I already posted some tips on keeping your short story from turning into a novel, but what if you want to turn that literary appetizer into a five course meal? Here are five tips to get you all the way through desert.
1. Second-guess yourself.
Some stories just aren’t meant to be 300 pages long. Some are perfect at ten, or five, or even two pages. Ask yourself if you feel satisfied after reading it. If so, leave it short. But if you want to know what happens in the story next, move on to tip #2.
2. Write forward, not backward.
If you followed the advice from my last short story post, you wrote the climax of your would-be novel, and that scene became your short story. Logically, then, you should go back and expand on the parts that lead up to that scene, right? Wrong. If you are writing just to drag out the beginning, that’s all it will be – a drag. Instead, try picking up where you left off at the end of the short story. Ask yourself what happens next.
3. Treat each chapter as its own short story…
I got this advice from someone else; naturally I can’t remember who, but it stuck with me because the idea was intriguing. Imagine a book so tightly constructed that each chapter could stand alone. No extraneous plot exposition; no wasted words. It would be incredible.
4. …But make them flow together.
No. 3 is great advice if you’re used to writing short fiction, but remember; you are writing a novel, not a collection of short stories. It needs to flow like a single story. If each chapter has buildup, backstory, climax, and conclusion, readers will feel full after only the first course and won’t want to keep reading. Experiment with the placement of your chapter breaks; try ending a chapter at its climax, and beginning the next chapter with the conclusion, cliffhanger style. Once you’ve accomplished that, it’s only a matter of flowing that conclusion into the next part of the story.
5. Read good books. [a.k.a. Writing Law #1]
Two books come to mind when I think of short stories transformed into novels, and they are both by Ray Bradbury. Each is a different take on the process:
The Martian Chronicles
Each chapter follows a different set of characters; each is complete in itself, but each is also a glimpse of a greater whole. Together, the chapters give us a “wide-shot” of the story – complete, because it shows us the big picture, yet less personal, because there is no single protagonist for us to follow throughout the whole story.
Almost the opposite of The Martian Chronicles; although each chapter tells a story in itself, they all follow the same character, and all of the chapters serve a common purpose: the growth of the protagonist. We get a narrower, yet more personal perspective; a “close-up.”
Do these summaries seem vague? Read the books! You’ll learn far more than I could ever teach you in a blog post.