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How can I improve my game stories?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Jay Sherman, Aug 8, 2008.

  1. Jay Sherman

    Jay Sherman Member

    Not that I think they are particularly weak, I just don't think I'm getting better at writing them. Anybody have any tips for improving the art of the game story?

    I think my features are getting better and I've done a bit of enterprising, but I want to be able to say that my game stories were better on day 100 than on day 1.
  2. TheHacker

    TheHacker Member

    I once worked for an editor who preached writing about people rather than games. That's one starting point for you. Point guard has a great game? Talk to him and find out about his workout routine, or discover that he got to be a good passer by playing in the driveway against his older brothers and cousins who were all bigger than him and double-teamed him whenever he got the ball.

    If you want to take a team angle rather than focus on one individual, take what you see in the game as a starting point. Football team has a great running game? Offensive line must be doing something right. What's the deal with them? Are they tight off the field? Do they work out together? Is there a tradition of good line play on the team that they feel responsible for upholding? Is there a defense they're going to face that's going to pose a challenge for them? Use your games as a starting point to look forward rather than dwelling on what happened that night. You can still work in details of the game, but those details -- who scored and when -- aren't the focus of your story.

    And the other thing I think is really effective is to paint a picture with your lead. Don't just recite it to me in dull language. Show me. If you're writing about an offensive line that spent all night pancaking the crap out of people, start your story describing that to me. Use your eyes. Observe everything, and find that one moment that illustrates the point you want to make. Use that as the starting point of your story.

    And some of those little moments may not even happen on the field. Watch what happens on the bench/sideline. Watch players and coaches interacting with each other. File all those observations away in your head. Even if you don't use them immediately, you'll have them to pull out when the need arises.
  3. Bullwinkle

    Bullwinkle Member

    Disagree with most of what you wrote. It's a gamer -- the focus should be on the game. Much of the other stuff you are talking about is great for mid-week stories or features. Playing against older brother in the driveway didn't have an effect on the game. But perhaps his jump shot, which he had been tweaking all week, was the key to his success.

    Improve your gamers by reporting better. Get details and pieces of information that were key to the game. Star running back had a bad day? Well, maybe it wasn't just that he had a bad day. Maybe the opposing coach was determined to stop him, wanted to hit him hard. "Stop him," the coach said, "and the rest of the team falls apart. Their rhythm is destroyed."

    Sounds stupid, but assume there's a Bill Belichick on every sideline. Most coaches have a strategy and a plan of attack, one that is well-developed and detailed. Pick their brain for information. Find out what they were thinking. Unravel that from both ends, the good and the bad, and see what you come up with.

    You will learn a lot, and so will your readers.
  4. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Agree on the last two things Hacker said, especially about the interactions. I've gotten plenty of leads from overhearing conversations between teammates about stuff that happened at practice, or something they picked up on and were pointing out to a teammate.
    But you need to be careful not to turn a gamer into a full-blown feature. For all of the stuff that's been said about the demise of the game story, people still want to know what happened. You don't want to get bogged down in play by play, but remember to tell them what happened and not just the backstory. It's great that Jimmy Point Guard played in the driveway with his brothers. Lots of people have done that. At some point, I want to know that I'm reading about it because he scored 45 points last night and his team won.
  5. Bob Cook

    Bob Cook Active Member

    Try to think of your game stories as not merely the encapsulation of an individual event, but as another chapter in a continuing saga, like a novel.
  6. FuturaBold

    FuturaBold Member

    how refreshing -- an actual thread about journalism and how to get better at our craft ...

    good advice all the way around ...
  7. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Don't bog down in play-by-play and worrying about mentioning a ton of kids names.
    Find a key moment or two and write about them and let those involved tell your story. Kiss the scoring off with sentence like "The Hustlers, which led 21-0 at half on touchdown runs from Jim Jones, Gus the Kicking Mule and Gilligan, gained just 21 yards in the second half thanks to a stingy Cardsharky defense."
    Then talk about the defense.
    Only people who give a shit about all the back and forth play by play were at the game. Don't tell me what happened, tell me why it happened -- and through the participant's eyes.
  8. Tommy_Dreamer

    Tommy_Dreamer Well-Known Member

    Slappy's got the right tact. I found out that one of the best ways my gamers improved were by covering slower sports like soccer, or even swimming. Yes, you want to get the goals and the times in your story, but for every swimmer or player there, there's a backstory. Work the crowds at swim events and walk the sidelines of soccer games. I always walk the sidelines at football games too, you pick up on some things you might not otherwise and you get a real flow for how the game is actually going.
  9. Spot fucking on.

    Great advice for stringers and the like heading out to their first game.
  10. forever_town

    forever_town Active Member

    You get better at any skill like writing game stories by doing more of it.

    Read your gamers. Compare them to other gamers, especially of the same games you covered. See if there's something other people do that you can incorporate into your own work.

    Perhaps researching the history of the school you cover will give you more context into what Johnny Touchdown's amazing season means in the grand scheme of the high school game you're covering? Perhaps you'll find out your team's championship finals appearance is the first in its history after eight straight 0-10 seasons?

    Perhaps you'll learn to notice something about the way the coach answers your questions that can add flavor to your story. Perhaps he rolled his eyes, perhaps he sighed, perhaps he patted you on the back at every opportunity to do so and not look like someone Poindexter would mention.

    Without reading your gamers in great detail, I don't have a specific action plan to improve them. But I think you know what your gamers need more than I would.
  11. Bullwinkle

    Bullwinkle Member

    I don't think it'd be a bad idea to bring back those gamer comparisons that used to get posted on this board. Pick a game, find three or four different game stories by various writers, and find out what worked and what didn't.

    Might be better suited for the Workshop.
  12. forever_town

    forever_town Active Member

    This thread itself might be better suited for the Workshop.
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