5 Steps to Go From Short Story to Novel Writing

Sophie Playle

Once you’ve flexed your creativity and mastered the structure of the short story, how do you then go about transferring what you’ve learned to the mammoth task of writing a novel?

It’s useful to build your storytelling muscle by writing short stories before you attempt to write a novel. A lot of novelist start out this way. But writing a novel is very different from writing a short story. How do you make the leap?

Let’s take a look at five simple steps to help you put that transition into action.

1. Understand the technical differences between a short story and a novel

If you’re going to start writing in a different form, you’re going to need to understand the nature of that form. A novel is not just a short story with an extra avalanche of words. There’s a difference in structure, depth and pacing. Understanding these differences will help you create the right kind of writing for the right form of writing. Read more about the difference between short story and novel writing.

2. Develop an idea that has the potential for greater depth

Short stories usually contain one simple conflict that forms the core of the story, and it’s easily resolved within the shorter word count. A novel must have a more complex conflict that has the potential to expand in different directions and contain deeper levels of detail while taking longer to resolve. Novels aren’t longer than short stories only because more stuff happens – they’re longer because they explore ideas in greater depth.

3. Experiment with a mixture of plot-planning and free-writing

The length and complexity of a novel make it more difficult to structure. Finding the right balance between planning your novel and allowing enough space for creativity while you’re writing it is a tricky business, and you have to find the method that works best for you.

4. Create a system to keep track of your story

Keeping track of a longer and more complicated piece of writing can also be a challenge, yet doing so will help prevent you getting lost in a mass of unstructured meandering. Useful methods for keeping track of your work include creating scene summary cards, using a spreadsheet to track scenes and word counts, using different notebooks for different types of research and ideas, or using software (like Scrivener).

5. Experiment with methods to keep your writing on track to completion

Writing a novel will test your stamina and willpower as a writer. It’s no easy feat! Working on one project for so long can become tedious pretty quickly once your initial burst of inspiration has subsided. Keep your motivation high by developing methods to help you keep chipping away at the project. You can do this in all sorts of ways – setting yourself word count goals, attending write-a-thons with your buddies, treating yourself when you reach set milestones, etc. The methods that will work for you will depend on your personality and the specific things you find challenging. Most people who attempt to write a novel run out of steam. Don’t be one of them!

If you’re a developing writer who wants to make the shift from writing short stories to writing novels, you now hopefully have a good idea how to start!

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more: liminalpages.com

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