Writing for the small screen
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Writing for the small screen is a skill in much demand as attention shifts from print and desktop to mobile.
But it’s not easy. You need to be lean and efficient with words.
Rules for small screen
A provocative headline and first sentence will draw readers in.
Sentences should be short and tight. Always prune rather than punctuate.
No paragraph should ever be more than two or three sentences long.
Content should be clearly signposted with subheads. Images are helpful to engage a reader but remember to optimise them for mobile.
Stories written for the small screen should not run to more than a couple of screen lengths. 300 words is about the limit.
Break this last rule and your reader’s attention will start to flounder. If it hasn’t already of course.
Readers of content on mobile devices are a fickle bunch. There’s always another button to press or link to follow.
As a journalist I used to over work news stories, carefully crafting a beginning, a middle and an end. But then an editor pointed out few people will reach the end of your copy.
Follow the five Ws of who, where, why, when and what. Add how and you’ll never go wrong.
Examples of excellence
Traditional media brands are excellent at producing content for the small screen. BBC News, Mail Online and The New York Times are my favourite examples of the form.
There are lots of exceptions where long form writing works on a small screen but the audience will typically have an established relationship with the publisher.
I’m fair sure that Leo Tolstoy didn’t intend War and Peace to be consumed at a bus stop. But I could be wrong.
Finally proof before you publish.
This blog first appeared on Two Way Street by Stephen Waddington. Wadds is Chariman of Admiral PR and Marketing and European Digital & Social Media Director at Ketchum and President-Elect of the CIPR. He is author of Brand Anarchy and Brand Vandals; and editor and contributor to Share This and Share This Too.