Develop voice by describing more

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Nice story by Jesse Baumgartner on North Carolina’s victory over Duke last night in the Daily Tar Heel. Solid writing. But a comment or two from the opposing team elevates stories like this. Still, good job. … David Ely’s game story chronicles North Carolina’s fourth straight victory in Durham. Pretty amazing.

I would have enjoyed a much longer story, though, with a few more examples and an extended story line. This writer did a really good job focusing on the bench [Williams even ditched his jacket with 12:31 remaining as the two rivals braced for the game’s stretch run.], offering analysis [Time after time, a Duke guard peeled off a screen and found a wide-open lane for two points. That formula fueled a 14-0 Blue Devil run that turned an eight-point UNC lead into a six-point advantage for the Blue Devils (20-4, 7-3).], and including comments from a Duke player [“In the second half, we kind of had the mindset that we were going to outscore them,” Singler said. “But you’re not going to outscore Carolina.”].

I wanted to read more because of these insights. I wanted more descriptions of key moments and key plays. For instance, this writer states:

As play resumed in the second half, the score tightened and emotions flared.

Kyle Singler, who led Duke with 22 points, was flagged for a technical foul, and it seemed as though every rebound resulted in at least one player crashing to the floor.

And later he writes:

On offense, North Carolina turned to its stars to control of the game. Ty Lawson attacked the hoop, and Hansbrough asserted himself in the paint.

Show me how Lawson attacked the hoop. Describe how Hansborough asserted himself down low. Select a play to illustrate this. Describe Hansborough’s footwork. Did a Duke player try leaning against him? Did this opponent grimace or hook his arm around Hansborough’s waist? Did Lawson drive straight to the hoop, even when two players blocked his way? Describe how he moved to the basket to score. Fans want these details, something they cannot get elsewhere.

Fans can get some quick-hit highlights on SportsCenter, the local TV station, or the Internet, but they cannot always see the minute details that define a moment. Description reveals voice. [Too many writers believe voice means screaming ‘prime time, baby’ or some other colorful, but meaningless, phrase. You can build voice best by carefully selecting the most appropriate details from a game or for a feature story.]

Yet, do not rely on adjectives and advebs to replace nouns and verbs. What do the following phrases really mean in a Duke Chronicle story?

  • slashed through the lane at ease
  • penetrated past Smith for a layup
  • capping his career performance with a breakaway dunk

Can you visualize slashed? How exactly did the player penetrate? Why not offer a further explanation of the breakaway dunk, such as “he capped his career-best performance by racing downcourt for a dunk, hanging on the rim just long enough to survey the impact this shot had. Duke’s players hunched their shoulders and exhaled, realizing the game was over. He smiled and released his grip on the basket.”

In addition, Ty Lawson was called patient in the story. How so? It’s never shown.

Writing game stories on deadline is challenging. The Duke Chronicle’s sports writers do a pretty solid job, something I’ve noted here before. Adding more specific details can help.

Leads should address points that are obvious, introducing a theme that is clear and appropriate. In this game, the lead could have addressed the perspective of a Duke senior who failed to ever defeat his school’s biggest rival at home. That storyline could be compelling. This lead was a bit forced, that players or fans might burn the stadium down for losing four in a row to the Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor.

Duke’s bonfire permit may have been revoked, but it was No. 3 North Carolina which ensured the No. 6 Blue Devils wouldn’t be burning benches anytime soon.

This time, though, it wasn’t Tyler Hansbrough who extinguished the Cameron Crazies’ pyrotechnic dreams, but rather, Ty Lawson doing his best impression of an NBA star.

Lawson, who scored 21 of his season-high 25 points in the second half, keyed a 14-0 Tar Heel run to help them erase a halftime deficit and run away from Duke 101-87 Wednesday in Cameron Indoor Stadium. It was North Carolina’s fourth straight win in Durham.

Still, this story has far more positives than negatives. Cohen is a hard-working, talented writer who digs into his beat. Check out his work.

Don’t let travel prevent local coverage. The Sooners throttled Baylor 78-63, but the newspaper filed an AP story. Even if the staff could not travel to Texas, they could have taken notes while watching the game on TV and/or radio, used some post-game comments, and filed a story. They could have also scheduled a phone call with the Sports Information Director or asked that post-game comments be emailed. … Here’s the Lariat’s coverage of the game, a quick overview of Baylor’s loss to No. 2 Oklahoma.

The Daily Orange’s Jared Diamond breaks down a few play sequences in reporting Syracuse’s loss to Big East rival Connecticut last night. I’d make one suggestion for the following, lead, though:

STORRS, Conn. – To Kristof Ongenaet, one sequence epitomized what made Syracuse’s 63-49 loss to No. 1 Connecticut Wednesday night so frustrating.

With about 13 minutes remaining and the Orange trailing by just four, Ongenaet, the SU forward, made a steal, creating a fast-break opportunity. Point guard Jonny Flynn had a layup attempt. He missed. Center Arinze Onuaku, backing the play up, had a layup try of his own. He missed. Another offensive rebound led to a 3-point attempt for shooting guard Andy Rautins. He missed, too.

On the ensuing Huskies possession, UConn guard A.J. Price was fouled shooting a 3 and hit all the free throws to give his squad a seven-point lead. It would never be closer again. Syracuse had three attempts to cut the deficit to two points, including a pair of layups, and no points to show for it.

Missed opportunities plagued the Orange all night. Syracuse had the lead for much of the first half, but was never able to maintain a consistent rhythm. A silly turnover here, a blown fast break there, all of which seemingly unimportant individually, but collectively made quite a difference.

Make the bolded line [Missed opportunities…] the first line in the story, a statement that gives the original opening sequence more perspective. Then focus on Kristof Ongenaet’s frustration. Nicely done, though.

-30-

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