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Writing gamers without play-by-play?

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by MNgremlin, Feb 18, 2020.

  1. MNgremlin

    MNgremlin Active Member

    Most of my job is desk work, but occasionally the bosses let me out of the office to cover games at the local D2 school.

    After a recent game, my boss told me that my gamer was "different" because it lacked any play-by-play. Personally, I'm a bit of a stats nerd. I love to dive into the game notes and look at trends and milestones. On top of that, it was a 25-point win with the margin as high as 31 points at one point. Frankly, I checked out from jotting down my own personal notes during the fourth quarter because it was so lopsided.

    When I do write about the game itself, I tend to stay away from play-by-play (unless there's a pivotal sequence) because as a reader I tend to find it rather boring. Instead, I go to overarching themes from the game....hot 3-point shooting, turnover margin, a rebounding advantage, etc. I still got 800 words down about the game, but it dealt more with how those themes fit in with the season trends.

    Thoughts on this strategy? Am I the only person who really doesn't care for play-by-play synopses as a reader or writer?
    Liut likes this.
  2. Sam Mills 51

    Sam Mills 51 Well-Known Member

    Depends on the game, situation, time of the season, what - if anything - might be at stake aside from the game itself, etc.

    Sometimes, there's a sequence early that turns the game. Sometimes, the last two minutes merit a breakdown. Sometimes, there's too much other stuff to unpack the game itself.

    The thing NOT to do? Feature-ize the gamer. It's not a feature with a score.

    In summary, no quick and easy answer. Experience and instinct help drive the bus.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2020
    Liut, Danwriter and sgreenwell like this.
  3. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Sounds like what you should be doing. Few things in this business make my head explode more than reading about a game like you described, and having the narrative be a play-by-play breakdown. Or, worse, having a game won on a late play and the first 300 words are all play-by-play from the first half.
    Dial in on the important stuff. If it's a blowout and you have the stats handy to explain how it got that way, focus on that. Maybe give play-by-play of a key run or two, but otherwise talk about the key stats or what the game means in the story arc of the season.
    If it's a game won on a buzzer-beater, then nothing before the last two minutes -- and probably the last 60 seconds -- matters unless there was a huge comeback.
    Liut likes this.
  4. sgreenwell

    sgreenwell Well-Known Member

    I've been writing for a weekly lately, vs. a daily at my last stop, so I've had to shift hard from play by play to mostly more feature-y writing. It takes some time to adjust to. I definitely agree with Sam Mills though - Sometimes, you need a little bit of play by play, an example from the game you're at, to provide a nice 'hook' or tie in to the story. I have frustratingly dealt with the opposite more - I have a good idea for a feature in my head already, like the improved performance of a basketball team's frontcourt, only for them to give up 50 points in the paint, and having to go with another idea on the fly. Especially tough if you're writing about the same team for a third or fourth time.
    Liut likes this.
  5. daytonadan1983

    daytonadan1983 Well-Known Member

    Here's my take.

    Once upon a time when I gave a damn, I worked for a paper that would give us 300 words + 3-4 bullet points + box score.

    I used the bullet points and the box score to describe the game and the 300 words to write a story -- kid's fastball is getting stronger after off season injury, team held opposing team to 15 points under their average, yada yada yada.

    Times were glorious.

    These days? AP ledes, because I'm doing two games at the same damn time.
  6. MNgremlin

    MNgremlin Active Member

    I will admit, games like the one I mentioned are easier to do this because I can just look to a stats monitor or the postgame printout for almost anything I need. At the preps level, it's more difficult because we don't have the stats readily available and don't have as great an archive built up to monitor trends within the game or season. So I find myself falling back into the play-by-play trap, as much as I hate it.

    So any advice here would be appreciated.
    Liut likes this.
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