Martin L. Shoemaker

Horrortree – March 18th, 2024

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How to go from writing short fiction to long:


A short story is generally about one crucial event, possibly the most important event in that character’s life, and how you get there and what happens as a consequence. It’s a vision you can generally fit in your head all at once. You can concentrate and focus down as small as a single incident.

A novel almost has to be about a series of events. They might lead up to the single crucial incident (or follow it), but each event should also be worthy of a story in its own right. There should be challenge, build up, confrontation, and consequence; but then the consequence of one event should be or lead to the challenge of the next event.

Or maybe not the next. Maybe some future event, with another storyline with other events in between. A longer work has more room for multiple storylines, switching between them in a metaphorical juggling act. That lets you create tension in one storyline and then keep the reader in suspense as you switch to another storyline.

That’s a lot of words because it’s a big topic, and “fuzzy”. So I’d like to end with one very specific technique: Add more characters.

  1. Look at a challenge your protagonist faces. Who else is concerned by that challenge? Do they see it the way the protagonist sees it? Or do they see it differently? Maybe they caused the challenge or benefit from it.
  2. As the protagonist’s challenge builds up, does it draw in new characters?
  3. When the protagonist confronts the challenge, does someone help? Is someone injured or affected by the confrontation?
  4. In the consequences of the confrontation, do we find new characters who are drawn in?

Once you have identified new potential characters, can you identify challenges for them? How do those challenges build? What are their own confrontations? What are their consequences? Look for ways to tie the character’s storyline in to the protagonist, and vice versa. Then repeat, looking for yet more characters.

You don’t have to explore all of these side storylines, but they’re out there, giving you opportunities. They’re potential. There’s mathematics to show that every new significantcharacter doubles the potential storylines. You won’t use all of that potential, but you can pick and choose to build a longer story.