Lengthening Your Story

I know it’s about three months too late to say this, but Happy New Year, everyone!

Now, to the main topic: has anyone ever told you your story, one which you might have worked months on and is already tens of thousands of words long, is good, but needs to be longer? I have: back in my senior year of college, I had written a novel called Rose for my senior thesis. Near the end of my last semester, I met with my thesis advisor to discuss the novel one more time (at that point in its second draft). We talked about a number of qualities with the novel, its strengths and weaknesses, and where I could go with  the next draft. One of the most memorable suggestions? Make it twice as long as it was already.*

At that time, the novel was about forty-thousand words long, so doubling it seemed like an impossible task. However, two years later I did somehow manage to add about that many words, and it actually did help the story. How did I accomplish this feat? Well, here are some of the steps I took to lengthen my story, which might be of some help to you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

1. Figure out if the story really does need lengthening. Every story, like every person, is unique. And some are meant to be shorter. If your story works at about seven-thousand words, don’t expand it to twenty-five thousand because you feel it won’t do well that short or to fit an anthology’s needs. Instead, think long and hard about whether the story itself would be better if longer. And if you’re not sure, ask for a second or third opinion. It wasn’t just my thesis advisor, but two other early readers from Ohio State who told me to make it longer, so that’s what I did. See if anyone in your writing circle can give you an objective opinion on the story and if it needs to be longer.

If you get a positive on that question, then here are some strategies you can try.

2. Try expanding a scene.  In two instances in Rose, there were parts where the protagonists remembers episodes in her life that had a lasting impact on her. In between the second and third draft, I felt that those scenes should have more happening in them in order to maximize their effectiveness. Sure enough, those scenes were made more powerful by going deeper into them and expanding the action.

And speaking of expanding:

3. Add a new chapter. This one, I’d treat as a sort of last resort. In Rose, it was necessary: I needed to reveal a ton of information to the reader, and couldn’t put that info into a previously-established chapter. A new chapter was necessary. So only write a new chapter if it is absolutely necessary, and if adding the new scenes or information can’t be done in any previous chapter.

4. Go deeper into a character’s character. Some characters might benefit from going deeper into their personalities or histories. Perhaps you can expand on what a character is thinking in a certain situation, showing us what thoughts lead to their actions. Or maybe you’ll want to go into why another character is very passionate about something, and relate it to something in their past. In Needful Things by Stephen King, one character is passionately against gambling. This is partly due to religious reasons, but later it’s revealed his father was an alcoholic gambler who abandoned the character’s family several times due to drinking and gambling debts. It’s an interesting reveal, and added depth to an otherwise stock character as well as a few more words.

5. Add a new character/expand a minor character’s role.  In the first and second drafts of Rose, I mentioned two characters who had a big impact on the antagonist. However, they’re only mentioned by other characters and never actually seen. In the third draft, I not only added scenes featuring these two characters, but created a third character who also had a big impact on the antagonist. Doing so added a new level of depth to the antagonist, which my beta readers loved.

6. Add a new element or two to the story. I did not do this with Rose, but it’s still a legitimate strategy. For example, in 2007 an anime adaptation of Romeo and Juliet aired in Japan and later was released internationally.  It was twenty-four episodes, and part of the reason an anime based on a two-hour play was able to be that long is because they set the anime in a fantasy universe complete with flying horses, a rebel army, and magic trees (I haven’t seen it yet, so I have no idea if that works, but apparently a lot of people like it, so I guess it worked for some people).

You can do something similar with your own stories, though it doesn’t have to be so dramatic as changing the entire setting and genre of the story. What would happen if you added drag racing to your story about lovers from different social classes? Or what if your protagonist is given a disability that they must overcome along with whatever obstacle faces them in the story? The only limits are your imagination, and you can create some interesting new scenarios when you add new elements to the story.


Not all stories need to be longer than they already are. But in the event that they need to be, there are several ways to go about doing that. As long as you do it well and it’s not shoehorned in awkwardly, anything you add can only add to the story. Both in word count and in story quality.

What tips do you have for expanding a story? Have you ever had to make a story longer? How did it work out?

*At least, I think that’s what he said. It may have actually been add another ten or twenty thousand words, but I’m pretty sure he said double it. Not that it really matters, in the end.

The Creative

My second-oldest grandson made me a birthday card,  what do you think he drew ? The answer will surprise you. Done guessing?

Well, it was a dinosaur that swallowed a rainbow fish.  My grandson thought out of the box. Are you thinking out of box? Are you using your creative juices?

As a writer, I guarantee you probably do that. But sometimes our drinking well dries up. How do we replenish our creative side? Downtime helps at times.

I recently put my prequel novel on hold. It included some great scenes but the whole concept was not right. Readers must love your character and if I continued with the way it was going they would not root for him. Thus, I got input from critique groups and entered a contest and received feedback there. These insights will make this project better. But while I sort out on how to fix the problem, a different idea came to fruition.

And, this is co-authoring a book with great friend Ruth Ann Nordin. Our work in progress is titled, Bride by Arrangement, where two women meet on a train to travel to Nebraska in the late 1800s. When I have mentioned this story, people ooh and ah.

