Turning your short story into a novel

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Turning your short story into a novel

Postby stephmcgee » 02 Sep 2010, 21:06

Has anyone ever done this? I tried to search in the forums, but the search bot ignored all my terms saying they were too common so I couldn't find anything.

I wrote a short story (about 8K words or so) a couple weeks ago and the characters have been pestering me since to expand their story to novel-length. There's just one sort of big problem. My books that I've written are notorious to myself for lacking sub-plots. I think the last book I wrote only had the one subplot to deal with my MC's internal conflict. That overlapped with the romances the bloomed throughout the novel.

Now, I have the challenge of adding subplots in addition to expanding the main plot to fill a full-length book. I'm not worried about fleshing out that main plot. There are all sorts of twists that I had to abandon when writing the initial story because I didn't have the room.

There's a romance in the story that I know I could take the time to explore and let it build more slowly than it did initially. But that really only adds the one subplot.


Have you ever expanded a short story to novel-length? What were the most challenging aspects to you? Most surprising? Easiest? Any tips?
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Re: Turning your short story into a novel

Postby Quill » 02 Sep 2010, 21:28

One thing I think I'd do is check out feature films based on short stories, to see how they expanded the stories. A few examples: Brokeback Mountain (story by Annie Proulx) and Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report (stories by Philip K. Dick).
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Re: Turning your short story into a novel

Postby Margo » 03 Sep 2010, 07:44

I've had one experience with this. The outcome: I kept the characters, the world (it was fantasy), and the voice and tone of the story, but I had to change the plot. There wasn't enough room to expand. Many of the scenes remained, but they took on a new context. I did have the advantage of working with the advice of an agent and an editor about what worked and what didn't, though, so I shouldn't minimize how hard it can be to grow a short story into a novel.

My advice: don't marry any aspect of the short story. If a character/place/event/plotline needs to change, change it. Don't try to force details to work if they don't meet the basic requirements and expectations of a longer work in that genre.
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Re: Turning your short story into a novel

Postby dios4vida » 03 Sep 2010, 09:09

My advice would be to really sit down with your characters. Usually I do a full character study, filling a sheet of paper with details about the character's physicality, history, likes, quirks, etc. As I do this for all of my characters I start finding (or creating) similiarities between them, shared pasts, love triangles, jealously/hate issues, you name it. I find that spending time getting to really, really know my characters and their pasts creates subplots better than my trying to think of them.

For example, I'm building a new WIP as we speak. I have my characters, setting, and the bare bones of a plot (really it's more like a few vertebrae and a random femur) laid out. While doing my character studies I realized that my protaganist would be drawn to another character romantically, but that his best friend would be jealous. That jealousy led me to look closer at the best friend and realize there are some issues there that will affect the way he reacts to the entire plot, and from that a logical subplot - and twist - sprung up.

Other than that all I can say is good luck!
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson
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Re: Turning your short story into a novel

Postby polymath » 03 Sep 2010, 09:34

I've read projects in progress that were trying to be short to fit some word length requirement but topically were better long and vice versa. A high magnitude complication asks for long. Short stories typically have lower magnitude complications. Making a short story with just the right magnitude complication into a longer work might mean expanding the complication's magnitude or building subcomplications onto the main complication. Subplots have subcomplications relevant to the main complication. The more insurmountably complicated a complication, the longer the work asks for to address it.

Resolving global hunger, long and complicated.
Fixing a flat tire, short and not so complicated.
Becoming global hegemon, long and complicated.
Getting a job, short and not so complicated in good times, long and complicated in troubled times. Adding complications, aged out of the work force, physically handicapped, living in a rural area, no reliable transportation, outdated and nontransferable skills, the more obstacles to gainful employment, the more complications, the longer the narrative.

If complications are easy to address, they're not really complications, though a first effort to address one can appear at first blush to be simple enough. Then the first effort is doomed to fail because the complication was underestimated. But that's a discovery and a reversal built into one escalating complication. Information is gained from failure. Three refusals, setbacks, or fails, each increasing effort and increasing doubt and increasing opposition of antagonism forces and increasing knowledge of the complication. Then a climax within the narrative, where all salient information about the complication is known, outcome is most in doubt, efforts are greatest, opposition is greatest. It's a climax within the narrative setting, not necessarily a climax in reader tension, which ideally should peak after three further reversal scenes, letdowns or accommodations to failure. Then the final crisis is encountered where reader tension should ideally peak, and the denouement is realized. The final outcome of the main complication.

