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Recreating a scene

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Flood, May 24, 2007.

  1. Flood

    Flood New Member

    Feel free to move this thread to the Writer's Workshop, Mods, but I thought this could be a good topic for the main board.

    My question is this: what are some techniques you all use for recreating a scene. I ask because I often find myself struggling to write feature stories about players away from the game/field/sport. Since my interviews always take place on a field, or in a school gym, or in a locker room, or on the phone, I find it difficult sometimes to re-tell a story that's happened off the field and to set the scene for readers.

    So what are some good ways to describe a scene when you weren't really there? Better yet, what types of questions should you ask? And do you come out and tell the interview subject in advance that you are going to need to pick his/her brain for 15 minutes, and that this won't be a typical interview? I can set a scene, trust me. It's just that I want to get better at it, and I know there are some ways that are better (and more efficient) than others. Thanks.
  2. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Just try to get it so the reader can visualize the scene. It may or may not matter if it's a sunny day and the birds are singing.

    For example, say you are talking to an outfielder who had a horrible collision with a teammate going after a fly ball.

    Joe Smith never took his eyes off the fly ball to right center but he remembers hearing John Long's footsteps just before the collision.

    That sets up so you can visualize it. Doesn't matter how many people were in the stands or what color the grass was. Anything else you can add would be good -- if he yelled I got it five times, etc.
  3. sportsed

    sportsed Member

    There's no need to identify the writer, and please be assured that it's not me. Just wanted to share something with the masses. Point is: Sometimes you can focus on something specific, then expand out, much like a camera lens. That's what was done here ...

    Rolling back and forth, the water bottle picked up blades of grass and specs of dirt from the ground, its sloshing contents an unlikely source of motivation.

    “You thirsty? You want something to drink?” the football coach yelled before throwing the container to the field. “There you go. Find a way.”

    It was another grueling practice in the heat of an Ohio summer. Brad Hurtig hadn’t participated in any drills, but like his sweaty teammates, he craved a drink of water. Only a month earlier, a factory accident had crushed his arms, leaving him with a pair of stubs. Still dazed from the trauma and groggy from the medication, he needed every ounce of energy just to watch practice. And now he had to work for a simple sip of water.

    “I knew it was a challenge. I knew I had to do it,” Brad said. “I just didn’t know how.”

    So he fell to his knees. Bent over the bottle. Squeezed it between his stubs. Lifted it to his mouth. Pulled away the cap with his teeth. And let the cool water pour into his mouth and over his face.

    “We wanted to push him to see how far we could,” said Tom Sheninger, Fairview High's assistant football coach. “Could he do this? Could he do that? We wanted to see how bad he wanted it. If something didn’t work, we’d try something else. It was an experiment.”

    The results weren’t fully revealed until the next season, when Brad, playing with specially designed pads that wrapped around his stubs, started at middle linebacker and led the 5-5 Apaches with 111 tackles. After the season, he was named first-team All-State and the district co-defensive player of the year.

    There's mucch more to the story, but this provides the gist.
  4. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Yeah, sportsed's example is good. You'd kinda have to be there to write that.

    So, Flood, you are starting at a disadvantage -- you realize -- by having to recreate something you didn't witness.
  5. sportsed

    sportsed Member

    Actually, that scene wasn't witnessed by the reporter. It took several rounds of questions to get the details. This is no Albom fairy tale, mind you. Persistence and the gift for extending a conversation count.
  6. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Good stuff.
  7. e4

    e4 Member

    think cinematically ... i think that's how red smith once put it
  8. andykent

    andykent Member


    You're cruel. That was some excellent prose. Now I want to read the rest of the story but you're keeping us in the dark. One of the positives of this site is being able to see good writing, so unless you have another reason that you would rather not share it with us, please do. :)
  9. Flood

    Flood New Member

    Thanks sportsed, because this is exactly what I am talking about, and was the reason why I started the thread. I want to be able to describe a scene, or a sequence of events, or dialogue, in that exact way, when I'm NOT there to witness it.

    I'm hoping this thread can bring about some ideas/techniques, maybe even some more examples, as to how this can be done effectively. Again, thanks for posting.
  10. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Well, you can't be afraid to ask lots of questions. If you are trying to tell a narrative type story (as this one appears to be) you've got to be ruthless.

    For example on the water bottle, I imagine the player described the scene and the reporter had to ask stuff like: What kind of bottle, how big, what was in it, what did it look like.

    As some point you have to let the person know that you are trying to recreate the scene and excuse you for asking what seem like wild questions.
  11. Dale Cooper

    Dale Cooper Member

    Exactly. Just keep asking.

    If you want to be able to recreate a scene, first it has to be clear in your mind. So just ask as many questions as you need, in order to make it totally clear. No one is going to be bothered by the fact that you're asking them unusual questions. Typically, I find that interviewees like it and will become engaged, because you're not asking the same questions they hear all the time.

    If a subject mentions an event that sounds interesting, ask them to describe it. It can be as simple as saying, "Can you tell me a little more about x? What happened there?" Assuming they don't paint a perfect picture, just keep asking until the blanks in your head are filled in. Get their phone number, too, and if you realize you still have questions, call them. A dull feature is typically the result of a reporter not following up enough.

    Keep asking why, and keep asking how, until you're satisfied.
  12. sportsed

    sportsed Member

    It's an art, really. One thing you shouldn't do is derail someone from telling a story. Let them get it out first -- in this instance, the kid talked about the coach throwing the water bottle on the ground -- then go back and retrace the steps to ferret out the detail. Layer by layer, again and again, you can go back and ask for more picture-painting material. But I can't stress enough, though, that you don't want to keep them from telling the entire story again, at least as they want to tell it. They may zero in on a particular aspect themselves, narrowing the focus for you, but each time they'll give up more and more info about what happened. Because they realize they're telling you the same story again, they will automatically want to tell you something you hadn't heard yet. Do that once or twice, then go back and ask your specific questions.
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