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Making the Move from Short Story Writer to Novelist

Updated on January 19, 2014

As a fiction writer who started out as a short story writer, I understand how hard it can be to make the change from a 2000 word story to a 50,000 to 100,000 word story. I understand that it is not always an easy choice. It can feel scary, it can be daunting but more frequently, it can be frustrating. For the short story writer, it can be extremely hard to even imagine writing a much longer story, often times it can feel like it has to be ‘stretched’ to get so long. Luckily I have been through this situation and I came out of it knowing a lot more, and writing much longer stories. Here I will share with you some simple tips on the matter.

What’s the difference between the two?

The difference between a short story and a novel can feel huge, and many times it is. Novels often have a different structure and different dynamic to them. When writing longer than a couple thousand words you need to have a clear view of your beginning, middle and end, whereas when writing a short story that may not be so important.

Apart from the length, the depth of the story is also very different. When writing a short story you will simply skim the surface of an idea, with a novel you get the opportunity to delve much deeper. You can explore an idea in and out. This is why I think novels are ultimately stronger than standalone short stories.

The Snowflake Method

Planning can be an extremely daunting thing to do, it can be hard to know where to start. For those who would rather use a tried and trusted system of planning instead of just improvising, I would suggest using the ‘Snowflake Method’.

  • To start all you need to do is write a one sentence summary of your story. Take as long as you need.
  • After that you convert your one sentence summary into a one paragraph summary (a little like a blurb but much more in depth and with a few spoilers).
  • Then you separate that summary into three parts, the beginning, middle and the end.
  • Now elongate each individual part of the summary. So for instance change the part of the summary for the beginning into something longer and more descriptive.
  • Separate the summaries in the beginning, middle and end into different chapters. So you may have three chapters in mind which you think encompass the middle, if so that means you split up that part of the summary into those three chapters. Make the summaries for each chapter a little longer.
  • Then change the summary of the first chapter into an actual chapter. So instead of just having the summary there, you actually start to write the first chapter.
  • Do this for all the other chapters until you have finished writing your story.

Planning

For me this is the easiest part of writing, but I know for others it is the hardest. Whether you like it or not, planning is at the cornerstone of a successful novel. It is like a map around a city, you need it to help you navigate, to help you get around your story. It tells you how to get from point A to point B. When I wrote short stories I would write extremely thin plans, just for a reminder of where I should be in my story. When writing something longer I noticed that this system did not seem to work so well. I noticed I needed something a little more in-depth. For anyone starting out writing a novel I would say that the thicker your plan is: the easier it is going to be to write your story. That being said no plan needs to be set in stone, if you want to change something feel free to change it. You do not need to be a slave to your plans it’s just good to have one so you know what you are doing.

Editing

Though some find planning hardest part of writing, I find editing monumentally harder. Ideally when you finish writing a story you should be able to sit around and relax, but in actual fact you are not finished until you have edited it. Editing includes proofreading, altering narration and altering dialogue, often it also includes writing a second ‘draft’ (more on that later) and even deleting whole chapters. In my opinion it is just one big drag, but without it your story would never be 'polished'. It would be one big mess. Editing a novel is a lot similar to editing a short story, the main difference is that there is lot more of it to edit.

The First Draft

Writing drafts is often a very foreign concept for short story writers. When you write a short story you can just write it and with a little editing it would be finished, writing a novel is not as simple. Most writers write a first draft and a second draft (the first draft is always easier). So whats the difference between the two? The first draft is not as strict as the second. When writing the first draft you do not need to worry about editing, all you need to do is just write. The first draft is often seen as a very messy interpretation of your story. It can be disjointed and confusing, which is perfectly fine because it is just the first draft. It is the first time you have ever written the story. It’s expected to be a little messy.

What was the maximum number of drafts you have ever written for a story?

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The Second Draft

And then there’s the second draft. The second draft is where you look at the first draft with a critical eye. You explicitly look for the problems it had, make notes, and then write it all over again but with corrections. The second draft is where you make very little mistakes. You made all the big mistakes in the first draft, now it’s time to write something a little ‘better’. The second draft will still need to be edited though, but hopefully it shouldn’t be as much editing. If it still feels like you are doing a lot of editing you may want to consider writing a third draft; it’s not unheard of. It’s not very different from writing a second draft. You shouldn’t be concerned if you feel you need to write another draft after the third, some people write more than six drafts for a story.

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    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      The first draft is just for me. The second draft fills in the transitions and sub-stories (I hate the word plot). The third draft if for my English teacher (commas in the right place, verb tense agreement, etc.)

      Don't worry if your first attempt in along the Nicholas Sparks lines. There is nothing wrong with shorter novels.