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Advice on writing a game story

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Bob Smith, Oct 20, 2013.

  1. Bob Smith

    Bob Smith Member

    I am giving a talk to high schoolers next week on writing a prep sports game story. What advice would you give these students and/or can you give me a link to a good article dealing with the subject?
  2. HandsomeHarley

    HandsomeHarley Well-Known Member

    Here are some thoughts I've learned through the years:

    * The first score in the story should be the final score. You can say, "the Bulldogs overcame a 14-point halftime deficit," but don't say "a 14-0 deficit." People in a hurry want to see the final score.

    * The lede should have the who, what, when and where. The body of the story should have the why.

    * Writing a story in play-by-play format is boring and will lose interest. Find the most important aspect of the game and flush it out. Sometimes, the final play of the game is the story, and a play-by-play will miss that until the end.

    * Interject comments/quotes throughout the story. Don't wait and pile them up at the end.

    * Same with stats. Leave out unremarkable stats. Highlight the highlights.

    * If I have a football gamer with a RB who ran for more than 200 yards, of course I will interview him, but I also will interview one of his linemen. He didn't do that all by himself.

    * I try no to mention names of players who made a mistake unless necessary -- at the high school level. No sense in adding insult to injury and/or pissing off your readers. College and pros are fair game.

    These are just my opinions. There are many others.
  3. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    For starters, get the final score in the first three, or at worst, four paragraphs. Sounds elementary, but you'd be amazed at how many times as a copy editor I've had to turn to reporter and say "what was the final score"? If I need to jump the story, I really, really, really want to get the score on the front part of the jump.

    Beyond that, start with the basic five W's and the H: Who, what, where, when, why and how.

    One difference I try to keep in mind with prep gamers is that, unlike college and pro games, many readers may not have seen the game live in person or on TV. My story may be their first account of what happened.

    I avoid using too much play-by-play, except in cases where the game hinged on one significant drive (usually late in the game). I'll mention big plays, drives, key statistics. But don't get bogged down in statistics, especially if you are running a summary (box score).

    Try to put the game in context. Does it set up an even bigger game down the road? Does it end or continue a winning streak or losing streak? Was there a statistical milestone worth mentioning? (Smith rushed for 100 or more yards for the seventh straight game, in which the team is 6-1.) Always remember that there are two sides to every game and as elated as the winners are, the game also has ramifications for the losing team.

    Try to tell the reader WHY one team won and the other lost. Example: Podunk dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Williams connected on 10 of his first 11 pass attempts. Davis had five runs of 20 yards or longer, outrunning the defensive secondary. Shitsville managed just 8 yards rushing and allowed seven sacks.

    Just a few ideas. The best way I learned to write as a youngster was by reading the writing of others (newspapers, Sports Illustrated, etc.) Maybe print out a typical game story from a newspaper or online and let them analyze it.
  4. HandsomeHarley

    HandsomeHarley Well-Known Member

    Gee, Marky, I think we may be related. ::)
  5. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    When I had a game where a guy set a school record with 315 rushing yards, I mentioned the names of the entire starting offensive line. They were really the stars of the game. Runner would break the line of scrimmage and race for long touchdowns --- four TDs of 60 yards or better.

    Got a lot of nice feedback from parents and fans for mentioning the linemen's names.
  6. albert77

    albert77 Well-Known Member

    I always start with a punchy lede to frame the story, which could be one graf or two short ones. Then the nut graf -- the W's and the score -- followed by each teams' records and what it means, especially for playoff implications. I am often amazed to read game stories where the records aren't mentioned until the last graf. That's not serving your readers very well.

    Then I go with my best quote. After that, the story flows depending on how much time and space I have. Agree with keeping stats to a minimum, but you don't want to forget them. I've written stories where I realized as I was proofing it that I neglected to mention the 100-yard rusher.

    Anyway, that's a formula I've had great success with over the years.
  7. SnarkShark

    SnarkShark Well-Known Member

    Something that has always bothered me about new reporters... But I do know some people disagree...

    Don't publish quotes just to prove you talked to someone. If the quote provides no insight or is hopelessly, cliche, cut it or find a different one. I'd rather have no quote than a useless one.
  8. spikechiquet

    spikechiquet Well-Known Member

    Make sure to mention the weather in your lede, even if it doesn't mean anything to the outcome...and if it's around the holidays...use a cliche lede like "Santa came early for Shitsville."

    And use a quote from someone in the crowd: "We are playing really bad, but they are trying so hard," said a Shitsville's players mother, who was sitting behind this reporter. (Yes, this was actually something put in a story I read in the last two years)
  9. buck_I_guy

    buck_I_guy Guest

    If good quotes, what are yoir thoughts about alternating quotes grafs and infoative grafs?
  10. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    Solid advice, but don't ignore lesser holidays.

    "A trick play by Shitsville was no treat for Phlegmtown...."
  11. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    A good rule of thumb, and what I always tell new reporters, is to take a second and imagine you're talking about the game to a friend. The first thing you'd tell them should be the lede.
    I read way too many stories about games that ended on a last-second play, that start with something that happened in the first quarter.
    In a similar vein, if it's a close game at halftime your story probably hasn't happened yet. This is especially true with basketball. If it's a two-point game at halftime, nothing that happened in the first half is likely to be relevant to what you write afterward. Focus on what actually affected the outcome.
    Also, like Albert said, tell us what this all means. What did it do in regards to a team's season, and where do they go from here.
    I read somewhere once that a good game story is like a chapter of a book.
  12. TheHacker

    TheHacker Member

    There's already good advice here, so I'll only add one thought: Explain to them the difference between a game story/news story and a column/essay ... i.e., the difference between reporting and opining.

    Blogging, social media and TV have led a lot of young writers to blur the lines. They read a lot of blogs or longform, or they watch talking heads, and it leads them to think everything they write should be like that -- full of bloviating or overly descriptive. As others have said, that doesn't mean the story has to be boring play-by-play. But they should be careful about editorializing or overreaching.
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