly where the batter can't make good contact, and a "mistake," thrown where the batter can make contact on the "sweet spot" of his bat, may be as little as four inches.
There's an analogy between writing and pitching. Anyone who writes stories must learn the authorial analogue of control. Authors must create a plot, a story line that will interest readers. Excellent authors also have "command." They are able to tell their stories with zest and beauty. They tell the story in precisely the right way. Like pitchers, even pitchers at the highest level, it is a constant battle to put the words together just so.
I'm pretty confident I have "control" of the story in Castles. I know, at least in general, how the story goes, and I like it. Like most authors, I have the temerity to think that if I like the story, other people will as well. But what about "command'? That is an everyday battle.