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So You Want to Write a Long Story/Novella/Novel for this site? You've come/been directed to the right place!
For the sake of transparency, this guide will focus on stories that are five pages or longer. Take note that the longer your story is, the more important these pieces of advice are. As someone who has written novellas for this site, I would like to share some advice on what to do and what to avoid.
Longer Stories Need…
- Character Development
Characters need to grow. Authors can get away with a two-dimensional character in a short story because trying to shoe-horn information into a few pages can come off as forced, but it is hard to stay interested in a longer story where the character’s personality is dull/bland. Make them interesting, give them quirks, and force the audience to become emotionally attached to them. If an audience is invested in the characters, that will give your story that much more of an emotional impact.
- Involving Plot
This goes without saying, but one of the major drawbacks of a long story is fewer people are going to sit down and read them. This is a shame as if you look through the longer stories on this site; you’ll notice that they typically have very positive reviews, are usually extremely well-written, and a number have actually been published due to the author’s dedication. In order to keep an audience reading, you need to have a story that keeps them interested and focused.
Take advantage of your story’s length to paint descriptive environments and characters. It would be difficult to create the same atmosphere in a short story due to the space constraints. In a longer story, this isn’t an issue. You can create an entire world with an elaborate back-story for the audience to get drawn into. This is important, but there is a pit fall that authors should avoid in being descriptive. Avoid filler. If it isn’t relevant to the story, it doesn’t need focus; it only serves as pointless padding.
- A strong opening and ending
This is very important. The first chapter is likely the deciding factor about whether a reader is going to continue or if they are going to walk away from the story. A good introduction should hook the audience with an over-arching mystery, an interesting character, or premise to keep them going. Having a satisfying or powerful ending cements the reader’s opinion of the story. If they have gone this far, it is likely they are enjoying the story. A strong ending will only bolster their opinion of your story.
Reference the story, tie past events into it. Reward readers for paying attention by including callback phrases or inside jokes (where applicable) that are tied to past plot points. The author who does this best is 50 Foot Ant. If you haven’t read Humper-Monkey's Ghost Story or the 50 Foot Ant series, you are missing out. He manages to include phrases and actions to earlier events so that each reference is almost Pavlovian and triggers a response or reaction from the audience.
What to Avoid
- Do not write a longer story like you would a short story!
This can have devastating effects. Some readers like short stories as they are easily read in a few minutes. Writing a longer story with no character progression, descriptive environments, or believable emotions/reactions likely will result in readers walking away from the story. You need to use your story’s length to your advantage. Build interesting characters or premises using this space.
- Avoid overly long chapters
Chapters are important as they give the audience a place to leave off on. If your story is long enough, they will be reading it in installments instead of all at once. If a chapter is too long, reading through it might be viewed as a slog rather than an enjoyable experience. This also means that your chapters should end strongly and keep the reader wanting to keep reading.
- Anemic background/history
Set up questions that the audience wants to answer. Don’t put everything out in the opening. Leave some mystery or something for the audience to ruminate on as they read. Look at Lovecraft’s Elder Gods mythology for a perfect example. Each god is fleshed out, but their place and machinations in the hierarchy is left up to the readers and that allows for a truly involving experience.
- Take your time
Koromo’s story (recently selected for Spotlighted Pasta), A Few Bad Apples took three months to write. My novellas took multiple months to write. You aren’t going to bang a novella out in a couple of weeks to critical acclaim. This is going to take months of writing and days of reviewing to make sure your story is as good as it can be before submitting it.
- Make a skeleton draft
Try making a list of plot points, quotes, characters, or scenes you want to include in the story before you begin writing. This will help you organize your thoughts and will also help you connect scenes and make the story flow. An added benefit is that having a list of ideas written down will allow you to build on them as you write and help you remember them.
- Read, read, read!
Read some of the longer stories on the site. You should also read published novels as they are great examples of how multiple authors write involving and entertaining stories. Remember those 50 Foot Ant stories I mentioned earlier? Read them.
- Write, write, write!
To be perfectly frank, everything you write isn’t going to make it into the final cut. You are going to build up to events that no longer fit into the story. My story: “We R Leejun” lost an entire character that saw the monstrosities as government experiments and was slapstick in his approach towards life because he didn’t quite fit in with the hierarchy. You are going to trim the fat and lose scenes, but it will make your story stronger as a result.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this, writing a longer story is going to take time, patience, and determination. At times you’re going to wish you were writing a shorter story or writing a different story all together, but there is no feeling quite like completing a large story. It’s the sense of accomplishment I get from writing longer stories that keeps me fleshing out my stories. I hope that after reading this, you feel the same way.