Too much of a good thing

Last week I worked on the outline for Episode Two which I have given the working title A Decade of Death in the City of Angels. What seemed like a no-brainer of a podcast topic for a true-crime junkie like myself has turned into an experience that feels vaguely like mixing too many sweets and coffee on an otherwise empty stomach. But for my brain.

As I was scouring my notes looking for bits and pieces to add to my outline I realized how dizzying this topic can get. How many times can my eyes scan the words “corpse” or “bodies dumped” or “assaulted” before my brain says ENOUGH? This “too much of a good thing” response came as quite a surprise because I spend so much of my time consuming true-crime content. But it seems like there is something different between glossing through a podcast or TV special and reading the names of these victims and the acts of their killers, committing them to memory, figuring out how they will fit into the storyline. It reminds me of a quote by Hemingway from his novel A Farewell to Arms: “There are many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity.” Hemingway was referring to hearing about WWI from the viewpoint of a soldier who had experienced it, and perhaps the quote is fresh in my mind because of the Episode One research that I just wrapped up, but it felt very apropos to how I’m feeling about my current research topic.

This has been a good lesson on the types of topics that I should research in the future. And perhaps it says something about my abilities as a researcher as well. Things will get hard – I will need to go deep into the selected topic to uncover the story that I’m looking for – and I need to be prepared to get tired of my topic before I know as much about it as I’d like for the episode. It will certainly be a test of the endurance of my attention span which isn’t particularly strong.

The other episode ideas that I’ve been kicking around will likely prove to be similarly large research topics. The very strangle thing about writing a podcast script to be read/performed by a single person is how easy it is to distill a large amount of research into a very short amount of airtime. While writing my script for episode one, I was certain I was looking at atleast a 30 minute podcast. But after several readthroughs, it looks like it will be closer to 15 or 20 minutes.

I looked into some basic rules for a good podcast length and the response was both what I expected and how I wish everything was:

If you have 40 minutes of good, on-topic content, and your episode lasts 1 hour, then it’s too long.

If If you have 40 minutes of good, on-topic content, and your episode lasts 20 minutes, then it’s too short.

(McLean, 2020)

So basically… the correct length for my podcast is exactly how long my podcast should be. Great. This advice makes a lot of sense, and I appreciate that this medium has so much flexibility as to what is acceptable. The other advice that McLean has to go hand in hand with proper length is that having a similar length from one episode to the next is a good plan. If you have a huge span of episode lengths from 14 minutes to an hour and a half, it could turn off your listeners. Having episodes that are similar from one to the next will let your audience know what to expect when listening to your show.

My preferred episode length is between 30 minutes to one hour, and I’d love to get my episodes to sit a bit closer to 30 minutes, but certainly not at the detriment of creating concise content. I also think there is a decision to be made about how much of my own personality and thoughts on a topic to include, which could make each episode longer, but also give it a different vibe. I’m not particularly comfortable with adding too many of my own thoughts and opinions when I’m the only host, but I’d imagine I’ll feel differently when/if I bring on a co-host.

I don’t have any artifacts to share this week because I don’t want to spoil any of the final product and I’ve mainly been working on writing and getting my recording started. But by next week I’ll have Episode One uploaded and ready for the world! That’s a very exciting and slightly terrifying prospect, but I’m ready for it.

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