Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Write Stuff

The first time TigerBlog tried his hand at speechwriting was back in the mid-1990s or so. It was just before the department Christmas party, and Gary Walters asked TB to come up with some joke gifts for coaches he could read.

The goal was to be funny; somewhere between the way it was written and the way it was spoken, that didn't quite happen. About halfway through, as the jokes were falling all over the place, Gary paused and threw TigerBlog under the bus, saying that it was TB who wrote them.

Looking back on that now makes TB laugh, even though he has no idea what he wrote and whether or not it was funny at all.

Since then, TB has written a bunch of speeches for other people, mostly for Walters. It's something TB spent much of yesterday working on, Gary's speech for the upcoming Princeton Varsity Club banquet.

Writing words that are to be read by someone else is different than basically any other kind of writing.

TB's favorite thing to write is, of course, TigerBlog, followed closely by 3,000-word features on either Pete Carril or the Princeton men's lacrosse program.

TigerBlog isn't sure when he first started to learn to write. His high school English teacher his sophomore year, Mr. Ridley, taught TB all about grammar, which would be along with the typing he learned from Mrs. Jacobson his freshman year the two best skills TB learned in school.

His English teacher senior year, Mrs. Danielson, was pretty good about teaching things like structure and having an intro paragraph and a conclusion. Prior to that, TB is pretty sure his stuff was a bunch of unorganized thoughts, though grammatically correct.

TigerBlog was hired in the newspaper business with no background in writing, and he remembers the first story he ever wrote, back in Sept. 1983. He was sent to cover a high school football game between Pennington and Academy of the New Church, a game Pennington won 22-0 after leading 6-0 at the half. It was Pennington's 18th straight win, a school record.

TB remembers going back from the school in Bryn Athyn, Pa., to the Trenton Times building on Perry Street, sitting down in front of a word processor and thinking "now what?"

Newspaper stories are not measured in words or pages or anything. They're measured in inches, as in the number of column inches they'll take up. TB became an expert at the 15-inch game story, something that he could write in his sleep after doing it so often.

And really, what could be duller? A few sentences of an intro. The score. A quote from a player on the winning team. Some play-by-play. Quote from the losing team. More play-by-play. Quote from the winning coach. Last sentence that takes you back to the first thought.

And there you have basically every story TB wrote about a high school game from 1983-1988.

Eventually, TB figured out that there were other ways to write, ways that might be of more interest. One of the best parts of writing for the web is that space isn't an issue. You don't have to cut your feature down to fit the space in the paper or the program or wherever. You write until you're done.

Maybe that's why he likes the blog and the features so much. You can develop thoughts at your own pace, and you're done when you're done.

He still writes a lot of game stories, and he hopefully has figured out how to make them more interesting than back when it was, say, Ewing-Hamilton boys' basketball.

But speechwriting? That's a whole different animal.

Much of what TB writes for others to read are the PA announcements for games here. The number one thing to remember is that the announcer will be reading the words and not necessarily concentrating on what they say, so the result is that it has to be written exactly how it is to come out over the mic.

Then there's the writing of an actual speech.

The PVC banquet is Thursday night. Gary has traditionally written his own closing remarks, and TB writes the intro and basically everything else - with some help from the PVC for some things specific to what they want said. Gary will take the original version of the script and make any changes to it that he wants.

It's not an easy thing to do. Gary has his own style and way of saying things, and it varies from the way TB would do it.

And then there's the delivery. TB might write a sentence or paragraph a certain way and hear it in his mind as he does; Gary might be the emphasis on different spots.

At the banquet itself, TB finds himself anticipating what comes next, and he can obviously tell when Gary goes off-script and starts to ad lib. It's a fascinating experience, to hear what you've written come out of someone else's mouth.

In some ways, it must be like songwriting. The Princeton Varsity Club banquet - music by Gary Walters, lyrics by TigerBlog.

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