24 August 2017

The Novella: Expanding a Short Story or Writing One From Scratch?

by Brian Thornton

As I mentioned when I began my summer-long look into the second coming of the novella, I have finally written one.

It was a bitch.

That's understandable, because, like so many people doing something for the first time, I went about it all wrong. Which is another way of saying that I had make a ton of mistakes before I could begin to learn from them.

In my last few entries I've included excerpts from interviews with several successful writers who seem to have really mastered the form and function of the novella. Although these authors are disparate in approach, tone, form, and style, they almost uniformly agree (with the exception of Steve Liskow) that their successful forays into novella writing were generated from scratch, intended from the beginning to be novellas.

(Steve Liskow mentioned that his novella, Black Orchid award-winner "Stranglehold," began life as "a 6800 word short story that didn't quite work..")

My initial foray fit neither of these models. "Suicide Blonde" started out as a short story that worked, in fact it worked so well that it was my second sale to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (where I maintain a 66% acceptance rate by not having submitted anything in the years since.). So why expand it into a novella, rather than start from scratch?

Put simply: because I had no idea what I was doing.

Look, I've sold several book-length pieces of nonfiction. Those were simple (Note I don't say "easy") to write. I'd earned an advanced degree in history and learned how to research and write professional-grade nonfiction work in grad school (I will not dignify anything I wrote as an undergrad with the title "professional," including the bi-weekly newspaper columns I wrote for beer money–The Gonzaga University Bulletin paid twenty bucks a pop at the time. That wasn't exactly small potatoes for a starving college student).

But I had zero experience writing a novella. And I thought, "Hey, maybe it'll be relatively easy to expand one of my short stories. People are always saying that wished that 'Paper Son' and 'Suicide Blonde' were longer, that they wanted to read more about the characters, so why not go that route?"

Having done it, I will say that, while I am committed to expanding another of my short stories (the aforementioned "Paper Son") into a novella, I am loathe to do so again once that is wrapped up.

Nope. My third foray into novella writing is going to be a from-scratch original story. And even though I'm going to finish expanding "Paper Son" into a novella, I am going about it far more efficiently than I did with "Suicide Blonde." That first attempt was trial and error: I wound up incredibly pleased with the results.

Having learned from my mistakes with "Suicide Blonde," I've mapped out the existing plot of my original story with "Paper Son," and am working on fleshing out addition scenes that ought to fit pretty seamlessly in with my original narrative and revising my original ending. I think it's going to work well. It feels great to have a sort of "system" for this sort of thing now.

And I anticipate having exciting news about a publication date for "Suicide Blonde" sometime in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned to this page!

Lastly, in two weeks I touch base with my previous interview subjects (as well as a couple of surprise guest stars) for a final wrap-up of my summer-long foray into Novellaville.

See you in two weeks!


  1. Best of luck on all counts--and looking forward to the wrap-up of this series too, such a fine group of posts and interviews!

  2. Good luck with your new one, Brian, and let us know how it works. I'm actually thinking of trying a novella from scratch, too. I've belatedly (I never figure out anything the first time around) realized that one advantage to a novella is it gives me more time and room to develop character without having to concentrate so heavily on plot.

    I'm still learning, too, but I think when we stop learning in this business, we should just pack it in and concentrate on cribbage.

  3. Having read "Suicide Blond" in both short story form and novella form before they were published, I would say nice job on both. Each form worked.


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