Saturday, August 13, 2005

back to basics . . .

Fine, if you say I can't write, I'll learn. Ha.

Wynford Hicks' wonderfully enlightening book 'Writing for Journalists' is just the kind of thing I wish my tutors had insisted we all read during my degree. Everything is explained with such ease, from drop-down intros to feature structure, to the use of anecdotes to variations in style, that I can't believe it's not required reading for trainee journalists everywhere. Hooray for Hicks.

As I caressed each of the 150 or so pages while commuting this week, I got to thinking. The techniques explained, using examples from nationals, regionals and trade periodicals (just to show you need to work extra hard to make B2Bs interesting) aren't employed in game journalism.

They just aren't.

Things like what I just did there. Hicks advises against such posturing. I agree. And yet game journalism is over populated with this very same technique, as if making a statement of defiance that's simply not required. It's as if game journalism is sticking two fingers up at mainstream writing when they would be better employed turning the pages of Hicks' tome.

Simple things like employing narrative or anecdotes in feature intros. Hicks provides an example:

'According to a Chinese legend, a rich man commissions an artist to draw him a picture of a fish. Years pass by and the rich man grows impatient. He visits the artist and demands the picture or else he will cancel the deal.

The artist then proceeds to draw the most exquisite fish of all time, in a mere 30 seconds. The rich man is well pleased but intensely puzzled. 'If you can produce something so beautiful in 30 seconds, how come I had to wait seven years?'

The artist does not reply but instead leads the man over to a large cabinet which he opens to reveal several thousands of practice skethces of fishes.

The Boat Race is similar to this . . .'

Daily Telegraph

I've never seen an oblique intro, using a story, as well as this in game journalism. While it slightly concerns me, I understand it. Most game writing is for male gamers, who don't care about journalistic techniques when they read the latest GTA preview. Why make the effort?

And it certainly takes a particular skill to write entertaining and compelling reviews and previews for teenage boys, especially when you only have 250 words to play with. I don't even think I can do it brilliantly myself. But I'm not interested in that kind of game writing. I'm interested in game features, and from what I've seen, professional techniques, hell, even the lateral thought that goes into mainstream feature writing, just isn't there on the web or in print.

So, I reckon, wide-eyed game journos-to-be should learn from people like Hicks and employ these amazing techniques in their game writing. You'll stand out from the millions of other prospects and really set yourself high standards.

I see a future when game writing is of a standard of the Guardian's best feature writers, or the quality of the Independent's columnists. Game features, perhaps discussing the latest online commmunity phenomenon, or an interview with the latest up and coming developer, will have intros to die for, will have a structure than inspires and an ending that sticks in the memory like a fond childhood smell. I can already see these techniques slipping into some game writing outlets. The beginnings of this future is already upon us.

If you read the nationals, even words from Big Issue, NME or Maxim, you notice something. If you deeply analyse them, work out why you enjoy a particular sentence, why certain words make you smile, or other phrases roll of your minds tongue like a child sliding down a water shute, you'll understand what I'm talking about. As far as I can tell, it's not a problem doing it, it's just realising why you're doing what you're doing. Hell, if I can do it, anyone can.

I can't think of a good enough pay-off. Check back later after I've looked it up in Hicks.

1 comment:

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