Turning Short Stories into Novels

Some people are excellent short story writers.  Others are novel writers, and write only novels. There are times, however, we look upon a short story and realise there’s more. There’s more to say, more to explore, more to write. In other words, the short story demands to be something else – it wants to be a novel.
One thing to note is that not every short story can be a novel. Sometimes they just don’t work on a larger scale. And you don’t choose short stories to make them into novels – that’s like forcing an idea into being; it doesn’t work.
Most short stories work as short stories and nothing more. If there is more beyond the ending of a short story, that story will tell you. You will instinctively know that the story could be extended because the characters and the plot almost strain to reveal more. Sometimes the subplots need further expansion, beyond the boundaries of 5000 or 10,000 words, sometimes the characters push for more attention, or the plot is so deep that you know that it needs more than just a short story. There is unfinished business that simply demands you write something bigger and better.
Short stories only have a limited number of words in which to deliver a satisfactory story. They have to be concise and brief, yet they must still convey all the elements found in a novel to make the story enjoyable – plot, conflict, tension, atmosphere, characterisation, mood etc. In a novel, there are around 95,000+ words at your disposal to create a novel. That means there is room to spread out subplots, more room to explore your characters in detail and to add layers to the story and to draw out as much conflict, tension, atmosphere and mood as is needed.
So if you realise your short story needs to turn into a novel, what do you do?
Plot Expansion
If you feel you have a short story that needs that room, then the most important thing to focus on is the plot. Can it be developed and expanded? No longer confined to 10,000 words or so, it will need deeper development in order to sustain 90,000 words or more. But that expanded plot must form an intrinsic part of the story without it feeling forced. That means taking the crux of the story – whether it’s a tale of revenge, a romance or a coming of age story etc. – and creating something deeper and more complex and building more story around it.
The only way to do this is rework the story and the plot to tell a much greater story.
Addition of Subplots and Characters
A plot that’s expanded and further developed will, in turn, allow you to add more subplots. This will help you explore the story on different levels (something a short story can’t do), and further develop your characters. There’s room for extra layers to the story, which subplots do perfectly. But be aware that they must happen organically and relate to the main plot. Be sure they work for the story, not against it.
With a stronger, deeper plot, there’s room to add more problems and dilemmas for your characters, more themes to explore and yet more characterisation. It also allows you to add many more characters, which is something short stories just can’t do. But the characters must be an essential part of your expanded plot. They support the story, so don’t add characters just to make up the numbers, otherwise it won’t work.
What Might Happen?
With the plot constructed to sustain a novel length, you need to pay attention to what might happen within the story to help make this happen. In other words, what events take place to push the story forward? Short stories don’t have to worry too much about all sorts of events and incidents, because there is usually one major event that can be covered. But novels need more meat on the bones.
The structure of a novel needs an ever increasing amount of incidents and events to escalate towards the conclusion. That usually means adding more obstacles in the path of your main characters, or pushing them into corners and ever more increasing dangerous situations. This also increases conflict and emotion, just what readers want. With new events and incidents, there are also actions, reactions and consequences, which are rarely covered in short stories.
Develop the Ending
If you rework the plot to fit a novel length, then the ending will also need work, because all those new subplots need satisfactory conclusions, as will any other story threads you create.
Also, will the ending bear any resemblance to the short story ending? If not, how will it differ? Will it be a totally new ending? Just like the plot expansion, pay close attention to how the story unfolds and leads up to the end of the novel – don’t forget that it must be logical and satisfactory and never forced.  
To Summarise:
  • Examine the plot – can it be expanded and developed?
  • Add subplots to add new layers to the story, but make sure they relate to the main plot.
  • Use additional characters to tell the story.
  • Add more problems and obstacles for your characters. Create the tension and drama with dangerous situations, which means there is always more emotion.
  • Develop the ending so that it works with your new expanded plot, but make sure it works well and will leave the reader satisfied that it’s the right ending.
If you think a short story has more to give, think about how you can develop it and how you can tell the story on a deeper level; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Not all short stories are destined to be novels.

Next week: Are short stories more difficult to write?



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