I just wrote last week about Sleeping Beauty but a different version of it. (I changed the characters, and the conflict, and mostly everything except the fact that one of the main characters is cursed and must fall asleep, only to be woken by true love's kiss. In this case I made it the guy.)

I want to turn it into a novel, except whenever I try to write novels I get intimidated and I can't seem to do it. But then again, I've never wrote a short story about it beforehand.

What I have to do to turn it into a novel? Obviously, I need to add more detail. But do I add more characters? (There are only 4 in my short story.) Do I make the scenes longer? etc.


6 Answers 6


While it's possible to expand a short story into a novel (c.f. Ender's Game), what seems more common in my experience (citation needed) is for the short story to become one part of a larger novel. Your short story is already a self-contained unit; what else is going on around those characters, in that setting, etc? Is there a bigger story that you can develop out of that context?

Another approach you might consider for your first novel-length work is to assemble a collection of short stories with a common element -- setting, characters, or theme. As you get used to making longer-running threads of connection through a few hundred pages (instead of a few dozen), you will be preparing yourself to write a novel from scratch next.


Contrary what others will tell you - I know, because the same question has been asked before - I think that ideas for short stories and ideas for novels are fundamentally different and one cannot be turned into the other.

A short story is a story that can be told in a handful of pages, while a novel takes a few hundred pages to be told.

Think of me telling you about my visit to the doctor as compared to me telling you the story of my life. I cannot possibly add enough characters and side stories to the dentist's visit to blow it up to novel length, without turning it into another tale entirely.

  • 1
    Have you ever read "Ulysses?" Dec 8, 2014 at 0:50
  • 1
    I agree a good short story and a good novel are usually fundamentally different ideas. I would like novices not to be told that a novel is inherently 500 pages, though, for very selfish reasons. A good proportion of 500 page novels have 100 pages or more of cruft that a good edit would have removed, or better yet that wouldn't have been written in the first place. Ultimately this is between you and your publisher, of course, you must respect the market for doorstops. But it's probably easier to add than remove (source: I'm not a novelist but my partner is, so I've seen novels jiggered). Dec 8, 2014 at 1:10
  • @ErnestFriedman-Hill Unless specified otherwise, on this site I assume the questions to be about popular, usually genre fiction.
    – user5645
    Dec 8, 2014 at 4:51
  • @SteveJessop That number was a literary device. I have removed it but I think my argument has become less clear now.
    – user5645
    Dec 8, 2014 at 5:04

It depends on how your story is structured and where you might like to expand.

A story that takes place in a single day would be more difficult to expand, but if the inciting incident takes place a month before it would be simple to add in more detail of how the protagonist gets from point A to point B. You could also show events prior to the inciting incident of the short story and explain in greater detail how the events came to pass.

As you could expect this might lead to the addition of subplots and additional characters. How involved these characters become in the story is up to you.

Short stories and novels do have a different pacing and tone, so while it is possible, the novel version will likely be dramatically different than the short story you've already written.


Another good way to approach your question is to consider what a short story is in terms of substance (not just length). The definition can certainly be nebulous, since it varies from writer to writer. My favorite analogy comes from author Marilyn Singer who likened the short story to a photograph: a captured moment in time.

She also adds that, "But while a photo may or may not suggest consequences, a short story always does." The structure of a short story is more urgent and immediate: oftentimes, an irrevocable change has occurred and a single character (or two) must confront that change in media res. In comparison, a novel can be likened to a movie.

Think about why you want to turn this short story into a novel. Revisiting your reasons can help you build a foundation for a plan. It could be something as simple as: I really like my main character and I want to show more of her courage by doing X, Y, and maybe Z. So in the end, it's not a question of how much detail to add or how many more characters you need. These things come later and organically as you write. It's a really question of: what is this story truly about and why does it need the space of a novel to explore?


Neil Gaiman's most recent novel started out as a short story that got longer and longer the more he worked on it. He says he ended up "accidentally writing a novel" (which I think is hilarious, because I can't even write one on purpose). So it's definitely possible for an idea that starts out as a short story to turn into a novel.

If you've read it, you'll notice a few things. There are only a handful of important characters, there is only one major plot, and the subplots (if you can call them that) mostly exist to provide context and atmosphere. Furthermore, Gaiman's writing style is quite direct. He doesn't use particularly flowery language, and he doesn't draw out scenes for longer than necessary.

So your first impulses (add more characters, subplots, make scenes longer) are not necessarily what you need to do. They might help, but they aren't obligatory.

Another thing you might notice in older novels is the tendency to forgo one cohesive narrative in favor of a more episodic format (it seems to have fallen out of fashion recently). In particular, I'm thinking of several examples from children's fiction (the Alice books, The Wind in the Willows, etc.). This might be something to consider, especially as your story draws inspiration from Sleeping Beauty. It could be a fun exercise to study the structure of folk tales to see if you can use that to motivate a new approach.

  • I know a writer who tried several times to write a novel and failed and then accidentally wrote one after starting what looked like a novelette.
    – Mary
    Sep 8, 2020 at 14:57

I made a novel called "I Attempt to Write the Worst Novel Ever" once, and my answer to that is: Make your novel a story, but make them short stories connected by a single

By this, I mean write a novel, but write each chapter as a different story, but have a single revolving story around the entire novel.

Hope this helped.

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