Short Fiction Expanded – A DisConIII Panel

In December 2021, I had the opportunity to attend DisConIII. Here are my other DisCon posts.

The panelists for the titular panel were: AC Wise as moderator, Michael Swanwick, Jenny Rae Rappaport, Howard A Jones, and Mary Turzillo.

The panel description was as follows: Sometimes an excellent short story or novella demands to be fleshed out and republished as a novel. How can you do this successfully, and what are some of the pitfalls to avoid? When is the expansion an enhancement, and when is it just a marketing necessity?

Ways Writing Short Fiction Can Differ From Writing Novels

There are plenty of authors out there who write both short stories and novels, often with similar — or identical scenes and plots. Some start with the novel and pull out short stories, while many start with a short story, then realize there’s a lot more to the characters and world that they’d like to explore.

So, let’s talk about the differences between short stories and novels.

Short Stories

  • No wasted paragraphs
  • The ending is paramount, shorts often have a reveal at the end that brings the story together or gives a twist to the whole thing
  • Zoomed in focus — one story arc, few characters, few settings
  • Less prominant villain or opposition usually in a short
  • No space to show motivations outside the main character(s)
  • Minimal world building (at least, on the page. Can imply all you want)

Novels

  • Often flow better when drafted in one (long stretch)
  • The writer often has to love the characters/world to write a full novel
  • The main characters often get into lots of trouble, not just one sticky situation
  • Space for expansive world building, side characters, and secondary plots

5 Approaches For Turning A Short Story Into A Novel

Now that you’ve decided to turn your short story into a novel, what’s next? Howard A Jones said that “Finding the right way in” for the story is the real struggle. Here are 5 options.

  1. Use the short story as an opening chapter — but be sure to tightly script the following chapters, so they aren’t a let down
  2. Use the short story as inspiration — character and plot ideas, that you expand upon
  3. Split the short story in half (or more chunks) and fill in the “off-camera” parts that were skimmed over
  4. Write and then combine a series of episodic shorts
  5. Take one wholesale and add it into the middle of a novel, as a side plot, or flashback, or campside story

What Changes Are Acceptable In Novelizations of Published Shorts?

Basically? Anything goes! Remember that the publishing rights for short stories typically revert back in less than 2 years. And? No one can say you’re not writing the multi-verse version of that short story. (Unless it’s a tie-in for an ongoing series). You can change:

  • Tense
  • Point-of-view character
  • Themes
  • Plot
  • Characters (names, archtypes, gender, etc)

Authors Who Have Done It

This is far from a complete list, just a few suggestions from the panelists of familiar authors.

  • Orson Scott Card with much of his works, but most notably, the Ender’s Game series.
    • He often uses the formula: Protagonist wants something unattainable, achieves it, but by then, they want something else. Pretty common, but decide if that’s what you want.
  • Murderbot by Martha Wells
  • Naomi Novik
  • NK Jemisin

Pants or Plot Short Story Expansions?

Whichever you’re most comfortable with, or that works best for this story.

Respectful Ways To Sell That Short Story

While having a novel derived from a short story is a great way to reuse ideas, it’s not going to be a selling point to agents or publishers. Plus? The publishing industry is small and you want to be sure that you’re behavior won’t get you blacklisted, so here are some best practices.

  • After checking in with your Editor – especially if it’s a tie-in for a series under contract
  • Not while the novel that mirrors it is on submission (that’s what it’s called when you or your agent has sent pages to an Editor at a publishing house, and you’re waiting for that ‘yes’ or ‘no’)
  • If you’re pulling the short story(ies) out of a novel — check with the Editor/Publisher/your agent first
  • After making sure that you haven’t given away the license to that character or setting

Any tips I missed?

Any favorite short story/novel pairs you’d like to recommend?

3 Comments

  1. My first published novel started as a short.Then I decided I wanted to know more about the universe, and wound up with a novelette, elsewhere in the universe. Until an editor recommended I expand the novelette to a novella. Then I wrote two more shorts, and then something that turned into another novella.

    When all those were done, I realized it was a novel, did some revisions, and tied it all together with one long piece.

    I did something similar with two more novels – starting with shorts, then tying them together, in one case alternating between two sets of major characters.

    Liked by 1 person

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