Monday, February 3, 2020

This Is Not About the Super Bowl

Believe it or not, it is a fact that not everyone cares about the Super Bowl. Yes, it might be the most-watched annual event in the world, but let's be honest - not everyone cares. Most of the world doesn't concern itself with American football, and within the United States, the game showcases only two of the 32 teams in the NFL. Ultimately, two fan bases have a vested interest, while the rest of the viewers are either concerned about how the score affects their office pool, how good the halftime show will be, the cool commercials, or whether the food at the Super Bowl party will be worth the effort.

So how do we find the story within this spectacle that people will want to read?

First, let's be clear: Writing a story about the Super Bowl does not mean writing about the chain of key events throughout the game. I have said this before and I'll say it again - that is called a news story, not a creative story. Yes, it explains the game and establishes a scene, but it does not create a story as much as re-creates a story. As writers, we can do so much more.

Second, there are a lot of potential stories to write about, but a writer's obligation is to find a particular story and explore that thread. The biggest mistake we make as writers is to try and do everything. We look at the game and see two young quarterbacks trying to win it all. We also see the struggles each team has gone through, how they performed in the playoffs, the effects of San Francisco and Kansas City both playing the biggest game of the year in Miami, and so on. There is the clash of cultures, the classic offense-versus-defense discussion, and who the real stars will be.

All of this does not make a story.

A story worth reading finds one point - a character, a situation, a specific aspect of the whirlwind that is the Super Bowl - and hones in on it. Usually, such a story can be boiled down to a one-word theme: friendship, rivalry, unity, etc. Then it needs some point of conflict, either between characters, between someone and their ideals, or merely one person fearing their team will lose. The theme brings in the reader, the conflict gets them reading, and the continuing tension keeps them reading to resolution. And, as you may have figured, none of these stories require an actual knowledge about football. Here are some simple ones:

  • A man goes with his girlfriend to a Super Bowl party, and while she is very excited because her team is playing, he feels awkward because he doesn't really care about football, but wants to fit in with her friends
  • Someone is with his friends, all rooting for their team, but he realizes that if their team loses, he wins $500 in the office pool
  • Two fans of opposite teams bond during the game, but it is tested in the end when one fan is ultimately confronted with his team losing

Those stories all involve the Super Bowl, all have the one-word identifier (conformity, challenge, friendship or rivalry depending on the ending), and ultimately require virtually no knowledge of football. They become stories anyone can appreciate because the stories are about human interests.

Of course, the in-game stories are just as interesting when they focus on one player, one aspect of strategy, or some particular detail. The importance is that the story targets one point and explores it in a way readers can relate to. However, I find it easier to write about the commercials during the game. The Groundhog Day commercial - awesome!

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