By Kathy Bryson
I was lucky to be one of the judges for Teleport’s recent contest, getting to read some great stories. But it was also a frustrating experience because some of those stories hinted at whole new, rich worlds. So on behalf of readers everywhere, here are some tips on how to turn those short stories into full-fledged novels.
A short story may have a beginning, middle, and end, but it’s roughly the equivalent of one scene or one chapter in a novel, usually towards the end. A novel is approximately 20 chapters with 1 to 3 scenes per chapter. You can adjust to taste, but the basic formula works to help pace the action and build suspense.
- Chapter 1 is where you’ll meet the central protagonists – Luke discovers 2 robots who drag him into a revolution.
- Chapter 5ish is where the 1stconflict or challenge arises, the pivotal point where things take a turn for the worst – Alderaan is destroyed and the Millennium Falcon is captured.
- The action will slow down after the 1stchallenge is met or the challenge moves the story to the next incident, but around Chapter 15ish, the conflict escalates – The rebels plot the overthrow of the Empire.
- That action will escalate to the climax of the story – Luke’s lucky shot blows up the Death Star – and the essential conflict is resolved.
A short story is usually the last pivotal action. Using this rough guide, we can see where to build out the background of the story into a full-length novel.
- Who are the characters? The opening scene in Star Wars tells us Luke’s background, hints at a mystery, shows us a tech / frontier world, and starts him on his journey. Where does your character come from? Where were they born, go to school, interact with their parents/friends/teachers? What action precipitated their journey to their place in your short story?
- Luke’s journey starts with a crisis, the death of his family, but along the way to the first major conflict, we also see more of the tech world, learn about a rebellion, see that kind of person Hans Solo is, and get more hints about Luke’s mystery. What does your world look like? How do people live, get along, fight, work, interact with their society? How does your main character fit in or not? What do they do that shows this?
- Resolving the 1stcrisis, or the Millennium Falcon hijacked, lead to Princess Lea’s rescue along with dialogue and action that shows her character as well as more of Luke’s and Solo’s. A bit of dialogue here, an action there, all add up to a picture of who people are, rather than one explanation at one time. How does each of your characters react to a crisis? What does each do? What do they say? What reaction do their actions spur? Note that the fun parts of the story – the rescue, the garbage chute, the wild shootouts – are not always the pivotal points, but they’re necessary to show each character’s story.By adding to each intermittently throughout the story, you build an overall picture of your world. The challenge becomes not having enough to write but keeping track of all the threads you’ve got going and staying focused on the main plot. How do the fun scenes fit the overall story? What point are they adding?
- The reaction to the first pivotal point leads to the second pivotal point – the destruction of Alderaan leads to the rebellion which leads to the final showdown. What action participated the point where your character is in your short story? Who or what are they reacting to? What was said? But don’t forget that you’ll need to tie up any loose ends. If your short story ends with a new world order, is it the ending or actually the beginning of your story?
The biggest challenge with writing a novel versus a short story is, of course, time. A novel takes a lot more time. But do your story justice. If you’ve got a whole new world brewing in there, let it out with all the rich details added in to make it real!
Giovanni Goes to Med School (Med School Series- Book 1) by Kathy Bryson
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Nice post, Kathy. If there’s one mistake I made in most of my early shorts (and in truth in a great many to this day) it was in trying to cram a novel into a short story length. And then in my first draft of a soon-to-be-published novel, packing a trilogy worth of material (with no claims as to quality) into one book. That may be my own particular failing though: I have an idea that I think will be the story arc of the whole book, and use it up in three chapters. I fear that my pacing might sometimes leave readers with the reading equivalent of that jittery feeling you have when you stumble out of the cinema after a Michael Bay movie.
Thanks, David! I agree pacing is tricky. You don’t even realize unless you study the film carefully that most of the action of Star Wars is development and the final conflict is only about a quarter of the film. There’s lots of room for individual interpretation. If you’re getting a reaction, then I’d say you’re probably doing it right!