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The Thread to Discuss - and Learn From - Good Writing

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Double Down, Mar 14, 2007.

  1. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    I've been kicking this idea around for awhile, and decided that I'm going to take the chance and go ahead with it.

    We already have a Writer's Workshop on SportsJournalists.com, and it's benefited a lot of people thanks to some generous vets taking the time to constructively critique stories, but it doesn't get a lot of traffic. Especially from some of our posters who are more established in the business.

    I'm one of those writers who tries to inhale as much good writing as I can. But I miss a lot of good stories anyway. Just today, I read one from a month ago that inspired me to start this thread. I couldn't believe I'd missed it, and no one had started a thread about it on SportsJournalists.com. I figured if there was one place here devoted strictly to good writing, and the discussion of it, I might get see more of those stories. And learn from them. And hopefully others might too.

    So here's how this will work: Someone will start out by linking (or posting the full text of) a story, and we'll talk about what we liked about it. Or, in some instances, we'll talk about what could have made the story better. I'll try to post a new story every few days, and you should post your own too. Anything, not even sports specific, that you enjoyed, can be posted here. It will be sort of like a writing blog. The discussion, as always on SportsJournalists.com, should be free flowing. Just leave your petty feuds at the door. The that's the one rule. No one is looking for consensus about what is good writing. And feel free to start other threads about specific stories. This isn't like a running hockey thread where everything has to fit into one box. Don't let it stop you from posting good stories elsewhere. Just let this be the safety net to catch good ones, and discuss them. Also, if you read a good magazine story that is not available on-line, let me know and I will try to pull it off nexis as long as it's not a day or two old. We'll try not to abuse copyright laws that often in the name of good writing, but on occasion, we'll do it as long as the story has at least had a chance to circulate for readers who are actually paying for it. Good writing, like good music, is worth paying for. So if I yank a story from GQ, The New Yorker or SI, and you like it, vow to buy a future copy of the magazine to restore your karmic balance.

    I'll link the first story below, and talk about why I picked it. I hope you'll join in.

    Also, I'll keep track of the stories posted here:

    1. New Life At The Plate, by Dave Sheinin, Wash Post (profile)
    2. I Miss Iraq. I Miss My Gun. I Miss My War, by Brian Mockenhaupt, Esquire (personal essay)
    3. For Durant, Riches Deferred, by Sally Jenkins, Wash Post (profile/news story)
    4. The Fugees: Outcasts United, by Warren St. John, New York Times (narrative feature)
    5. Growth On The Gridiron, by Kurt Streeter, L.A. Times (narrative feature)
    6. 'Before This Is Over, You May See Calls For His Impeachment', Charles P. Pierce, Esquire (profile)
    7. A Baseball Story, Anne Hull, St. Petersburg Times (three-part serial narrative)
    8. A Love Affair With The Track, William Nack, (book excerpt/memoir)
    9. Final Salute, Jim Sheeler, Rocky Mountain News (Pulitzer prize-winning narrative)
    10. Palace of Plenty, Ann Hull, Washington Post, (explanatory narrative)
  2. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Flying Headbutt brought up this story today that Dave Sheinin wrote about Josh Hamilton, and after I read it, I couldn't believe I'd missed it. I think it's a great example of a writer using a technique that's very effective in storytelling, especially magazine feature writing, but hard to learn: Pausing the backstory for just a second, and pulling the reader into the present, and using a descriptions where we know the reporter is right there to illuminate or represent something.

    Here is the story:

    New Life at the Plate
    Josh Hamilton Looks to Resurrect a Once-Promising Career Derailed by Drugs


    Here is some of what I'm talking about. Take note of how artfully, in my opinion, Sheinin uses action as a transition.

  3. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Another great example...

  4. STLIrish

    STLIrish Active Member

    Good idea. Maybe we could get it tacked to the top, like some of the other threads?
    Also, not to threadjack, but fans of this idea should check out www.gangrey.com. It\'s basically what you want to create here, though not sports-specific.
  5. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Here is another story that was linked elsewhere on this site, but unfortunately we ended up discussing politics and the merits of Tim O'Brien instead of the actual writing.

    It's an essay by Esquire writer Brian Mockenhaupt, who was just nominated for a National Magazine award.


    There is a lot to admire about this, but I think what I like most is the power of short sentences. Sometimes writing is descriptive, and lyrical, and it flows like water over rocks, but sometimes, I love to read stories that hit you like rapid rat-tat-tat bursts. Breaking up long paragraphs into long sentences gives them power. If you missed this the first time around, check out how Mockenhaupt tap-tap-taps his way through this beatiful section:

  6. I think this is a great idea, DD. I plan to participate in the future.
  7. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Wanted to add a couple more stories.

    I'm going to try and average one a day, just to keep this thread alive. Please feel free to add your own, or discuss any that are here.

    Sally Jenkins has always been one of my favorite writers. I think she has a really clean, authoritative voice. This, and the story I'm posting after this, I think are good examples of a writer getting great little details, but not overwriting. I don't know that Sally breaks any new ground with this story about Kevin Durant. If you follow college basketball, probably not. Certainly not in the context of what sports writers know and the NBA age limit, which is the thrust of the story. But this ran on A1, not the sports front, so it's written for a larger audience. It isn't meant to blow you away, but it's got some nice details writers should strive for.


    This is the part I liked:

    Also, some video of Sally talking about the story:

  8. clutchcargo

    clutchcargo Active Member

    Teach me.
  9. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    I'm not sure if the NYT will be thrilled about me posting this next article, but you can no longer access it with a link thanks to the Times Select policy, and I think it's worth posting for a couple of reasons...

