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When Your Short Story Wants to Become A Novel

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I’ve never been good at short stories.

For starters, I generally used to sit down and just start writing without an endpoint in mind. While it’s fun to have no idea where your story is going (it’s just like being a reader!) you end up with a whole bunch of half finished stories and a few that never seem to end.

For a long time, when I tried to intentionally write a short story, I had a hard time reining it in. At a minimum, they seemed to want to become novellas… there just wasn’t a way to tell my entire story in a short format.

I figured this was a personal failing. After all, we can’t all be talented at everything. And eventually, after completing one novel that was then summarily rejected by 10 publishers, I kinda gave up.

Flash forward 15 years, and I’m at it again. But this time, I think I’ve cracked the short story code. So here’s my guide to taming that short that has aspirations of novelhood.

1) Go in With a Clear Idea of the Story. You don’t have to plot the whole thing out, but it helps if you have at least a general idea of the story you want to tell.

2) Sketch Out the Next 3-5 Scenes. These can be single sentences – in my experience, these help me keep on track. They’re easy to change, and serve as a road map to the story.

3) Limit your number of POV characters. This is the big one for me. I finally figured out I was stocking my short stories like epic novels, with multiple viewpoint characters. YMMV, but here’s what I worked out for me. 3 POV characters = novella length = 20k + words. 2 POV characters = long short story – 10-20K words. And one POV character = shorter short story – <10K words. Those are my tips - what do y'all do to tame your out-of-control shorts?

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