I have a short story that my writing group thinks could be a whole novel. I worked hard to distill this character’s story down to its essentials . . . I can’t seem to get my head around expanding it meaningfully. I feel like I’m adding stuff for the sake of adding pages. I hear about great novels that started off as short stories. What’s their secret?
If you’re in a writers group, you may be expected to heed advice of others—that’s why you’re there, right? To listen, absorb, learn from others who are practicing this art of ours. However, I find that some will suggest revisions where revisions aren’t needed, new titles when the old titles will suffice, introduction of more tension (more screaming please!) when the story is adequately tense, etc. Now a colleague in the group—perhaps as he or she set her coffee cup down—has blurted, “Hey, this might be good as a novel, not a story?” Everyone chirps, “Great idea. You go, girl!”
I sense worry. I sense doubt. I side with you as we remember the maxim “When in doubt, remain in doubt.” In our art—fiction and short story writing—we live by hunches, what talent we are given, perhaps even the temperament that defines us—you, by nature, may color a smaller canvas. What’s wrong with that? This is you. You are not the Jackson Pollack of large canvases! You have a hunch that what you have done is a short story and will remain a short story. Are you being difficult? Are you losing an opportunity for a larger work? Probably not.
In short, if you try to lengthen the story into novel length, you’ll probably discover that it’s tough going—and, yes, those are tears of frustration falling on your keypad. My advice: recognize that the story is done. Now begin something else.
Guest Editor Gary Soto
Gary Soto is the author of many much-loved middle grade and young adult novels, short story collections, poetry collections, and plays, including the acclaimed Baseball in April and Other Stories. He’s just published the new short story collection for young readers called Hey 13! and his first e-novel, When Dad Came Back. For more about Gary and his books, visit www.GarySoto.com.