The romance will include two novellas – one written by Ruth and the other by me. My novella is called She Came by Train, where Opal leaves her beloved Virginia to become a governess of two children of a local banker who lost his wife. The plot thickens when a minister from Virginia conducts revival services in the area. She came by train but only her heart will determine if she leaves that way.

How do we develop concepts? There is no certain path. Mine is to write a scene and see where it leads. Here is an example:

“Her mind whirled. ‘Mice. You don’t bring those into the house do you?’ she asked in a weak voice.

He shook his head in the negative. ‘No, Papa wants them outside so the cats can have their meals. Miss Preston you looking kind of white.’

Her eyes closed. 

‘Miss Preston,’ his shrill voice penetrating her consciousness.

She teetered.”

However, everybody has their own method. There are people who are story plotters. One woman Ruth and I ran into at a conference had a huge sheet with a series of notes on it. She needed a king-size bed to display that paper. But if this helps you create, go for it.

Creators do come in many shapes and sizes and each builds on their own experiences in order to fashion their stories. For example, in my Lockets and Lanterns the secret the husband hides from his wife is something which comes from my background.

Thus, feed on your past and embellish them to make good reading. Remember those fish tales? They only get better as the fish got bigger.

Sometimes visiting historical homes or other places gives you ideas. These also make great resource tools to get a real feel for the time period. Even childhood memories assist you. In my prequel, I wrote a scene where a character falls in a lake. I can describe this since as a child we went camping and I waded in the river.

In addition, do not forget about past actions and conversations. Family and friends make wonderful fodder. In my story, “Sweaters of Love,” in Seasons of the Soul I used a conversation between myself and my oldest granddaughter who was 4 years old at the time and weaved it into this fiction tale.

“Mary told Jolleen about how the weather changed. ‘Grandma,’ Jolleen said. ‘God is a big guy. He will do whatever He wants.’”

So remind yourself you can take a break; look for new projects to refresh your writing; plot your story your way; generate ideas from experiences, conversations and actions; and fill that drinking well with writing. You cannot believe what you can produce when you put your mind to it.

How do you create your stories? I look forward to your comments and as always God bless.























The 3 Act Plot Structure by Jerry Dunne

The plot isn’t a series of events that move forward in a random way. The events are connected by cause and effect and have a very definite structure to them. The plot for the short story can be structured like a 3 act play and like in a play the acts are divided into scenes. Within each scene the structure is like the play itself with a beginning, middle and end, culminating in a high point.

Let’s take a closer look at this 3 act structure.

Act 1

Start with a set-up or situation. A set-up can be viewed in a very simple way: introduce a protagonist and put him in a problematic situation. Let’s suppose that your short story idea has given rise to two strong opposing characters and you can see the conflict that will nicely rise out of the confrontation between them. But here you must start thinking of the individual situations in which you will pit your protagonist against your antagonist.

What triggers the conflict’s story and kicks the plot into gear is known as the inciting incident. This will be something dramatic and disturbing for the protagonist. It comes as close to the beginning of the story as possible. Once character and setting are introduced, it should happen. The inciting incident signals the end of the first act.

In my story The Hair Snatching Witch the inciting incident comes in the second scene. The first scene sets up character and situation. In this second scene, Gracie Glass is hair snatched by the witch. This horrible incident means that Gracie soon plans to end the witch’s hair-snatching days.

Act 2

This is the main body of the story. I personally believe it is the trickiest part to write because it is where you are placing scenes that develop character, plot and conflict in a smooth and logical manner and the tension must always be rising, even in quiet periods of reflection. It must be clear that the stakes are rising for the protagonist, and that everything is heading toward an inevitable clash with the antagonist.

Many stories have a lively beginning and then a rambling middle. You cannot afford to ramble in a short story at any point. Rambling means the tension is fast draining away, leaving the reader growing bored. Alternatively, the middle part may be short, but empty of conflict. Or it might have lots of conflict but none of it really relevant to the plot. In a six thousand word short, the middle bit may take up four thousand words or even more. Ironically, this short word length might end up seeming like a vast desert in which you are trying to construct a sharp, well-written middle part.

So what can you do to prevent these bad things happening? Well, assuming that your original idea really does have short story potential then you can plan this middle act carefully. Once you have planned it, you can then play with it in your own head for a while. Question yourself over it! Look for weaknesses and if you see any, strengthen them! Remember, throughout the act you must have rising tension.

This is just a rough guide to how I suggest you plan it, though some of it is essential to cause the greatest amount of tension and excitement in the story. (You’ll see why later on).

Have 3 clashes between the protagonist and antagonist.

In the first clash, the hero can be thwarted. Bear in mind this might already have happened in the inciting incident. You may or may not want your hero to receive an even greater drubbing.

The second clash might end in a messy draw or the hero might be done down even more. Or the hero might win and think it is game, set and match. Then the third clash will be quite unexpected.

