Short Story writer desires to write a novel

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billyf027

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I have many short stories published but dream of writing a novel. But my mind is so programed for short stories that I keep coming up with them and I'm not able to expand anything long enough to novel length. It is hard for me to do that. Any advise?
 

Shweta

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As someone in the same boat...

1) You can't make a novel out of a short-story-sized idea. It doesn't stretch that far.

2) One useful way to think about it is: a short story is the most important single event in a character's life. A novel is the most important series of events, culminating in the most important event, of one or more characters' lives.

3) You can write a novel out of interlinked short stories, in some genres with some themes, but the overall structure has to benefit from that.
 

James D. Macdonald

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The difference (or one of them) between a short story and a novel (say I who've published about equal numbers of each, and who has turned two different short stories into novels), is like the difference between a joke and a comedy routine.

Once again, may I suggest Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms on how to do routines with rising interest curves (and much else besides)? The '79 edition (read, learned, and inwardly digested) is what turned me from a writer into a novelist.
 
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Shweta

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Oh right, I got distracted before I got to point #4, which really should have been point #1.

Have a look at the Learn Writing with Uncle Jim thread. It certainly helped me wrap my head around novels vs short stories.
 

heretic_scribe

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I progressed from short poetry to longer narrative poetry to short stories to novels. One thing I've noticed along the way is that a short story doesn't have room for all of the other things going on in a character's life or world, and it took me awhile to break out of that focused sort of writing so I could consider what else should go into the story. Once I was able to look around and consider all of the things that affected all of my characters, I didn't have any problem finding enough material for a novel. If anything, I had the opposite problem. Subplots are like rats. They can multiply and get out of control if you aren't careful.
 

tehuti88

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As already mentioned, short stories and novels are apples and oranges--you can't try to apply the rules of one to the other. Subplots have also been mentioned; they're a good way to lengthen a story, given that they actually belong in it and aren't just tossed in to make it longer. (I tossed in a subplot once to make a story longer and...OMG. FAIL.)

Another thing is character development. I suck at short stories for the very reason that I love getting into my characters' heads, really developing them and spending time on their thoughts, feelings, reactions, and interactions. If I don't do this, they feel flat to me. There just isn't as much space to do this in a short story--in fact, my short stories are only short because they tie in to my long stories so I don't HAVE to get into all that character development. Novels and longer stories allow one this luxury, to really get to know characters (lots of them, sometimes), so you can keep that in mind when trying to write a longer story.

Perhaps you should try your hand at novellas first? Don't be too discouraged if your first efforts fail. I must admit that some people just aren't meant to write novels, like I'm not meant to write short stories. :eek:
 

maestrowork

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It's only difficult if you make it difficult. You're already writing short stories, and successfully, so you already know about stories, characters, structure, POV, and all that stuff. Now, just find an idea that is more complex and full than a short story and go with it. Or expand a concept into a longer work (Palahnuik, for example, turned a short story into the novel Fight Club). And write.

Your first step, I suppose, while transitioning from shorts to novels, is to pick and think of ideas that go beyond a single event. Sometimes if you focus more on a theme, or a complete story, you will have a better way of finding that novel, then you just drop some characters into an event and let that go...

Good luck.
 

sunandshadow

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The easiest way to plot a novel is to find one you like very much, analyze it's plot, and imitate its structure, changing some details to make it original.

Also we had a thread on this topic in this forum before, perhaps searching 'short story' would turn it up.
 

Linda Adams

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I had the same problem--I did short stories for many years and had a great deal of difficulty coming up with something for longer fiction.

Important things to remember:

A novel is NOT a long short story.

Chapters are NOT short stories.

Don't pad to make word count.

Those got me into a lot of trouble because they didn't address the fact that novel writing was very different than short story writing.

You're likely to have to take yourself completely out of the short story mindset--I had to stop writing short stories because the habits were causing me way too much grief with novel writing (too many habits I was carrying into the novel).

A book you might find helpful is The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. It's actually a step-by-step guide by an agent on how to write a novel. The outline format wasn't for me, but the book did start to help me better understand how a novel should be structured. It showed me places where the subplot probably should come in and where the sudden left turns should be.

The areas you're likely to have trouble with:

Subplots. Since short stories don't have those, they may not be easy to incorporate.

Writing Long. I got used to writing short prose-wise to make things fit in a short story, so I've had to relearn how to write in a way more suited to a novel format.

Handling multiple characters: Short stories tend to only have a few characters; novels can have a huge cast, and it can be challenging trying to juggle them.

Running short: It's entirely possible you might run short. I've had to add 15K to make minimum word count. All of it, though, was legitimate additions and revisions, not padding.

