Novel Writing: Bridging the Gap Between Short Stories & Novels

In this advanced creative writing course students study how two authors transformed their short stories into novels and try to do the same with their own short fiction

course description

For practical reasons, most creative writing courses focus on short stories. In this advanced creative writing course, students will study how two authors transformed their short stories into novels and explore how to do the same with their own short fiction.


Before beginning their own novel project, students will study classic novel forms and structures, such as the three-act structure, as well as techniques of plotting and characterization as they relate to the novel, the use of multiple voices to manage momentum, the use of mirroring techniques, and the weaving of subplots. After examining these forms and structures, students will convert one of their existing short stories into a novel.



This advanced writing course is intended for students who have taken introductory and intermediate fiction writing courses and thus have a bank of completed short stories on which to draw.

Educational Goals

By the end of the course, students will have:

  • learned the three-act structure
  • learned how authors sustain tension throughout the length of a novel
  • mapped the plots and structures of well-known, popular novels such as Harry Potter
  • outlined the character arcs for all primary characters in these novels
  • learned how a novel’s plot/problem is defined by the needs and desires of the lead character
  • examined how Kaui Hart Hemmings and Karen Russell transformed short stories into novels
  • created a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline of their own novel
  • written the first 40 pages of their novel
  • practiced revision as part of their writing process
  • practiced the skills needed to be a good writing workshop participant

Required Texts   

Additional Readings

  • “The Minor Wars”  by Kaui Hart Hemmings
  • “Ava Wrestles the Alligator”  by Karen Russell

overview of Assignments

Short Assignments

 -  daily writing 

 -  novel idea proposals

 -  LOCK character exercise


Plot Outline & Analysis of Harry Potter

Students outline the plot of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and identify the major plot elements such as the inciting incident, the two doorways of no return, the darkest hour, and the climax. After outlining the novel students write an analysis that explains how Rowling makes Harry sympathetic, how she sets up later plot points early in the novel, how the subplots are layered and intersect, and so forth.


From Short Story to Novel:  Analysis of Swamplandia! and The Descendants 

Students read two short stories and the two novels based upon them: "The Minor Wars" + The Descendants,  and "Ava Wrestles the Alligator" + Swamplandia!  Afterward students write an analysis of how the authors adapted their short stories into novels. What elements from the original were kept, discarded, altered, preserved? What needed to be added to support a novel-length work? How was the journey of the characters changed or kept the same? Was the theme of the short story lost, expanded, altered? What are the novel's inciting incident, two doorways of no return, darkest hour, and climax? What are their origins in the short story?


Report on an Author’s First Book

Every published author has to begin somewhere. For this assignment, students investigate the “somewhere” for a contemporary author and write a report that explains the author's journey before and after publication of their first novel and connects that story to their own publishing goals.


The Doorways of No Return

Students write an explanation of the two doorways of no return in their novel, answering questions such as: After stepping through each doorway, why can't their protagonist go back to their old life? What has been irrevocably changed? How and why? How will your protagonist change internally as a result of passing through these doorways? How is he or she different at the end of the novel?  Et cetera. 


Final Portfolio: 

1)  Novel Outline

A detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline of the student's novel that identifies plot elements discussed in Plot and Structure such as the inciting incident, the two doorways of no return, the darkest hour, and the climax.


2)  First Two Chapters

The first two chapters of the student's novel, which should total at least 30 pages, but more pages are fine. There is no limit.


3)  Query Letter

A formal, one-page letter addressed as if the student was sending it to a literary agent that describes the plot of their novel, provides a brief bio, and describes the novel's target audience.