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As the Summer Olympics begin, sports-related topics will sprint to the forefront of everyone’s attention. You might think that writing about sports is limited to nonfiction news articles and objective sound bites. And if you try to write a short story, essay, poem, or novel about sports while focusing only on the facts, your creative writing will fall flat. But with the right training (and eating your Wheaties), you can develop the skills to write about sports creatively and effectively. Here are the winning, essential elements of creative writing for sports:
Find The Human Interest Angle
This is the most important element of writing a creative piece about sports. Instead of an athlete’s statistics, readers of short prose or poetry want to know about the person: What obstacles did he or she overcome? What sacrifices had to be made? How does the swimmer feel when he loses a race? What thoughts are going through the runner’s mind as she makes that last push for the finish line? Which emotions does the baseball pitcher experience after throwing that last out?
You can write about how the roar of the crowd affects the athlete’s performance, or the silence and sadness that accompanies a stunning loss, as in “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. By capturing the personal impact of sports, whether it’s from the athlete’s point of view or that of the dedicated fans, you’ll make your writing memorable.
Writing tip: Visit an athlete’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds during your writing process for possible direct quotes or unique angles that you can use in the piece you’re creating.
Know Your Sports’ Specs
Like any good sports scout, do your research. If you try to write about a sport without having any knowledge of the rules of play, your piece will seem inauthentic. You can’t write about how a corps-à-corps affected the final results of a fencing bout if you don’t know what the term means. A piece about American Pharoah’s achievement won’t resonate with your audience if you’re not familiar with the rarity of a Triple Crown win. The more you know about a specific sport, the more you’ll come across as an expert on the subject, and your writing will have genuine appeal to the fans.
If you’re a huge fan of basketball—and, let’s say, the Cleveland Cavaliers in particular—you could learn about the history of the Cavaliers, the coaches, the players, the competition and the business around them. Then let your passion and your research inspire your writing.
Make The Call: Write In Your Voice
Often, sports writing has a journalistic tone: highlights and team standings, maybe a few points of personal opinion, and the expectations for upcoming events. So if you’re going to write a sports-centric creative piece, you’ll want to stand out from the competition. By writing in your own voice, you’ll bring something unique to your manuscript. After all, no one else can see the tennis match from your perspective, whether you’re the one swinging the racket, crouched to run for the ball, or watching in the stands.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
To improve, an athlete trains every day—whether he feels like it or not; even when she’d rather give up. It’s the same for writers who want to succeed and get their work published. You need to write and rewrite; to edit and proofread. Join a writing group, attend a conference, maybe even find a writing mentor.
And just as an athlete doesn’t let losing deter him or her from continuing to aim for the prize—don’t let rejection letters stop you from sending out your next submission. By polishing your writing skills and regularly sending out submissions to the right markets, you’ll improve your odds of creating a winning piece that literary editors and agents will be interested in.
QUESTION: What is your favorite sport to write about, and why?