If you’ve been writing and submitting stories to editors or agents, eventually you might get a personal suggestion to take that short story you considered a picture book text and make it a novel for older readers, or take that chapter book and expand it to a novel for young adults.
This is what happened to The Voice of Thunder, which began as a short story I mistook for a potential picture book. This is also how many of the subsequent novels for middle grade readers I have written began their lives.
What does the suggestion to “expand” a story and re-fashion it for older readers mean?
Obviously, it must be longer. Not twice or thrice the word count, but ten to a hundred fold. A five-hundred-word story becomes a fifty-thousand-word story. But this tells of the size of the box, not its content.
Expanding means going both wider and deeper.
Wider pertains to the cast of characters, (more enter the scene) and plot, (many more twists and turns) and adding descriptive passages that the illustrations would have done in the picture book, even as the same arc is essentially already there. You already have the beginning, middle, and end. It’s all the stuff in and around the middle that the writer must conjure.
Deeper means extra layers of character exploration. This applies to all the characters, the ones who were there before and the new ones. They all have a past and wonder about the future. They all have layers of ambiguity where the various forces that drive a character operate, sometimes at cross-purposes.
Writers are advised to make sure the age of the protagonists match the intended readership. This, though a technical detail, also helps navigate the deepening of the characters.
Every time I undertook this challenge, I became ever more appreciative of the art of Picture Books writing. I marvel at how it was all in there in the short version. Longer takes more time, but shorter is harder, believe me.
©Chris Brecheens 2012