    I get worried a lot that I can't write sentences like some of the people I admire. And I worry, quite often, that I'll never be able to. Some writers are poets, and the lyrical beauty of their sentences makes me ashamed to call myself a writer.

    But lately, what I'm realizing too is that powerful storytelling can be simple, direct, and beautiful, even if the prose doesn't give you the chills. If I was going to give advice to a younger writer about whose style he or she should try to emulate, at least until they found their own voice, Warren St. John's would be a good one.

    St. John, who wrote the book, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, about Alabama football, wrote a story for the NYT a couple months ago that got a ton of buzz nationally, but didn't get discussed here. It's about a youth soccer team in Clarkson, Geo., made entirely up of refugee kids. It's a American story, a story about a changing community, and about the difficulties many of these kids face.

    It will also make you either really proud, or sick to your stomach, to hear that St. John and the Times sold the movie rights for this story to Universal for $3 million. Half went to the coach, and half went to him. So you can make money in sports writing if you find the right story, I guess. He's also working on a book that's going to be out in 2008.

    If you have Times Select, read the story here:


    If not, I'll post it below. It's long, and will get broken up into several sections, but worth your time.

    St. John also has a pretty good weblog worth checking out, but it hasn't been updated since this story came out. Pretty sure he's on leave from the Times.

  10. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    THE FUGEES: Adjusting to America; Outcasts United

    Early last summer the mayor of this small town east of Atlanta issued a decree: no more soccer in the town park.

    ''There will be nothing but baseball and football down there as long as I am mayor,'' Lee Swaney, a retired owner of a heating and air-conditioning business, told the local paper. ''Those fields weren't made for soccer.''

    In Clarkston, soccer means something different than in most places. As many as half the residents are refugees from war-torn countries around the world. Placed by resettlement agencies in a once mostly white town, they receive 90 days of assistance from the government and then are left to fend for themselves. Soccer is their game.

    But to many longtime residents, soccer is a sign of unwanted change, as unfamiliar and threatening as the hijabs worn by the Muslim women in town. It's not football. It's not baseball. The fields weren't made for it. Mayor Swaney even has a name for the sort of folks who play the game: the soccer people.

    Caught in the middle is a boys soccer program called the Fugees -- short for refugees, though most opponents guess the name refers to the hip-hop band.

    The Fugees are indeed all refugees, from the most troubled corners -- Afghanistan, Bosnia, Burundi, Congo, Gambia, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan. Some have endured unimaginable hardship to get here: squalor in refugee camps, separation from siblings and parents. One saw his father killed in their home.

    The Fugees, 9 to 17 years old, play on three teams divided by age. Their story is about children with miserable pasts trying to make good with strangers in a very different and sometimes hostile place. But as a season with the youngest of the three teams revealed, it is also a story about the challenges facing resettled refugees in this country. More than 900,000 have been admitted to the United States since 1993, and their presence seems to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others.

    The Fugees' coach exemplifies the best. A woman volunteering in a league where all the other coaches are men, some of them paid former professionals from Europe, she spends as much time helping her players' families make new lives here as coaching soccer.

    At the other extreme are some town residents, opposing players and even the parents of those players, at their worst hurling racial epithets and making it clear they resent the mostly African team. In a region where passions run high on the subject of illegal immigration, many are unaware or unconcerned that, as refugees, the Fugees are here legally.

    ''There are no gray areas with the Fugees,'' said the coach, Luma Mufleh. ''They trigger people's reactions on class, on race. They speak with accents and don't seem American. A lot of people get shaken up by that.''
  11. clutchcargo

    clutchcargo Active Member

  12. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Lots of Running, Many Rules

    The mayor's soccer ban has everything to do with why, on a scorching August afternoon, Ms. Mufleh -- or Coach Luma, as she is known in the refugee community -- is holding tryouts for her under-13 team on a rutted, sand-scarred field behind an elementary school.

    The boys at the tryouts wear none of the shiny apparel or expensive cleats common in American youth soccer. One plays in ankle-high hiking boots, some in baggy jeans, another in his socks. On the barren lot, every footfall and pivot produces a puff of chalky dust that hangs in the air like fog.

    Across town, the lush field in Milam Park sits empty.

    Ms. Mufleh blows her whistle.

    ''Listen up,'' she tells the panting and dusty boys. ''I don't care how well you play. I care how hard you work. Every Monday and Wednesday, I'm going to have you from 5 to 8.'' The first half will be for homework and tutoring. Ms. Mufleh has arranged volunteers for that. The second half will be for soccer, and for running. Lots of running.

    ''If you miss a practice, you miss the next game,'' she tells the boys. ''If you miss two games, you're off the team.''

    The final roster will be posted on the bulletin board at the public library by 10 Friday morning, she says. Don't bother to call.

    And one more thing. She holds up a stack of paper, contracts she expects her players to sign. ''If you can't live with this,'' she says, ''I don't want you on this team.''

    Hands -- black, brown, white -- reach for the paper. As the boys read, eyes widen:

    I will have good behavior on and off the field.

    I will not smoke.

    I will not do drugs.

    I will not drink alcohol.

    I will not get anyone pregnant.

    I will not use bad language.

    My hair will be shorter than Coach's.

    I will be on time.

    I will listen to Coach.

    I will try hard.

    I will ask for help.

    I want to be part of the Fugees!
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