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May 11 / King Kaufman

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports on writing: Make me see it

Dan WetzelDan Wetzel, one of the best sportswriters in the business, can sum up his advice for writers in two sentences: “Get it right. Make me see it.”

Wetzel, who is a general columnist for Yahoo Sports, is one of the best sportswriters in the business, in my opinion. He covers all of the major North American sports, plus the odd minor one, with insight, clarity and wit. He’s a pleasure to read, but he’s also someone whose opinions I seek out whenever there’s a controversy. I know he’ll have a smart take on it.

Wetzel is the co-author, with previous advisor Jeff Passan and Josh Peters, of the book “Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series.” He’s also co-written two books with college basketball coaching legends, “Glory Road” with Don Haskins and “Runnin’ Rebel” with Jerry Tarkanian.

Here’s his advice to writers:

I have two short sentences that provide two pieces of advice that I first heard when I was an intern covering cops and courts at the now defunct Indianapolis News — which boastfully billed itself as “The Great Hoosier Daily.”

Get it right. Make me see it.

The first one is simple. There’s also a reason it’s first. Accuracy is everything and that’s what you should strive to do every single time. Reporting can be confusing, mistakes happen and no one has ever batted a thousand. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Make me see it is a lot like Wright Thompson’s advice on “scene” but it can extend even broader. Not everyone can be inside the winning (or losing) locker room to get that poignant moment. Still, they can make me see something.

As a writer, you have to bring something to the table for the reader. Anyone can have an opinion. Anyone can recap breaking news in the same common way. No one is going to read that consistently. People want information.

So what can you do differently? Make me see it: What happened, why it happened, how it happened, what it means. Can you further the story with additional reporting? Interviews, documentation, fact checking, original thoughts or, indeed, scene.

I’ll give an example on something I never write about — advanced baseball statistics. I was once the sheep that thought batting average, home runs and runs batted in were the most important stats even though it meant rock solid baseball advice such as “a walk is as good as a hit” was marginalized. I just never thought that deeply about it.

Obviously others did and through their excellent research and explanatory ability, they changed how I see the game.

That’s making me see it.

  • Brandon

    Good advice!