The Long & Short of News Writing
I know there are people out there who can’t imagine writing short, tight narratives, just like I know there are people out there who can’t fathom wasting a single word and overwriting. I actually don’t fall into either of these camps, though, sometimes, I might wish I did.
As a journalist, I learned to write concise, tight stories that would fit in the confines of a set amount of space. Writing two columns of text meant exactly that. If I went over, the story and to be cut and cut and cut until it fit in the allotted space.
Did I ever go over the column count? Of course, plenty of times. After all, who among us doesn’t think every word we right is amazing. Thankfully I had very strong editors who could guide me back on track and also find the gems hidden among some blasé, cliched phrasing. And eventually I learned how important it was to consider what I was really trying to say and find the best way to say it and keep my writing on target. The end result were stories that may have been shorter in length, but not in their impact. (For more on what makes your writing strong, check out The Elements of Style by William Strunk & E.B. White.)
Fast forward a few years and thanks to the Internet it seems one can just write and write and write. No longer held back by word counts or column lengths, writers and would-be writers and just about anyone can pontificate on as long as they’d like. While in some cases this can be fantastic--a series on early-childhood education that I wrote for Chabad news needed all the editorial space I could get--this is a potential problem spot for writers.
On the one hand, most people today live hurried lives. No longer will they sit down and savor a story that goes for 5,000 or 10,000 words. (No, I’m not talking about a book here.) In the era of same-day shipping and one-click shopping, our patience on a whole is short -- and so is our reading style.
That does’t mean you can’t occasionally write a longer piece. As I noted earlier, some stories desperately cry out for a longer length. However, before you do write a super-long piece ask yourself what you want to say in your story and if everything you’re writing is relevant to your topic.
If it is, and you really feel there’s nothing superfluous in your writing, than ask yourself if what you’ve written is a single article or perhaps a series of article centered around a common theme or idea. If it’s the former, then consider breaking the text up into segments using subheads, which are a great writing tool that gives readers a natural break if needed. If it’s the latter, you may be doing your readers a disservice by trying to jam it all into one story.
However long you chose to write just make sure what you have to say is relevant, well-written and engaging. Ask yourself is this relevant to my main point, if it is keep it in. If it’s not, cut it out, file it away and consider it for a future story. No one said a unused tangent can’t become a salable story in its own right.
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