They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me
dr_phil_physics

The Beginning of the End

Over on Facebook, Michigan SF writer Martin L. Shoemaker asked about:
What's your experience with novellas expanded into novels? Which ones worked for you? Which ones didn't? And why did they work or not?
It's not just a matter of word count, you have to have something to say. You can't just use the short story as a template chapter and duplicate it N times until you have a novel. Of course, the very act of saying "can't" really says "in most cases" -- somewhere there are stories that work that way. To some extent, All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshima Sakurazaka would fall into this category -- you may know it better by the 2014 film Edge of Tomorrow. Rinse. Kill. Repeat.

You can have slice-of-life stories. In short stories, these can be called vignettes. In longer form, well, there's a lot of literary fiction that works that way. Nothing really happens, it's a day-in-the-life. The life may not be yours. The life may be unsatisfying to the main character -- either because it is or they're just whiny. Or the life just be very different from yours or mine. The first story I submitted turned out to be a vignette of living on a space station. I got a lot of comments about how beautiful the story was, poignant -- and that it was not a story. Did get me into Clarion in 2004, though. Six years after I first submitted it and a bunch of rewrites, including adding a plot (grin) and Le Grand Bazar was published.

SF doesn't like vignettes all that much.

On the Facebook post, I brought up one of my favorite books -- Arthur C. Clarke's The Lost Worlds of 2001, detailing how the short story The Sentinel became 2001: A Space Odyssey. It includes different versions of the short stories and several chapters from the intermediate novels. The leap from the published story to published novel is huge, but seeing it this way it is much more linear. I heartily recommend this book to all SF writers in particular.

And of course, there's Ender's Game. Novella published in the August 1977 issue of Analog. You can read it here on Orson Scott Card's Hatrack River site. I was sure that I had also read a short story version somewhere -- under 10,000 words -- shorter than the novella, but I can't find it listed somewhere. Maybe I was misremembering, or the shorter one was, in fact, just the novella.

Seriously, read the shorter version, if you're familiar with the novel or the film. You'll see that you're thrown right in the action. No time wasted developing characters or the environment. Is it the "same" story? Yes. And no. Why should it be?

In SF/F we want our protags to have a really tough time in a novel. We sometimes as writers joke about having to be meaner, or writing a chapter where And Now Things Get Really Bad. This is as opposed to a short story, where the protag isn't just having a Bad Day, he's having The Worst Day In His Life.

In a novel you have time to set the table. You can get away with a little of that in a novella or novelette, but as you get into short story territory -- under 15,000 words let say -- you can't dick around. You have to have a hard start, not just a good first line. You have to keep an editor interested enough to turn the first page. And the seventh. And then on to the end. You don't achieve, that, you don't sell.

Unless of course you end up writing the truly beautiful story which defies the odds.

I've joked about The Rules before. The Rules are the combined wisdom and experience of a lot of people, but they realistically aren't written down or absolute for the simple reason that every one and every story is different. What The Rules do is provide a framework that helps you develop and grow as a young writer. That will help you get published. If you are only writing for yourself, you can write whatever the hell you want and enjoy all the satisfaction you want. And that's okay, too.

I tend to write long. Indeed, a lot of my early stories all grew to 14,000 to 17,000 words -- the latter being the max for WOTF. But very few markets take stories that long. So I am somewhat amazed in 2015 to realize just how many stories under 10,000 or even 6000 words I've completed and sent off to market.

And I've taken a short story up to a novel -- haven't sold it, of course -- but I did market it at 17,000 / 20,000 / 40,000 / 47,000 and the 105,000 word novel. Can't say that I've done it "successfully" to use Martin's criteria. (grin)

But length does change a story. And not just because it's got more stuff in it.

Just be careful not to be too influenced by television formatting or movies. In a short story you don't have time to do descriptive stuff while you're watching the credits role. And there's a reason why short stories can be made into films easier than novels -- movie scripts aren't all that long in terms of pages and words. Lot easier to expand and detail, than cut and shimmy.

Or not. I'm just another guy out here talking. (realistic-grin)

Dr. Phil
Posted on Dreamwidth
Crossposted on LiveJournal
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