I’ve gone through twenty or so drafts in my 750-word assignment for Writer’s Digest. The assignment is about a woman allowed to travel through time to change one thing she regrets. It’s been an interesting experience: using the Strunk and White adage of omitting useless words.
I’m basing the story on where I went to college, Pensacola Christian College. Some of the characters in the story are based on people I knew, but upon advice from my creative consultant, the lovely Mrs. Zowie, I have changed the names. Nothing bad, though.
Hard to believe I finished at PCC in 1995. Seems like a lifetime ago. I started off there as a commercial writing major but changed to history with an English minor. I wrongly thought at the time I didn’t need a major with so much graphic design. If I had to do it over again at PCC, I would’ve double majored in English and commercial writing.
My creative writing teacher at PCC–Miss Ann Raymond–was a big fan of Strunk and White. I am also, although as a disciple I fail from time to time.
If you’d like great writing advice, here’s where Strunk and White can be found online.
I have 750 words to work with. All I can say about the story right now is that it involves a character who’s loosely based on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.
The story has gone through many revisions, and that’s the subject of this blog posting. You know how Strunk and White talk about omitting “needless words”? It’s really amazing–several revisions have involved getting down to 750 words after a rough cut of around 1,200. But even once I got down to the 750 range, I’d still find phrases that seemed superfluous. And by eliminating them, it allowed me to add more to the story as a whole. It made me think that if the story had a 2,000-word limit and I wrote a version at 1,800 words, it would still be best to read carefully to tighten up the loose spots. You know…don’t take five paragraphs to describe something when three will do just fine.
I am reminded of a science fiction novel I once read, or at least tried to read…it devolved into a smutty space opera and must moovvvved….wayyy…tooo….slow…For instance, there was a scene where the author described these alien beings flying through the atmosphere. He spent 20 pages describing their flight patterns. After five, I was bored and ready to move on to the next sequence of events. Maybe I’m slow or unsophisticated, but I just felt the pacing was dreadfully pedantic.
I was reminded of my short story assignment this week as I worked on New Year’s column for the paper I work at. Again, many revisions, along with shortening, tightening and even some deleting of segments deemed irrelevant.
I love long, flowing stories, but I think it makes for well-crafted writing when you make sure your story doesn’t put in needless words.