The long or short of it?

One thing struck me last night when hearing Prof John Sutherland talk about fiction and his former role as a reviewer of the London review of Books. He said that he used to produce 2-3,000 word ensemble reviews of fiction on a regular basis.

I work on a magazine that has carried out research and we used to run features of 2,000 words but apparently readers will not stick with something more than two pages long and so we have cut down our pieces to 1,500 words. That seems to be about right, particularly for fiction where as Sutherland said at his talk last night, that you can’t give the plot away so there isn’t too much you can say.

It must be an academic thing because I also got in trouble when doing an MA because I wrote my essays like feature pieces – highly readable but possibly brief – and almost failed as a result. The problem with taking that two paragraphs to a page never use a short word academic route when writing about books is that you alienate and turn-off a huge potential audience. As my old boss said to me fairly regularly it is harder to say something important with a small amount of words and to achieve that marks out a better writer.

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