How long is long enough?

Even in the age of fleeting attention and endless scrolling, some stories still need to be longer than a tweet.

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Story length tips

How long should my story be? I get that question all the time when I’m working with writers and editors in organizations.

Is 800 words too much? Is 250 too little? What’s the magic number? Writing good stories is hard enough; communicators want rules.

That’s when I look at them very sagely and offer the kind of exasperating advice that would make even a Zen master wince.

The story should be as long as it should be.

As the Buddha tells us: “Nothing ever exists entirely alone. Everything is in relation to everything else.”

Irritating.

But in this case, the Big Buddhanski is right: There is no rule, no magic number, for how long a story should be. The deeply unsatisfying answer is, well, it depends.

We write stories for different reasons: to inform, to enlighten, to entertain, to persuade. Those are very different objectives, so to assign an arbitrary number, say 300 words, to all of them doesn’t make much sense.

I know what you’re thinking. We live in a time when the human attention span, at eight seconds, falls one second short of the goldfish. Everything has to be short, really short, with lots of bullets or lists. If not, our minds begin to wander, and our itchy thumbs go into hyperdrive, scrolling past one Facebook post to the next.

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