Tuesday, February 8

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, February 08, 2011 25 comments
Writing a novel usually involves generating an extensive amount of imaginative material--mentally and perhaps on paper as well--that will never appear directly in the book itself. This includes character sheets, freewrites, voice explorations, backstory and failed scenes.

Before you touch a match to these reams of paper, consider how some might find second life. After all, you know and love these characters. Some of the events of their lives may not fit within the story arc of your novel, but it doesn't mean those events aren't worth telling. Consider spinning them off as short stories or poems.

Short story
If you despair of having no publishing credits, consider how you might be able to convert some of your peripheral material into short-format fiction and place the stories with magazines or e-zines. This could be a microfiction format such as dribble (50 words), drabble (100 words) or flash fiction (500-1,000 words) as well as standard short story (1K-9K words). See my March 2010 post Spotlight on Microficiton for more information.

Like your novel itself, your short story needs to have a dramatic arc--inciting incident, conflict, rising action, climax, denouement. Often the denouement section will be very, very condensed or merely hinted at.

Perhaps some past event is hinted at continually in your novel, but dramatizing it would only slow the story down. Here's your chance to explore that event fully. Perhaps you had to axe an entire plot line when you eliminated a secondary character. Go find those notes a write that story as a stand-alone.

Short story format is also an excellent way to test out your story world on an audience and build a fan base for your work.

Converting peripheral material into poetry is a somewhat different animal because it's more extreme genre-switching than going from one fiction category to another. Poetry has its own rules that you need to know to succeed.

Many beginners either write sing-songy metered and rhymed pieces, or think that line breaks alone are enough to make prose into a poem. Alas, this is not so.

Poetry needs to have layers of meaning, to juxtapose images in intriguing, new ways and to use literary devices such as allusion, assonance and consonance, onomatopoeia, metonymy, metaphor, simile and other forms of figurative language and symbolism.

Yesterday I mentioned turning an excised scene into a poem that was featured HERE. The main reason this material never worked in the book is because it was too much like poetry in the first place. My protagonist was having a trippy dream in which she drew events from her life and they became active, like the video of Ah-ha's song "Take on Me." As I got sucked into Dani's dream, the layers of images and sound play became more important than how well material fit the story. The scene didn't really fit the story tone and brought the pace to a screeching halt. Yet the "Moving on" portion had a full arc with conflict, climax and denouement/epiphany. It was begging for a life of its own. I kept tweaking the language to strengthen the dirty/clean and dry/wet dichotomy through image and sound. The hissing, dusty S and scratchy K sounds give way to wet Ws and onomatopoetic drip-like clicks of T. In other words, the process was more complex than adding line breaks to prose.

Poetry writing is a great way to get at the heart of a life-changing event in your character's past and explore what it means to her. The images it conjures will help you build a symbolic lexicon for this person that can be brought to bear on the novel. For example, she might associate dogs with danger or with loyalty or carefree joy, depending on her early experiences.

You can also place poems with magazines and contests to build a fan base.

Do you have any excised material you want to give new life? What format will you try?


  1. Short stories are a great idea. I have so many scenes I hated to cut, but had to.

    Thanks for the idea. :)

  2. Great tips. :) My attention span only allows me to write shorter works. Trying for a longer one though.

  3. This is a brilliant idea. I may have to go back through my piles now and discover which could use a bit of new life.

  4. I do love the idea of some of the 'snippets' I had to exclude coming to life as a short story :) once the trilogy is written that is *grin*

    The Arrival, only .99c on Amazon

  5. I don't have enough peripheral material from my novels to make into anything, and I have WAY too many short stories already in draft form and unfinished to even contemplate starting another. Probably. Maybe.

    Oh, who am I kidding? I'll start about six more by April, if past performance is any indication....

  6. Thanks for reminding me of this tip. :-)
    Character journals specifically are a fascinating thing. I have never tried this idea before but will.