Ideally, all complication outcomes should be finalized for a stand-alone narrative. For a series an overarching main complication posed in the background can be left open, like the ring hasn't been destroyed, the evil overlord directing the villain of the installment hasn't been unequivocally, irrevocably defeated, the desired goal of the quest not achieved, the lovers haven't requited their relationship, etc.
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Re: Turning your short story into a novel

Postby stephmcgee » 03 Sep 2010, 19:43

Thanks everyone. Great food for thought. I'll be taking my time at developing this one out. I know that I need to deepen the problems and make motivations and situations more complex. I want to do it. As I wrote the story I kept thinking "If this were a novel, I could do it this way," but writing it the less complicated way because of the space constraint.
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Re: Turning your short story into a novel

Postby stephmcgee » 24 Oct 2010, 08:24

I'm now going to advise against turning a short story into a novel.

I am in complete and utter hate with my story in its novel-length form. I loved it to pieces when I was writing it as a short story. Now, not so much.
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Re: Turning your short story into a novel

Postby bcomet » 24 Oct 2010, 10:16

I have the opposite problem going on...

Now that I've gotten really comfy stretching out in novel length,
I'm having total blockage in how to write a fulfilling short story.

(my attempts feel more like scenes to me lacking plot)

any advice for going in the opposite direction?
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Re: Turning your short story into a novel

Postby stephmcgee » 24 Oct 2010, 10:26

It's possible that you have too much going on in the story to make it short. The thing with short stories, far as I know (and I' a relative n00b when it comes to them), is that it's the story boiled down to its essence. There aren't extraneous subplots. Just the main complication and your character overcoming that. But I'm not an expert at short stories as I've only written 2 in recent memory. And neither were very much on the short side. (One was 8200 words, the other roughly 17K.)

Writing is a tricksy thing in that each time you start a project, new complications and problems arise that you thought you'd never encounter because of how far you've come as a writer.
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Re: Turning your short story into a novel

Postby Quill » 24 Oct 2010, 10:27

bcomet wrote:I'm having total blockage in how to write a fulfilling short story.

(my attempts feel more like scenes to me lacking plot)

any advice for going in the opposite direction?

1. Relax

2. Read some short stories
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Re: Turning your short story into a novel

Postby polymath » 24 Oct 2010, 11:23

Short narratives have narrower scope than long narratives. They take place in a shorter span of time, in a closer setting, among a more limited number of characters experiencing a more limited number of closely related events, a single narrative point of view, and have only one comparatively high magnitude complication to address. Let's see, that's setting, plot, idea, character, and event (SPICE) wrapped up in a small package.

One principal difference between a short story and a long narrative is how crucial unity is. Theme is most influential for unity's sake and essential in short narratives. The theme of the micro fiction story below is perhaps personal loss.

The shortest ever, most critically acclaimed, published short story is Ernest Hemingway's "For sale: baby shoes; never worn." Six words, three punctuation marks; many short story titles are longer. It has a beginning, a middle, and an ending, a theme, SPICE; an outcome in doubt until the ending, an effort to address a high magnitude complication, an opposition of antagonism's forces, a climax when all salient information about the complication is known, and a transformation. One setting, a newspaper classified ad; one plot, that of a desire to share grief and through sharing find closure; one idea, personal loss; no characters, per se, though parents and an expectancy of a child are implied; and one event, an item's sale, though other events are implied. And much else is implied and open to interpretation.

Hemingway's mircroshort-short narrative illustrates how a short story implies meaning in a few, well-chosen short phrases by benefiting from readers' creative vision contributions. Interpreting that story could take thousands of words that wouldn't have nearly as much impact. Short narratives require an economy of words, so that the words must do mutliple duty.

The plot shape of a short story is no different from a novel or a saga.

Introductions
Inciting crisis
Rising action
Climax
Tragic crisis
Falling action
Final crisis
Denouement

Picking apart a short story for locating those benchmarks is a good critical path process for learning how any given author accomplishes a fully-realized short story. Hemingway's "Baby Shoes" is one of my test bench stories I use for that purpose. If the poetics theories I've studied and my own fit it and fit something more daunting, like James Joyce's Ulysses, I've satisfied myself I'm on the mark for using them for writing and rewriting and revision and critiquing purposes.
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