A lot of it, really, depends on how much you want to do it because it is going to be a lot of hard work.
 

Feathers

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I've always written novels, but there was a point where my whole technique fell apart on me, and I essentially had to relearn how to write a novel. This is the core difference for me: In a short story, you write about a single event. An incident. One concept. In a novel, you explore a premise.

A premise is a concept that could go in all kinds of directions and turn into a million different stories - what if there were vampires, and you fell in love with one of them? That's a premise that could apply to half the vampire books out there. The kind of book you get results in how you personally explore it.

The other important thing about a good premise is that it gives you some obvious steps to work with. Take the vampire premise. You already have at least two main characters (vampire, MC) and some basic plot points: MC has to meet vampire, fall in love, discover person is a vampire. Then it has to get complicated somehow. What about rival vampires? What if the vampire is good, but others discover it, and begin a witch hunt? More plot points ensue: MC tries to hide vampires identity, vampire gets discovered, runs, perhaps gets captured, MC must find a way to help it escape.......

A good premise will make a whole novel unfold for you as long as you keep asking "what if" questions and exploring the idea. You can replace a premise with an idea or theme - what if humans all became barren - or - racism. But if you're struggling with writing a novel, I wouldn't suggest using an idea or theme as the basis of your story. It presents less starting points, which makes it harder to start creative snowballing.

I know I'm going on and on here, but let me add one final thing that should help in writing your novel. When you do come up with a premise, if you find yourself getting stuck, just start asking yourself things like: so who would the antagonist be? How could I complicate this? What's the most horrible thing that could happen at this point?

Try to find yourself a beginning (inciting incident followed by suspicions, discovery, then understanding of idea) a middle (complications, antagonist steps up, things start falling apart/going wrong, worst thing of all happens) and an end (final desperate effort, bitter struggle, succeed, aftereffects.)

Okay, I lied. One MORE thing. If you ever find yourself getting stuck or running out of ideas, find someone to talk to about your story, or even post a thread about it here on AW. Talking about it verbally will stimulate your creative juices and if you're anything like me, will help you start brainstorming all over again.

Phew. Hope some of that helps. :)


-Feathers
 

Aschenbach

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I wrote shorts for a couple of years before attempting a novel. The biggest issue I found was just scaling everything up. Most of the shorts I wrote had one MC (and even him or her was sketched rather than deeply characterised), some other walk-ons, and the story usually covered the events of a fairly short space of time.

With novels I found I couldn't get away with sketching characters, certainly not important ones that occupy lots of narrative time. I had to invent their hinterland, come up with their backstories (but then be vigilant about not including uneccesary backstory in the novel!).
In shorts the setting can be like a bare stage in the theatre, but in a novel the setting is a real place real people live in, so it has to be vivid and convincing. It needs its own history, but again only bits will make it into the actual novel.
In my shorts I would usually set a situation up, develop it, resolve it. In novels there are multiple situations happening to multiple characters. Sometimes they overlap and interact. They all have to build and work together.

For me the main problem in the short-novel transition was forcing myself to think more deeply about the story and building up stamina for the long march to the end of a 1st draft. People say it is the difference between a sprint and a marathon.
I prefer to think of it as like moving up a weight in boxing (it sounds more manly). You still use the same ringcraft, the same techniques, but just have to beef them up a bit.

Hope that helps!
 

JamieFord

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On a fundamental level, you could try to treat each scene in the novel as a short story, if only to get comfortable with writing short, connected chapters. It worked for me. :)
 

heatheringemar

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First, I think I should say "I'm in the same boat!" Hehe. Last night was the third time I had a publisher ask me if I wanted to expand a novelette of mine into a novel, and as I have been a short story writer for the last three years, I kind of cringed at the idea [never had a novel that worked, "novels" I wanted to write always turned up short, thus being a disappointing exercise in futility.... etc etc].

So, here I am. (and might I say a hearty "thank you" to billyf for starting this thread??)

Feathers, you gave me quite a bit to think about. I am wondering now if the thing that had been hanging me up all along was the difference between a "premise" and an "event." Like Aschenbach, I tend to set up a situation, develop it, and resolve it. Often, when I have an idea for a premise, I sit down and write pages upon pages of notes to whittle down that premise into an event.

Maybe I need to back off a bit in order to write a novel?

Hmm....

Great thread, guys! :)
 

Feathers

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Glad I helped somebody :) Heather, if that's what you've been doing, it makes sense that you're having trouble writing novels. You narrowed your focus so much that you had no room to explore. I would be careful about simply backing off....you don't want to have nothing to go on (unless you're naturally a pantser, which you should know by now anyway.)

