No, this isn’t going to be a post about how I began as a short story writer and became a novelist. It’s a post about a specific short story I wrote some years ago, which formed the basis for my latest novel, The Pearl Locket. Whenever I’ve mentioned to people that I turned a 2,000-word short story into a 70,000-word novel, their eyes have tended to widen and their jaws drop open.
Here’s a little insight into how I managed it.
If you’ve read everything I’ve ever published (then you are probably my mum) you will have come across a ghost story called We’ll Meet Again which I included in my book, Ghost Stories and How to Write Them. When I was putting that book together, and re-reading the stories I included in it, it struck me that here was a story which could perhaps become a dual-timeline novel. I’d just about finished my novel The Emerald Comb at that time, and knew I wanted to write more books using the same structure – ie alternating chapters telling a historical story and a contemporary story which were linked.
The short story We’ll Meet Again was all in one time period – the contemporary story – but I instantly saw that I could also tell the historical story: that of Joan and Jack and their love affair.
I set about planning the novel – using a spreadsheet and writing a couple of sentences about what would happen in each chapter; aiming for around 25 chapters. Obviously I needed to add lots of new scenes in both timelines but I made sure they were all there to further the main plot lines.
As with The Emerald Comb I found it easier to write the historical story than the contemporary. This was mainly because the historical has just a single linear plot. In dual-timeline novels, the contemporary story needs to include a plot and perhaps sub-plots for the contemporary characters, as well as showing how they uncover the mystery buried in the past, and it all has to weave together in a satisfying way. I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote the contemporary sections, juggling chapters and reworking events.
I had to add several characters of course – Joan’s parents, Jack’s aunt and friend, Kelly’s brother, the next-door neighbours in both timelines, and Kelly’s boyfriend Matt (who I fell a teensy bit in love with. What a thoroughly nice boy he is!) I decided to keep the same names for all the main characters as I’d used in the short story. They were already alive in my head and I didn’t feel I could rename them. It’d feel like renaming my children.
My first draft followed the plot of We’ll Meet Again quite closely. It was definitely a ghost story and had the same ending. But my excellent editors at Carina suggested I should make it less supernatural, so that it would still appeal to non-ghost-believers. The Emerald Comb has no ghosts (although little Thomas is spooked by the wind in the chimney and thinks there is one!) and so it made sense to ensure my second novel fell into exactly the same genre.
Removing the ghost from a ghost story was by far the hardest rewrite I have ever done. But along the way I wrote a new beginning and a new ending (completely different to the ending of the short story) which I knew were much better than the original. And after removing the ghost entirely I then went through it again and put it back in, but more subtly, so that only one character actually thinks there’s a ghost. The reader can now choose what to believe. (For those who’ve read Ghost Stories and How to Write Them, you might recognise that I’ve now provided an “Alternative Rational Explanation”. Perhaps I should have followed my own advice in the first place!)
Not every short story could become a novel, but every now and again you might write one which can. If your tale has a lot of back-story which is only hinted at, summarised or glossed over, then perhaps it is expandable into a novella or novel. It’s a big, tough but rewarding writing exercise!
claire buckle said:
thanks, Kathleen, for the useful insight. I’ve a couple of (long!) short stories which I’ve held back from submitting anywhere as I think they could be expanded and linked together into a novel. It’s such a daunting task though. I’ve had several short stories published in various journals and magazines but the thought of a novel scares me! I go into bookshops and am just blown away by the amount of choice out there in print, let alone self-published e-books and my confidence drains away. The market’s swamped with excellent books already that gremlin on my shoulder tells me and I go back to the safe option of the short story and just dream about writing a novel!
I initially felt daunted by the idea of writing a novel but now I just love wallowing in all that space a novel gives you! Short stories have to be so tight and controlled, whereas with a novel you can let it all hang out and properly allow your characters to develop. I much prefer writing long fiction now!
Go on, give it a go, and best of luck!
Sharon Boothroyd said:
I say – Clare, go for it! You have nothing to lose but time and effort .I’m halfway through a rom com chick- lit novel. If no- one wants it, then at least I’ve had a go. As Kath says, it provides such a lot of creative freedom but it is hard work planning the chapters ect, Saying that I’ve loved every moment of it! Yes there is a lot of choice but so what? Don’t let that hold you back. Get cracking girl!
Sue Blackburn said:
Inspirational blog as usual, Kath. I remember that short story from Ghost Stories and How to Write Them and am even more excited now to read the novel it has expanded from – on my Kindle awaiting that pleasure!
I do have a short story that I think could certainly be made into a longer story. Who knows maybe even a novel. Thank you for the thought and the nudge
All the best as always with all your projects 🙂 xx
Thanks Sue. You can think of the short story as a kind of synopsis and expand it from there… Good luck!
Sue Blackburn said:
Brilliant advice. Thank you Kath 🙂 xx
bridget whelan said:
Fascinating insight Kath. I’m sharing it on my creative writing facebook page on Monday.
Ooh, thanks Bridget!
Thanks, Kath! I’ve been struggling/dithering over writing a novel for so long, after writing so many short stories and novellas, this is valuable advice.
Good luck, Dawn!
Great insight into your novel writing, Kath – all the best with this one and the next two!
Sharon Boothroyd said:
A very interesting read Kath. You could consider setting it out as an article and subbing it to a writing mag. I think a lot of writer folk would be interested in this.
That’s a good idea – might consider that….
The first novel I ever wrote was supposed to be a short story, but it got a bit out of hand. Other than that one I’ve never thought of expanding a short story into a novel, but as I generally have to cut more than I leave in, perhaps it’s something to consider.
Not all short stories would lend themselves to becoming a novel but every now and then one does…