Wednesday, 4 January 2017

To Make a Short Story Long

Here’s some good advice from Adrian Magson, from Writing Magazine December 2009:

How do you go about making a short book into a longer one without padding it into a soggy lump of dough?

Does it have ‘legs’?
If you are convinced about the strength of your work – that it has the ‘legs’ to be more than just a short story – you need to consider objectively what makes it so good in the first place. Is it the theme? The power of the characters? The pace of the storyline? The timing or relevance for the market? … Do you have such a genuine conviction about its quality that you can’t bear to drop it in a drawer and forget it? If so, then you have to look at ways in which you can use what you’ve already got, and build on it.

What to add, what to take away?
Any scenes added or taken out must enhance the story, not diminish it. Similarly, any new characters you introduce must add to the existing cast in a relevant and convincing manner, rather than simply cluttering up the place like discount night at the local bathhouse.

Throw in a sub-plot?
Could the storyline stand a second strand or a sub-plot, strongly related to the main events but coming from another start-point? This would allow you to bring in other points of view, with the characters coming together later in the story. In each case, you have to weave the new elements into the main story so that they are not seen as a bolt-on simply to fill up the pages… As long as your new characters or scenes don’t assume a greater sequence than your original or skew the story all out of shape, it can be done.

Introduce more oomph
Let’s pretend for the moment that your story is based on the Titanic:

Expand the human element
For example, was the engineer who built the ship working to required specifications, and is there someone, somewhere who knows otherwise? Is there somebody with a long-term plan who wants to damage the ship mid-voyage for various reasons, but goes too far, with disastrous results? Any or all of these could be fed into the mix – along with suitable back-stories, of course.

Adding more depth
Introducing these other characters, who are as closely connected to the ship as those on board (perhaps they are even on board too, and suddenly find themselves pitched into a nightmare of their own making), allows a greater exploration of the build-up to the main event. And the more points of view you have – and the very human drama involved – will give you plenty of material to ‘grow’ your book to a much more satisfactory size while retaining the quality.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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