WRITING TIPS FOR GAME STORIES
(in no particular order)
- Focus on action late in the game before action early in the game, almost every time. If a basketball team goes on a 10-0 run to win a game, lead with that, not on anything in the opening half.
- In other words, do not write a game story narratively, beginning at the start of the game and concluding at the end of the game. Invert that approach almost every single time.
- So, to sum: last-second drives in the Super Bowl, late-inning scoring in baseball and the final leg in a close 4×400 relay are more important than opening drives, innings or legs of relays.
- Talk to several players and coaches on both teams to gain as many insights as possible. You have access to players, unlike fans, so use that entry.
- Once you get comments from players, use them. Do not discard quotes because they do not fit your predetermined narrative. Blend these quotes into your game story. Embrace quotes that reveal insights you had not previously considered, which elevates stories (and impresses readers and editors).
- Prepare before games — track team records (overall, conference, district), team rosters and jot down a few potential storylines before you arrive. You’ll find such information by reading previous stories on teams involved, checking on MaxPreps or other websites for high school athletics and by reviewing conference and school athletic websites.
- Verify rosters with team managers, coaches or announcers at the game. Who need another thing to worry about on deadline, right?
- Insert links. To player bios. To previous coverage. To conference standings. To game stats. Take advantage of digital platforms.
- Further, insert video whenever possible – player reactions after key plays games and during postgame interviews. Your cell phone won’t take great action shots, but it can capture video very well. Take advantage of new technology and digital platforms.
- At the very least, include one visual element from each live sports event — whether it is a coach kneeling to talk with players during a timeout, a catcher advising a pitcher on the mound, or a volleyball player high-fiving a teammate after a key play.
- Spell names correctly. Nothing enrages fans and editors more than misspelled, or misidentified, names in stories.
- Except, perhaps, an incorrect score. You might want to check the final tally twice before leaving your seat. Might even take a photo of the scoreboard.
- Don’t build stories around play-by-play. Rather, address plays that help convey a story, such as a team controlling the boards in basketball or a team delivering several two-out, run-scoring hits across several innings in softball.
- Oh, yeah, don’t do this: burying the score late in a game story. Insert it in the opening graphs, the higher the better.
- Spike general, over-arching leads about the way of the world — unless you have found a way to brilliantly weave it into a compelling storyline directly connected to the game. Instead, address key plays, key players, key stats or other key storylines right away. You are not writing a novel or play where you can slowly build to the main conflict. Game stories ain’t “War and Peace.”
- Although Leo Tolstoy definitely cut to the chase in the opening sentences of a book that continues for than 1,300 pages, revealing all kinds of conflicts that can draw in a reader: an allusion to atrocities, an antichrist, a threat to end a dear friendship. (“Well, Prince, Genoa and Lucca are now no more than private estates of the Bonaparte family. No, I warn you, that if you do not tell me we are at war, if you again allow yourself to palliate all the infamies and atrocities of this Antichrist (upon my word, I believe he is), I don’t know you in future, you are no longer my friend, no longer my faithful slave, as you say. There, how do you do, how do you do? I see I’m scaring you, sit down and talk to me.”)
- Conflict drives stories.
- Observation and research reveal conflict in stories.
- Specific details illuminate how players and coaches try to overcome these challenges.
- Stories need characters
- Characters (players, coaches) want something, but something else is often in their way. Reveal that “something.”
- Go to games prepared, take comprehensive notes, observe intently and interview thoroughly in order to divulge how the conflicts were resolved. Or weren’t.
- Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t write the story you had hoped to deliver. Like any profession, sports journalism requires practice and time. While it’s necessary to look back to assess one’s efforts, each story is also a step forward.
You can find an entire chapter on covering sports in the Field Guide To Covering Sports, which includes story examples as well as advice from professional sports journalists across the country.
You can also check out other posts about game coverage on this website.