Derby Writing 101 – advanced shorthand

This is Part five of a longer series on writing for your local league. If you want to catch up, start here.

Well. You’re back. In the previous article, I introduced a method that allows a note-taker to quickly take snapshots of the action of each jam. This method has gotten me through an awful lot of writing about roller derby, and I hope it will help you as well.

As time passed, I found that I was seeing a lot more on the track than I had in my first two years. I somehow had free seconds as I watched the jams of a game progress. It wasn’t a lack of focus – my mind gets saturated with small details on the track. If you’ve watched roller derby in a tournament event, you probably know the feeling; you start to see what the two teams are doing, and – because the vocabulary of our sport is still gestating – you find yourself at an occasional loss for words of what particularly happened in a bout directly afterwards. I found that I could either forget the details and kick myself some days later when I was writing about a game, or I could take a stab at writing down some of the small details.

If you’re a new writer, I want to urge you to keep things simple for yourself. You don’t have to see everything the first time – indeed, you’re kidding yourself if you think you can keep track of it all. Do what you can, and refer back to these notes –  or your own method – when you’re ready to add more.

A lot can happen in the midst of a jam, and those start-of-a-jam snapshots that I wrote of in the previous article will only get you so far. The first two in this list are from that article; the rest are new.

  • Lead jammer: put a checkmark next to their name. Bread and butter. You’ll be pointing out lead jammers a lot.
  • Jammer penalty/power jam: put a circle to the right of the offending jammer’s name. Jammer goes to the box; bad news. If you know the type of penalty that they got sent out on, write it in the circle (ask your local refs for the list – the most common ones are ’4′ for four accumulated minors, ‘X’ for a track cut, ‘B’ for back-blocks, and ‘F’/’E’ for forearms/elbows). Otherwise, just draw the circle. Never guess; if you don’t see it or a nearby spotter you trust didn’t see the call, you don’t know what happened. You can always write around a foul that you know happened but didn’t see.
  • No lead jammer: write an ‘N’ on the line between the columns where you’ve written the names of the jammers. Once you’ve done so, start watching the pack. No-lead-jammer situations are often where a particular team’s pack will start to shine. These are great jams to gather names of first-order blockers from.
  • Jammer in the box at the start of the jam. Draw a circle to the left of the jammer name. A ‘captured’ or ‘stranded’ jammer is an important tactic by the opposing team if it was deliberate. Does the opposing team think that this player should stay on the track longer? Do they have enough time to jam, score, and call it off again before this jammer can leave? Take notes; this jam is going to be fun.
  • Non-lead jammer scoring. Write a ‘?’ next to the score in the column of the team that ‘stole’ points. This is worth tracking; it’s often a marker that the lead jammer or their bench coach isn’t watching the opposing jammer closely enough. If it’s a close bout, you might find yourself using these ‘?’s as a telltale that the game could have gone the other way.
  • Big moments. Put one or more exclamation marks in the comments column of the jam. Did you or the crowd find this a decisive jam at the time? Don’t lose that thought. Mark the jam with ‘!’. Maybe two or three. This will remind you, the future writer, of the times when shit, indeed, got real in the bout.
  • Lead change. In the Comments column, point an arrow at the score columns where the lead change. Lead changes are absolutely important to point out to the reader, and a quick scan in a close game will help a writer notice what’s going on. I used to mark these with ‘Take a drink’ or ‘TaD’.
  • Pack advantage. Look at the pack. Who’s got more of a pack on the track? If the number isn’t even, write an ‘A’ in the upper-right corner of the jammer name box. To be honest, this is a hard one to do consistently. If you can make it work, bully for you. It’s useful when describing a jammer’s path through the pack. A lead jam when you’ve got fewer defenders than the opposition can be a big deal.

Finally, at the end of each half, it is imperative to get the score and write it down in your notes. Do not leave the venue without the official scores. Getting this single piece of information wrong will undermine the entire process of note-taking; it’s what everyone wants to know, even if they couldn’t make it. And since you are getting those numbers…ask your league for the Twitter account privs; you’ll be able to get that information out to the fans who could not attend. Again…derby matters. Act like it does. Leave your leagues’ fans wanting to know more and thinking that they should have been in attendance.

In the next article, we’ll finally talk about writing the article itself.

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