  7. I'll save mine for possible short stories.

  8. Great suggestions! I'm always using parts of unpublished works in newer works, and some of my short stories have been taken from unfinished or unpublished longer works.

  9. this is great information and i can reference it tons, ty man.

    ~ <3 Famous Poetry about life <3~

  10. Wow, Laurel, great tips. I will refer back to this a lot. *bookmarking*

    I like to use onomatopoeia in picture books. Thanks for this post Laurel. :)

  11. If I tried anything it would be either poetry or a short story. Thanks for the ideas!

  12. Tara: Have fun giving those scenes new life.

    Kindros: Sounds like you already know how fun it can be to have multiple complete pieces under your belt. Folks who dive straight into novels often miss this.

    Nisa: It's a great morale booster. Enjoy.

  13. Nicole: If you ever feel bogged down on the trilogy, it can be fun to draft a few poems about the characters' lives and from their points of view.

    Simon: Actually, you were the one to kind of give me this idea in the first place. I saw what a morale booster it was to place short fiction and realized I had some story ideas on the cutting room floor.

    Jade: Doing short explorations can be a great way to develop characters --and publishing credits never hurt either.

  14. Holly: Great! If you ever feel stuck, it can be a nice change of pace to polish those short pieces.

    Jenn: Hi! I was excited to see you started up a Blogger site. (Guess I should stop lurking and actually comment once in a while!) Placing short fiction can be such a morale booster, I hope others will try it like you have.

    Poetry: Thanks. No one ever said poems had to be autobiographical--I hope this post will encourage folks to try more persona poems.

  15. Robyn: If you ever get an idea that doesn't quite want to expand to a full picture book, poetry for children might be a way to spin it.

    Laura: Have fun with it. It's a great way to build publishing credits--always a morale booster.

  16. Really good idea regarding short stories, Laurel. My writing consists of short stories only currently but I see how my shorts could end up being a novel eventually. And I can see how the opposite could be very true.

  17. Wow, you really are amazing with words. I'm in awe just reading about what you do with them. I haven't tried a short story, but maybe . . .

    And a poem like you suggested. :)

  18. This is such a great idea, and spinning off short stories from cut material offers a wonderful exercise in exploring the characters involved. Love it!

  19. I love the idea of exploring plot lines or past events that didn't make the novel by writing a short story about them - what a great way to find story ideas and get a deeper understanding of your novel and characters at the same time!

  20. I've barely tried short fiction, but this is one of the reasons why I love writing poetry.

    And thanks for your comment on my post--the Snow White thing? Brilliant! That is one stupid Evil Stepmom.

  21. Great ideas, I need to give them a try. I had a writer friend suggest that I try a short story before delving into a novel, and have been meaning to do just that. Thanks for the reminder!

    I've taken articles and changed the slant or audience; I've also taken lessons I've written and used them for article or blog content.
    Happy Thursday,

  22. Lynn: Definitely short stories can expand. That's how many short fic writers end up eventually taking the plunge into novels.

    Janet: Words are my playground, and the more I've learned about sound--linguistics and the tricks of the mouth in making them--the more fun I have. :-)

  23. Nicole: I wonder if the protagonist you fired might have short story potential. I mean, you fiercely loved her once, even if she doesn't fit your novel.

    Susan: Absolutely. I hope you give it a try.

    Lydia: I too find poetry comes more easily than short fiction. But I'm determined to try both.

    Karen: I can think of some novels that are really more like short story collections--Larry Woiwode's books Neumiller Stories and Beyond the Bedroom Wall for instance.

  24. Thanks for this! I am printing it off-I'd never really thought of taking those bits and pieces from my novels and imagining them into something else!

  25. Hi Laurel -

    I jumped over here from today's post, and I'm glad I did. Thank you for all the suggestions on how to re-purpose bits from our manuscripts.

    My second manuscript was born when a first reader commented on how much she liked one of the characters. The first book was supposed to be a single volume. It's grown to a trilogy as a result of scenes and non-useful backstory from the first book.

    Susan :)