Next! On Fox! Sportswriting Secrets Revealed!
Did you know there are six ways to write a sports story...and
only six ways? It's true! With this knowledge, and a reversible
blazer, you can be a sportswriter! Enjoy a four-figure income!
Say goodbye to personal-grooming products! See Don Zimmer naked!
Simply memorize the following secrets of sportswriting!
Pssst! In any story the most difficult paragraph to write is the
first, or "lede." The next most difficult is the last, or
"close." Thus, whenever possible, construct your story as an
"open letter." Begin with "Dear Commissioner," and end with
"Sincerely yours." Voila! You suddenly have a lede and a close.
The rest is just sandwich filling.
If an open letter proves impractical, and you're still stuck for
a lede, then by all means: Describe the sky. The sky is always
there, even when a story is not. Grantland Rice made Bartlett's
by beginning a piece, "Outlined against a blue-gray October
sky...." This told readers of the New York Tribune three things:
1) It was October, 2) there was a sky and 3) it was blue. And
this is the most famous sports lede ever written!
Welcome to a world without standards!
Which brings us to Trick No. 3: It's easy to list things, people
like lists, and most sports stories are little more than very
long lists. Lists can pose as questionnaires ("Is Jumbo Elliott
too Big for His Britches? And Six Other Training Camp
Questions"), masquerade as chronologies ("Monday, 1:17 a.m.: The
Stars arrive in Dallas") or dress themselves up alphabetically
("An A-to-Z Guide to Augusta"). Many stories, you will find, are
more bullet-riddled than Bonnie and Clyde's sedan.
A bullet [--] can be used when you have:
--Nothing to say.
--Very little to say.
--Not much of anything to say.
But make no mistake: These are all lists, in one form or
another, and lists save you from the time-consuming task of
writing artful transitions between paragraphs.
Indeed, another trick of transition writing is to use the word
"indeed." It means nothing, and makes you sound literate.
Also: One-sentence paragraphs are dramatic.
A line of white space also provides the illusion of drama. And
like the one-sentence paragraph, it has the attendant benefit of
eating up a line, an important consideration because freelance
sportswriters are paid in one of three ways: 1) by the inch, 2)
by the word, 3) by Julius Erving.
Which reminds me: Save joke templates in your computer. With the
touch of an F7 key, you can summon a timeless construction such
as this one: "[Team/athlete] has more [nouns] than [tired pop
cultural reference]." Then, simply plug in the relevant details:
"[Albert Belle] has more [hate mail] than [Jar Jar Binks]."
What's that smell? I know: a Pulitzer Prize!
But first, you'll have to write a close. The most expedient way
to close any sports article is with a "callback," in which the
end of your story makes a sly reference to the beginning. Thus,
if your lede was, "Cal Ripken is an Iron Man," your close must
be, "The Orioles don't have an Iron deficiency." Congratulations
and welcome to the "profession"!
And remember: You didn't get these secrets from me. In fact, eat
this column. You're a sportswriter now. It's the last fiber
you'll ever get.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO