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How long is too long?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Rhody31, May 12, 2011.

  1. Rhody31

    Rhody31 Well-Known Member

    That's what she said.
    I'm about 90 percent finished with a long-form feature for my bi-weekly paper. Local girl is a Type 1 diabetic and happens to be the best golfer in the state. Story is about routines - both on the golf course and in her life.
    It's going to total about 2,800 words. I read it and it doesn't read that long. I've already got nice feature art for it and it's going to be the main piece in my paper, but is it too long?
    The last time I wrote a story of this length, it clocked in around 2,300; I ended up winning an award for it.
    it's broken down into two stories; with sections going back and forth between the two. Honestly, I could have done 5,000 words with all the info I've gathered, but I'm not Bill Simmons and this isn't a magazine.
    Are my readers going to hate me, or will this work?
  2. EagleMorph

    EagleMorph Member

    Have a couple other people, even outside of the paper, who you trust to give you quality feedback do a readthrough to determine how well it flows for a general audience.

    If it reads well, length doesn't matter. Might need to serialize it or something if it's a beast, but quality, not heft, is all that matters for long-form pieces.
  3. inthesuburbs

    inthesuburbs Member

    There is no "too long" magic formula, but stories can be too long.

    Read it out loud several times to yourself. Listen for weak verbs, weak sentences, places where attention wanders.

    If you had to cut out 100 or 200 or 500 words, are you making the story tighter, or cutting out important material.

    But, especially online, there is no "too long," so long as you're holding the reader's attention. Worry about that, more than word counts, which are poor shortcuts.
  4. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    I don't go so much by word count as I do story flow. As a copy desk editor, I read until I find myself getting bored and saying "you've already told me this" or "so what?
    I've sent stories back to reporters and told them to cut it, because it dragged on. I've also run stories that were pushing 100 inches because they had fascinating story lines and plots.

    Best idea is to have someone -- preferably an editor -- read it and see how it flows. Like anything else, you better grab the reader's attention in the first five graphs and breaking up the text with photos, charts, pull quotes, subheads, etc. will make it seem not as long. But the real key is story flow. Say what you need to say and then shut up. The latter part seems the most difficult for most of us.
  5. outofplace

    outofplace Well-Known Member

    Don't worry about the word count unless you absolutely have to, but definitely get an outside opinion before turning something in of that length.

    When I was just getting started in the business, I worked part-time at a relatively small suburban paper. I was paired up with a more experienced writer to do a project. The mainbar was about 4,500 words when we were done with it. It was broken up into sections, telling little stories about the people we interviewed as a way of packaging different aspects of the story.

    The guy I worked with went over it with the SE (I forget why I wasn't there) and cut it down to about 4,100 words. It took them hours, but they were both very happy with what was left.

    Next we had to get it through the news editor because it was going to run on A1 and jump inside. He was an old-school hard-ass and he flipped when he saw how long it was. My SE just told him to read. When he was done, he said, "Damn if I know where to cut it."

    We ran it at a bit over 4,000 words and won multiple awards for it. It also helped me get a full-time job at that paper a couple of months later.

    So no, I don't believe there is some magic number that is too long.
  6. GidalKaiser

    GidalKaiser Member

    Completely agree.
  7. Della9250

    Della9250 Well-Known Member

    A story should be like a woman's skirt -- long enough to cover the subject but short enough to keep it interesting.
  8. Johnny Chase

    Johnny Chase Member

    There is no such thing as too long, but longer doesn't mean better.
  9. JackReacher

    JackReacher Well-Known Member

    2,800 words? I hope you have good editors.
  10. outofplace

    outofplace Well-Known Member

    What you should hope for is that they are 2,800 good words. Just looking at the word count without bothering to evaluate the content is too narrow-minded.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 1, 2015
  11. JackReacher

    JackReacher Well-Known Member

    Right. And a good editor will help determine how many of those 2,800 words are useful, and how many of them are useless.
  12. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    I'd try to break it up into two stories to run as a short series. 2,800 words for a feature seems too long for one athlete.
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