Friday, October 2, 2009

The game story, as an art form

I grew up reading Dave Kindred, along with others in The Washington Post -- Ken Denlinger, Thomas Boswell, Bill Gildea, Shirley Povich -- who were sportswriting legends to me, way, way before Kornheiser and Wilbon showed up, good as they may be.

I just came across this piece by Kindred about why sports game stories are important -- when they're well done -- even though for a long time, newspapers have operated on the philosophy that game stories might be expendable or not worth much space because everyone already knows the final score.

Kindred points out what he thinks makes a game story good, and it goes way beyond the final score. He includes some tips that I think are great.

I think you can find examples of well-done game stories in our paper. Read Frank Bodani's Penn State game story from last Sunday, particularly the first several grafs. PSU's loss is immediately given a physical texture and put in the context not only of a season but several seasons.

And Frank does one thing I love -- and tried to do when I was covering Virginia Tech -- and that is, he thinks about how the fans are thinking about the game, and incorporates that into his story. It's not that he is a fan; it's that he can think from that perspective. So you get lines like: "The sold-out, whiteout crowd stood and watched, mostly muttering to themselves, trying against odds to urge their heroes on, barely believing what they were seeing." Great stuff.

Any writer on any beat should read some game stories to see the differences in why some are good and some aren't. After all, as Kindred points out, a game story should be a story, not just a recap of play-by-play. And the game is always part of something bigger than just what happens that day.

That kind of approach to any story is going to make you a better reporter and lift up your writing.