The third clash will have a high point and the darkest moment. The whole point of this third clash is to ratchet the tension up even higher. Remember that! It will look like our hero has got one over on the opposition, this is the high point, but then, suddenly, the darkest moment arrives, where it looks like all he has tried to achieve is now undone. It looks like he has completely failed in his quest to sort out the problem of the story. This is an essential moment because it makes the tension rise even higher. It is the moment in the horror story when it looks like the monster is dead but then rises up sneakily behind our hero. It is the most nail-biting moment of the film where it looks like our unsuspecting hero is about to be devoured.

In The Hair-Snatching Witch, the first meeting (inciting incident) with the witch is where she mugs Gracie for her hair. On Eagle point, Gracie has come with the hopes of catching her. This is the first clash in the middle section of the story. The witch gets the better of her here and Gracie is left humiliated. Soon Gracie finds out that witches are very vain. With this piece of information she arranges a hair beauty contest with the intention of trapping the witch. At the hair beauty contest, the second clash between them, Gracie finds success and catches the witch. The third clash takes part in the cells of the police station. Gracie is compelled to visit her there. The witch lures here over to the cage promising her the secret of hair restoration. But it’s a trap. The witch grabs hold of Gracie and with her powerful hands begins to strangle the girl. Here is the darkest moment.

Let’s see if we can simplify Act 2.

3 clashes between protagonist/s and antagonist/s, each scene helping to raise the tension and on the high point of the third clash the protagonist/s suddenly has her darkest moment where it looks like she will lose everything she hoped to gain.

And that is the end of act 2.

Act 3

We have the highest climatic point in this scene where everything that our hero is fighting for might still be lost. This is where he turns and faces the monster that had not died and has the last set-to with him. In your story it might be something completely different. It might even be an argument done with dialogue only. This is an all or nothing moment where everything the hero has striven for will turn to dust if he loses at this point. In The Hair-Snatching Witch it is where Gracie must fight off the witch or be strangled to death.

I personally think this is the easiest part of the story if Act 1 and 2 are done properly.

After this, in a short story, the tale might end on a satisfying twist. In a novel all the loose ends are tied up concerning the plot strands and characters involved in those strands.

A story can be structured like a three act play.

3 Act Play

This covers the set-up to the final outcome and the overall objective/problem to be tackled.

Act 1


inciting event

Act 2.

Conflict (must have cause and effect and rising tension)

High point

Darkest moment

Act 3

Highest climactic point

Final outcome

As I said, the above is just a rough guide. You can play around with this formula for structure in different ways. This formula works for film and novel really well, so for your short story you may well need to play around with it. The point is that you must know what you are doing; you must understand the underpinning psychology of why this formula creates rising tension and holds us spellbound to a high degree and leaves us feeling emotionally spent but without over-milking our emotion and attention.  Once you understand this, then whatever you do with the formula you are at least not working blind.

To understand this underpinning psychology let’s use a sporting analogy for reference. We can use the tug of war one to fully explain why the 3 Act structure works so well.

Act 1 is the set-up and the challenge. One team might scream out a challenge to the other (antagonist does the challenging). The contest begins. The team making the challenge looks tough and formidable and pulls the other team (protagonist) quickly forward toward the line. That is the end of act 1. It is aggressive and confrontational but exciting for the spectators (reader, in your case).

In Act 2 you have the teams pulling back and forward. The challenged team (protagonist) might manage somehow to pull the other side a few feet back, but then the challengers (antagonist) digs deep and pulls the challenged team forward again. This exciting to-ing and fro-ing is constantly forcing up the tension. This might happen three times in all, so it’s like three little matches within the overall match.

The challenged team might be looking very tired by the end of the act. You can see it in their gritted teeth and their trembling muscles. The challengers look tired but not nearly as tired. After an exciting Act 2, it really looks like the challenged (protagonist) are going to lose it. They are dragged right to the line and the other side are sucking in their breaths and digging in their heels, ready to make that one last effort to drag the opposition forward over the line and seal the deal (here is the darkest moment for the protagonist).

In Act 3 things don’t quite turn out as you might think. The losing team (protagonist) suddenly finds its second strength. It pulls back hard and regains a step. Then the other side pulls back hard. Another fierce struggle ensues, but this time the team that looked like it was going to lose, now pulls its opponents over the line in a nail-biting finish.

This is a simple sporting analogy. You can make more complicated sporting analogies using soccer, rugby, wrestling, boxing or whatever, as examples. I use the tug-of-war analogy because everyone can grasp what I am saying: you don’t have to be a tug of war fan to see it. It is a simple and expressive example and gets the basic points across clearly. If you were just to have a match, where within the opening seconds one team pulled the other over the line, or a match that lasted minutes but one team looked like it would win right from the start with no real balance between the contestants, it would not be anywhere near as exciting. Of course, you can’t plan the most exciting outcome for a sport, but you can for a story.

See how the psychology behind the 3 act structure works!


Jerry Dunne is a self-published children’s novelist whose work is found on Amazon and Smashwords. This post is an edited extract from his book How To Write Children’s Short Stores (for the middle reader). His blog is www.jerrydunne.com.