History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

Degrees of Ideas

A blank pageHow do you figure out whether your idea is a short story, a novel, or maybe neither?

Sometimes, it’s really easy to figure out. Some ideas have a scope that you know from the get-go that it’s going to be something as long as a novel, or maybe even a series. But sometimes, you have an idea that you think can be self-contained as a short story, and then it spirals into something bigger. Or you finish the short story that you wanted to tell, and everyone who reads it think that it’s meant to be something bigger.

While it’s not always easy to distinguish between the ideas that will become a short story from those that will become a novel or series at first, this is one of the places where I find outlining can be a huge help. If I start plotting out a story and realize that it’s got more than half a dozen scenes, it’s probably not actually a short story. Likewise, if I’m trying to plot out a novel idea and can’t get past about chapter 5, that’s a sign that there’s not enough to my idea to sustain it as a novel.

But sometimes, you get ideas that slip through the cracks that look like they’re going to turn into something, but when you put them onto paper, they fall apart. I’ve got a few stories that I’ve tried to write several ways that never seem to work out. I still like the core idea, but maybe that idea isn’t a short story or a novel. But it could still be some part of a short story or novel, down the road, so I file it back away, and hope I’ll get a chance to come back to it later!

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