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less is more

01/31/2012

One of the most important things I learned from television news is that 20 seconds can be exactly how long you need to tell a story.

There’s a saying in TV newsrooms, “It takes an hour to write a 40 second script. It takes two hours to write a 20 second script.”

That process of whittling away the things you can do without became something I really enjoyed. It makes for clearer, more effective storytelling.

The danger of online journalism is that there is usually no time constraint. A story can be as long as it needs to be. But they seldom are as short as they need to be.

It’s harder to tell a story in a shorter amount of time. It’s harder to provoke emotions using fewer words or images.

But it’s the difference between a good storyteller and a great storyteller. Too often I find my stories good, but not great.

Each time I go back and look at a story I produced, I notice things that could be removed. Ways to shorten it. Ways to be clearer and more concise.

For example, take this promotional video I produced for a Wounded Warrior event in DC. The goal was to tell a story, then promote the event. I think it accomplished those goals, though not in the most effective way. I would have loved to get it under 60 seconds.

The great thing about watching those stories is that they remind me to leave more on the cutting room floor next time. I’ve made enough mistakes to realize: just when I think it’s “done,” it should probably be edited down at least another 20%.

You don’t want to sacrifice the story, but in most of these cases less really is more.

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From → useful notes

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