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Writing Tips

Coach's Corner: Kevin Sylvester

To inspire you as you compete in the Canada Writes Literary Triathlon, we're running tips on the art of sports writing all week. From the author of Sports Hall of Weird and former CBC sports broadcaster, some specific triathlon-related wisdom, and why Quidditch leaves him cold.

"1. Warm up. Just like an athlete, you have to get your brain muscle loose and ready before you write. Play some word games—like trying to describe grass without using the words green or lawn. Also, read a bit of a book or story you love right before you start writing. It’s like watching game film right before you get ready to compete.

2. Use active verbs. Athletes DO. They’d don’t have stuff done to them. A triathlete swims, bikes and runs. A triathlete is not carried along the road by conveyance of a bike, or aided in the water by virtue of a spandex suit. What the heck does that even mean?

3. Be funny. I love writing about weird but true stories from sports. Athletes pee on their hands sometimes; puke in referees’ locker rooms; and get injured punching urinals. You don’t have to like sport to get the oddball nature of those stories.

4. Don’t be “exclusive”. Don’t write using language only twenty people in the world understand. Look for what is universal about a story. An athlete who is great, expected to win a gold medal and then trips and falls at the finish line is a universal story of tragedy, perhaps hubris and failure… or maybe triumph if the athlete gets up and wins the next time.

5. KNOW YOUR SPORTS! If you’re going to write about sports, know how they work. This isn’t just for nonfiction. One of the things that drives me crazy about the Harry Potter series is the stupid scoring rules for Quidditch. Why, exactly, doesn’t every player just chase the snitch? I can buy the magic, but hit a speedbump with the sports."

Kevin Sylvester has written numerous books on sports: Shadrin Has Scored for Russia, Sports Hall of Weird, Gold Medal for Weird, Splinters and Game Day. He is also a former sportscaster with CBC Radio, and is the author and illustrator of the award-winning Neil Flambé Capers… in which Neil Flambé competes in very sports-like cooking duels.

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