Conflict. I finally understand now why it is the single most important thing to many creative writing teachers. I grabbed a book to read while waiting on my computer to update and returned to I Brake For Bad Boys, a collection of erotic romance short stories I bought back in college.

The second story, Something Wilde, by Janelle Denison, was so well-written I bought two of her books. And then, in my twenty-two year old clumsy and unpolished way left scathing reviews of how bad they were in comparison.

Another author I shan’t name, for she also writes for Red Sage, and we have to stick together, has the same problem. Her short stories are electrifying, hot, and awesome, but her novels…boring, rough, choppy at best.

Now, at thirty-five, revisiting the first short story that introduced me to the problem of writers who rock at short fiction and suck at novels, it hit me like a lightning bolt: when they write novels, they come up with ideas for short stories. They expand them to novel length but do not add conflict that drives the story!

No, instead they add MacGuffins: events masquerading as external conflict designed to create a scene and use more words but does not actually drive the plot. Also the name of the new bars located inside AMC theaters that serve much the same purpose.

Perhaps this is because right now, as I write this post, I am expanding three short stories that totaled 40,000 words to a 100,000 word novel. I’ve done this for my Marly Jackson works, but in all honesty, there I just read the novella, then start from scratch on the novel. Now I actually am expanding on older works. Changing some things, yes, but mainly adding.

If you follow my writing lessons you know I believe in making an outline before writing. Every time I don’t, I stall, so I believe in them with rabid fervency. And you know I am anal about conflict pacing. So when I expand an existing short the first thing I do is go back to the summary and expand it.

I pay attention to the conflict pacing that previously existed. Fast-paced stories have mostly external conflict and usually the instances of conflict come close together. Slower stories have a mix of internal and external spaced farther apart. Literature written in the pursuit of the Great American Novel has mostly internal conflict paced fairly close together. If you’re well-read this distinction will come naturally to you.

So I write new material to expand a short story to a novel in one of two ways: I either create new conflict between existing ones, or I decide to write a new ending or start and add conflict before/after the existing summary. The difference would be (in terms of a synopsis/summary’s paragraphs): creating between existing conflict would be putting sentences into paragraphs, while going outside means creating new paragraphs.

Truly, if you have to go from 50,000 to 70,000 you’re best off creating new conflict between existing ones. If you’re going from 40,000 to 100,000, you’re better off creating mostly new conflict outside the existing. 

It’s not a hard and fast rule, but a good guideline: if you have to increase the word count by as much or more than the existing amount, create outside conflict AND some inside. If you have to increase the word count by less than the existing amount, create solely inside conflict.

This translates into expanding scenes or creating new ones. It should make sense that if you only need to increase a small amount, you simply need to make existing scenes a bit longer, introducing no new plot arcs, simply filing in more detail and action in existing arcs.

And if you need to vastly increase the size, you need more arcs, which means plenty more scenes. That’s the tricky one I think these authors have issues with. I do not know for sure, I’m going by assumptions, and I mean no offense to anyone.

The problem is, how do you add new scenes, new arcs, and not change the existing story? I’m not trying to be a dick, but I don’t understand why this is tricky and I’m trying really hard to. It’s fairly easy for me, but since I know my brain is wired abnormally, perhaps I should explain my thought process. Since I have ADHD, I’ll leave out the 9,000 unrelated thoughts I have while figuring this out.

First, I see the story in my head. It plays like a 3D movie in my mind, and to me characters follow rules of personalities. Yes, perhaps being educated in psychology this is easier for me. Being an INTJ is meaningless, really, but knowing a character’s father walked out when she’s four tells me all I need to know about how she deals with men. Knowing how many siblings a man has and where he falls in the order of children tells me all I need to know about his ambition and drive. To answer the questions in your head right now, yes this can make dating VERY awkward.

So first I go over the sequence of events. Does it seem like the characters would be too worn out by a third of the way through to go on? Do they seem too sluggish?

Then my mind does a little trick. Let’s say in a scene Lucy, who is a Type-A personality, seems to fall for John, who is dominant in bed. My brain will skid there, even if I wrote it. In a short story, Lucy discovering she likes to be tied up and spanked is reason enough to make her open up to loving John. Not in a real life! So my brain will snag on that because it makes the movie I see feel awkward.

Then I know I need more scenes between the hot sex and the confession of love. Speaking as a psychologist, what we like in bed is often the opposite of who we are on the street. This is not 100% true all the time, but by and large the dominant male is the gas station attendant; a man with little control in daily life often craves control in bed.  The submissive woman is the one with responsibilities and struggles who relishes giving up control so she can just relax.

However, books operate by the laws of fiction. In the laws of fiction the dominant man must be dominant 24/7. That does NOT happen, ever. People who claim to be dominant 24/7 in real life are either bullshitting you or are likely insane. Yet, in the laws of fiction, a character can be dominant 24/7 and be completely sane, healthy, and well-adjusted (or in the case of Christian Grey readers want him to be sane so much they ignore the fact he is a nuts and indoctrinating his new submissive like a cult leader – LINK:

Now, in the laws of reality, you don’t fall in love because of sex. Sorry, that’s not real love, that is not how it works. Now, the laws of short fiction, they can…but it’s lazy writing. Hey, we’ve all done lazy writing, it happens, but we should strive to do better. 

Love lends itself better to internal conflict (e.g. jealousy/insecurity makes one protagonist realize s/he has deep feeling for the other protagonist). If the story was 40,000 words and we wanted to expand it to 70,000, again we’d be looking at inside conflict.

To do this, you’d go back to your conflict noted summary (LINK).  In short, look at the conflict pacing (is it every third sentence in the summary? It should be.) If you’re expanding from 40,000 to 100,000 simply add a new beginning or ending, and make sure it follows the same pacing. Start there, you may have to go back and edit some prior pacing to fit, but you will find that some has to be moved around, requiring new scenes in the middle as well. For a more thorough explanation, click here (LINK to expanding lesson).

You can do massive expansion by inserting conflict into existing paragraphs in your summary. If, for example, your conflict occurs in every third sentence, you’ll need to space it out with two more. An additional sentence of plot, another of conflict, between each existing instance so that conflict is now every other sentence.

If you do the first method, your pacing will be the same. If you do the second, it will speed up. So you have to note how fast or slow you want it to be. This is especially true if the main source of conflict is external. Inserting too much conflict in an existing storyline opens the door wide to MacGuffins, so you’re honestly better off adding it at the start or end.

At the end of the day, if you have made a conflict outline, as a writer this is not so hard. But yet, it happens. What are some authors you have read that you know master pacing, arcs, character development, and conflict in the short story or novella form, but it fizzles in novels?