I've come to believe there's a fine balance between planning and overplanning. If you don't know enough, then you run out of things to write and get blocked. If you know too much detail, you end up finishing the story too soon. My solution is to find something to write about that leaves lots of possibilities.

Like I said, take your premise, and use the base plot points it provides as your guideline. Instead of trying to figure out what exact thing to write, try to figure out what you'll write about. Don't plan a scene or even a string of scenes. Plan a course of action. Find a mission for your characters, one that will connect each of your given plot points. The mission will give you more basic steps and points, and you can keep connecting them with smaller and smaller missions.

I could give some kind of detailed example if you want. :)


Good luck
-Feathers
 

blacbird

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Do you read novels? If the answer is No, go out and bury yourself for three or four months in the kinds of novels you think you would like to write. Intersperse with those three or four unquestionably acknowledged classics, books that have value for any aspiring novel writer, regardless of genre (list of 20th-Century such works follows below).

If, at the end of that time, you continue to desire to write novels, start writing one.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
The Ox-Bow Incident, Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
Mildred Pierce, James M. Cain
Cannery Row, John Steinbeck
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
The Princess Bride, William Goldman
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess

You might not like them all, but every damn one of them will sink into your bone marrow and help you get the consciousness necessary to write a novel, if you're fated to do so.

caw
 

heatheringemar

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Feathers: Not sure what a "pantser" is, lol, but YES you have helped me immensely! I mulled over your post for a couple days and came to that exact conclusion: I narrowed my focus down to one single situation for my characters to deal with, and that was it. I was cutting a whole sh*tload of stuff that could be used to make a more interesting story. Er, novel. :D

Blacbird: Yes, I read novels. In fact, I think I read more novels than short stories, simply for the fact I have a hard time finding short stories I like. (Not too much a fan of the current "literary.") And, as someone with a B.A. in English Lit, I've read many classics. Many, maaaaany, lol. :)

So, I've started on what I hope will eventually be a novel, and so far, it's pretty fun. :) I'm finding that after writing "short" (thanks for pointing out that tidbit, Linda!), it's kind of a new skill to write "long," but I'm working at it, and my beta reader said it sounds much more like a novel, lol.

The frustrating part is, before I started focusing on short fiction (something I did because it was for a class, and because it was the first bit of creative writing to make *sense*.... [only because I had no direction, no mentoring, previously]), I think I used to think in "novel format." So, going back to that has been an interesting endeavor.

Anyhow, my project may turn out to be a novella, but I'm going to go for the gold, regardless. :)
 

billyf027

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I read books every day. I take a novel with me every where I go. My problem is that I have had a lot of success with short stories. Believe it or not, I rarely read other short stories. Whenever I start to write a novel I lose all confidence. I guess it is the fear of getting rejections after spending months writing and researching that worries me.
 

jubileerocker

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Take a bunch of short stories and drag them out to link together and involve the same people. Making the most intense to come later. Also read a couple really good books and see if anything develops
 

Ken

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...why don't you try this, man. Read some short stories that have been turned into novels by their authors to see how it might be done. I just read about one here on AW: Flowers For Algernon, originally pub'd as a short story. I'm sure there are many others. Know for a fact that many movies are based on short stories, which is fairly similar. Luck ta ya.
 

jubileerocker

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Another idea, read 'How the Grinch stole Christmas' then watch the movie, look at all the extra events, ideas, dialouge, characters, side plots, and details that were added...
 

Feathers

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Feathers: Not sure what a "pantser" is, lol, but YES you have helped me immensely! I mulled over your post for a couple days and came to that exact conclusion: I narrowed my focus down to one single situation for my characters to deal with, and that was it. I was cutting a whole sh*tload of stuff that could be used to make a more interesting story. Er, novel.

Blacbird: Yes, I read novels. In fact, I think I read more novels than short stories, simply for the fact I have a hard time finding short stories I like. (Not too much a fan of the current "literary.") And, as someone with a B.A. in English Lit, I've read many classics. Many, maaaaany, lol.

So, I've started on what I hope will eventually be a novel, and so far, it's pretty fun. I'm finding that after writing "short" (thanks for pointing out that tidbit, Linda!), it's kind of a new skill to write "long," but I'm working at it, and my beta reader said it sounds much more like a novel, lol.

The frustrating part is, before I started focusing on short fiction (something I did because it was for a class, and because it was the first bit of creative writing to make *sense*.... [only because I had no direction, no mentoring, previously]), I think I used to think in "novel format." So, going back to that has been an interesting endeavor.

Anyhow, my project may turn out to be a novella, but I'm going to go for the gold, regardless.

Great attitude :) Even if it does become a novella, that's huge progress. Good luck!

-Feathers
 
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