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Is your short story begging to be a Novel?

March 25, 2009
Old book bindings at the Merton College library.
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As a writer of short stories and flash fiction, I have had the flashes of much larger and complex worlds and relationships than described in the scant story I had just created.

I am certain that I am not alone with the experience of having characters either argue or beg to allow their story to be told. Following, is compiled some tell tale signs that your flash fiction or short story is attempting to flex its literary muscles and overgrow your files and time and demand to become a novel.

1. Your short story just isn’t.

As Jodi this week points out there are two basic types of short story which are growing with popularity – the flash fiction – 200 to around 1000 words and the more traditional short story of up to 10 000 words. Most magazines or journals will not run stories longer than this; should you be looking to be published in the ‘mainstream’. Another factor to consider – especially with the internet – most people only have the patience or time to read up to 2000 words on a screen. If your story has been edited and cut to the bare minimum and still over runs this word count, you have a novel in disguise.

2. Time frames are too long.

Most short stories happen in a very short time frame – often a moment in time, a morning, over a few days or weeks at the very most. Although there are no specific rules with this, its generally accepted that most short stories don’t cover years of a characters experiences. If the reader is required to understand huge swathes of back story about each character and the years it has taken them to connect with others and come to the specific point your story is set, you have a novel in the making

3. People want to know more.

The most convincing way to discover your short story is desperate to be a novel is by having your raving fans – or in that case – someone – ask you when the ‘rest’ of the story will be revealed or published as a book. Before rushing out and expanding your short story, it might be prudent to do a little research or gain feedback from others on the acceptance of this storyline as a novel. Just because your Mum liked it, might not mean that you will have hundreds of strangers willing to purchase your book.

4. Originality

If your story is truly unusual, or has an original or a completely fresh take on an event, then perhaps it need expanding and allowed to become a novel.

5. Character Overload

If too many characters are needed to explain events or have complex relationships which cannot be whittled down to 3 or 4 at most – then this is a sigh your plot is that of a novel – rather than a short story.

6. The theme has not been fully developed.

Most short stories focus on fully exploring one theme, where its message clearly communicates to the readers throughout the story. If your story begins to branch off into a variety of unrelated themes, you either need to separate them and write separate short stories or look at producing the plot in a larger format.

7. You can’t stop working on it.

If you are excited and passionate about the characters and the plot, then it is likely that your readers will too. You don’t need to like your characters, nor always agree with their choices – but if they are interesting and sustain your attention – then keep writing your novel. If you can live, eat and breathe your characters for months at a time, without getting bored or tired of them, then it may be likely that your audience will enjoy the journey as well.

If you are fortunate enough to be inspired to continue telling the stories of your characters, then go with that, rather than torture yourself creating prose built around a structured theme and setting….just write…..and enjoy!

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  1. March 25, 2009 5:37 am

    Some good points to consider and I have one short story idea in my mind that I’m questioning whether or not it could be a novel, though they wrong reason for me leaning toward the short story is that I don’t have time to start working on yet another novel idea.

  2. March 25, 2009 9:54 am

    This is my first time reading your blog and this post is meaningful to me. I just started writing flash fiction stories a few weeks ago and have wondered how writers know when (whether?) they should be writing longer pieces. I happened to write four stories set in a single location, and I will probably go back to that location and write more. I can’t help but wonder if that is another indicator that this setting, these characters, belong in a novel.

  3. March 25, 2009 6:21 pm

    Sounds entirely possible Jen! I get really excited when I realise there is more to a short story. Or that there are a series of short stories spiking out from one particular idea.

    I know where you’re coming from Benjamin. With two unfinished NaNo manuscripts in my top draw and so many ideas bouncing around, and current projects to keep tipping over – it always seems criminal when characters are revealing much more than you expected.

    I’ve recently asked the Universe to lengthen the time of each day – so there’s 24 hours to write and 24 hours to do all the other stuff life demands. Not sure how that will go though 🙂

    I think also that perhaps also because fiction is getting shorter rather than longer – that perhaps characters are sometimes demanding more of an audience than their 500 word nano second. A story is considered ‘short’ up to about 9000 words (usually around 7500 for sci fi) – and damn there’s a lot you can write in that framework compared to 500! I wonder sometimes as much as flash fiction is fun – whether we’re losing roots to longer pieces of work still within the short fiction paradigm?

    Great thought provoking post Annie! I’m sure my characters will be using it as a counter argument for getting more of my creative time … see them waiting at the green room door, foot tapping, printed article in hand, clearing their throat and demanding “excuse me – we’d like to talk to you about something!”

  4. March 27, 2009 3:16 am

    Jodi -giggle!!! oh yes – I have a few characters that are getting a little demanding too..

  5. March 27, 2009 3:18 am

    thanks Jen – and Benjamin. my thoughts are simply that – just musings and thoughts. I am greatful that they have served you in giving you something to think on as well.

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