I’ve gone through about 10 drafts so far of my Writer’s Digest 750-word short story about the woman who travels through time. As I write, I wonder what’s the best way to approach the assignment: write, edit to 750 words and then work with what you have to create a great story or write a nice story, polish it and then edit down to 750 words.
These assignments are indeed challenging. James Cameron, who directed sci-fi classic The Terminator, once said he was forced to cut scenes he was “in love with” in order to get the movie down to a desired length. I see the same rings true in short fiction.
But of course, short fiction can be a great exercise in whittling away needless words and creating a nice, tight story. I’ve read books before and have thought afterward that they were 50 pages too long. I remember a sci-fi novel, where the author goes on for about 20 pages about creatures flying through the Saturnian atmosphere when five would’ve been sufficient. And then there’s the whole space opera where one astronaut’s wife divorces him and shacks up with her divorce attorney while one female astronaut tries to bed just about every man on the ship.
You get the point.
So, as I work on this story, I remember the stern but helpful advice Stephen King gives in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: to write well, you must read a lot. I find myself reading Harry Turtledove and Ray Bradbury-style fantasy along with suspense, sci-fi and Christian-themed books since these are the types of fiction I would someday like to write.