From Writing Short Stories to Novels: Climbing the Word Mountain


Many people dream of writing Lokal-K-FFW-Workshop-7075a novel one day. However, the prospect of producing a piece of work with a word count in excess of 80,000 can be a daunting proposition if you’ve never written a long story before.

Short stories are an excellent way for a new author to learn their craft. By learning to write to a low word limit, you can build your literary skill and finesse your writing. The skills required when writing a short story are all transferable to novel writing.

Creating short stories can teach you how to write in such a way that not a single word is wasted. Every word- every single one- has to count in a short story. The same applies to a novel. Pages of waffle and repetition are boring to read and boring to write.

When writing any length of story, you need to make an instant impact on your reader. In a short story all you have to grab your reader’s attention is the first one or two sentences. When writing their first novel, new writers often relax, thinking the lengthier word count means they have the luxury of spending pages to grab their reader’s interest. This is not the case. When writing a novel, the same instant impact rule applies as for short pieces. You have one to three paragraphs at the most to hook them. If a reader’s interest isn’t piqued by the end of the first page you’re in danger of losing their attention.

If you’re confident with short story writing and there is a longer plot line just burning within you to be turned into a novel, but addressing a word count of c.90,000 still seems like a mammoth task, why not build up slowly?

Think of it as writing mountaineering. No one would tackle Everest without climbing a few lesser mountains first. So grab the crampons and the ropes and tackle a novella first. Novellas (generally accepted to be anything from 20-60,000 words) are very popular, great fun to write, and wonderful writing practice. Then, once you’re happy with a novella, put on a crash, strap on the oxygen tank, grab a pick, and go for that novel!

Many of the issues connected with getting through writing a novel for the first time are psychological. Don’t be afraid to address each chapter like an individual short story, and in the process break down your overall goal down into manageable pieces.

If the going is still tough, allow yourself rewards for every 500-1000 words- an extra cup of coffee, a chocolate bar, a ten minute walk.

Whether you’re writing a short story, novella or novel, take one word at a time. Remember – writing a story is supposed to be fun!

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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