Interstitial Moment:

Turning an old, already-published short story into a novel has many built-in problems. An outsider might think that it should be an easy task. After all, the characters and plot are  established and handy. The tone/voice is there. Just deepen and write more words, right?


I have done a lot of what the sf world calls “fix-ups,”taking an existing short story and writing a novel from it/them. Believe me, it is a much tougher problem than that.

Among the novels I have written that have come from my short stories, include: The Young Merlin Trilogy (Passager, Hobby, Merlin), Cards of Grief, Sword of the Rightful King, Dragon’s Boy, The Books of Great Alta (Sister Light/Sister Dark, White Jenna, though the third book–The One-Armed Queen was wholly new), The Pit Dragon Chronicles, and now Snow in Summer which I just turned in, and The Thirteenth Fey which I am working on and due at the beginning of June.

Here are just a few of the problems:

1. Plot. Yes, there is more plot in a novel, but that’s not the least of it. A short story plot will usually only have one twist and sometimes a dynamite last line. But a novel is never so arc-simple. There have to be curlicues and dash-backs, and double dealings, false turns. A short story plot is a carousel ride. A novel is a maze.

2. Characters. In a short story less is more. Fewer characters. A novel often has a large cast. Or at least a larger cast than the short story, and more of those characters have to be fleshed out, given back-stories, voices, other small plots or arcs of their own.

3. A single line. A short story can turn on a dime. Yes, that can be a fairy coin, but remember they disappear with the dawn. A novel is going to have a slower and more developed denouement.

4. Flashbacks, flash forwards, interstitial stuff. Sometimes it works in the short story and not the novel or vice versa. The author has to learn to let go.

5. Voice. Much the same as #4. Sometimes an entirely new voice must be used for the novel version.

One has to consider the short story simply as a starting place. Everything is negotiable, everything is up for grabs. The story still lives in its own format. But the novel has to live, too, and it may become a very different animal because of it. Love them both but do not confuse or conflate them.

Here endeth the lesson for today. Selah.

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