Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The brave new world of 500-word stories

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - When I was in college (the first time) we had to write in those horrid Blue Books, which a few of my more Neandertal teaching colleagues still use to torture students.

But the trick we learned at Villanova was to write as fast as we could - volume mattered, not a well-crafted essay.

For writers today, forget that crap. Magazines and newspapers (and especially web publications) DEMAND precision and short pieces. And as any good writer will tell you, it's a lot harder to write a short piece than a long one.

For one of my jobs, I have to condense a very complicated legal situation into a 400-word story right now. Most of the newspapers who wrote about it, did so in a minimum of 1,000 words, and they didn't touch some of the points I'm going to have to.

Lean and mean? Lean anyway.

- The Associated Press carried a story yesterday about a couple who were cited by the police for letting their chicken cross the road. If that doesn't strike a chord, thing of any law you have that seems overly restrictive (no honking when you see the signs 'Honk for Jesus,' for example) and take a riff on it. Newspaper op-ed editors find such columns (500-600 words, MAX) irresistible.