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Occam’s Razor: Finding the Story

September 28, 2012

Dog Ear Consultants

When I first pitched this Atlantic story, it looked nothing like this. It was longer (shocking, I know) and tried to throw its arms around many things besides this doctor’s work. It was going to be a treatise on open-source drug development, with levels on the history of Big Pharma, the machinations of the industry, the global economic picture. Lots of parts, with this young doctor tucked in as an example.

My editor waded through and plucked this out: a simple, powerful narrative. It was contained, digestible. And I had kind of overlooked it.

As a magazine editor, I struggle with trying to do too much. Not every story has to have ten levels. Sometimes it can just be a strong story—a woman running her first marathon after a cancer remission, a researcher’s accidental discovery, an alumnus who survived a plane crash. Not every front-of-book piece needs to have a crazy art concept. It can simply be a stunning photo. And not every issue needs a theme or something that brings it all together. It can just be a well-curated collection of smart, funny, informative tales that people will enjoy.

I’m not advocating dumbing down content—some of the best stories not only engage readers but will tell them a little something more about the world they live in. But there’s a benefit in stepping back from the magazine production noise—the notes, the interview tapes, the design concepts—and trying to make things a bit simpler.

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