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Writing

How to Expand Your Short Story: 4 Tips for Story Expansion

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

Writing short stories or flash fiction comes with certain restrictions—only so many story lines, subplots, and characters can be included in this limited literary format. However, if the story structure and conventional boundaries of traditional short fiction writing are impeding the story you’re trying to tell, you may decide to try expansion.

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What Is Expansion?

Expansion is when a writer adds more specific details, explores the effects of certain premises, or provides context to particular situations in order to create a rounder world for the reader. Expansion can extend the length of your piece by a few paragraphs—or a few hundred pages. Depending on what your short story needs, you may end up with the same word count as a standard novella (or in some cases, a full novel).

Expansion gives life to specific aspects of your story that did not have room to exist within the normal format. For example, with traditional short story writing, you likely won’t have room to cover a character’s backstory and how their emotional history has affected their character development. When you use expansion, you’ll be able to delve into a character’s gritty past and give a fuller picture as to why this person behaves the way they do—which can make the difference between writing an empathetic character and writing an unrelatable one.

What Is the Purpose of Expansion?

When writing a short story, expansion can be used to broaden the scope of your plot and extend the world beyond what would normally be included in this briefer format. The purpose of expansion is to give more dimension and weight to the world you’ve created, along with its inhabitants. If you decide to use expansion for your short story, it’s because you’ve identified the areas that need more fleshing out, and the story feels lacking in its current short form. However, expansion shouldn’t be used to add needless exposition or extra pages to an already good short story.

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4 Tips for Expanding a Short Story

There are a few different writing tips for implementing proper expansion. Here are a few ways you can use expansion to enhance your short story:

  1. Expand with a purpose. Your expansion should add something meaningful to the story. When expanded, a good story provides a more complete picture, not just extra pages. For example, if you want to show more context for a main character’s behavior, you can explore their familial history, or how they were affected by a bad relationship. If you want to see what happens to a civilization centuries after their plot’s global disaster takes place, summarize a look into that world’s future. Brainstorm ways to give your story elements more life, and open up the boundaries of your narrative to show what lives beyond the confines of a short format.
  2. Stay on track. An expansion can be brief, or it can turn you from a short story writer into a novelist. You might have dozens of short story ideas you want to include—even the best writers can get lost in the endless creative writing possibilities—but however many you decide to add, make sure it’s relevant and focused on enhancing the important elements of your story. If not, be prepared to make some cuts.
  3. Transition smoothly. New details should be massaged into the story, creating seamless movement throughout the text. It should read as natural as if it were written there in the first place. Picking a spot to dump a block of new text will be jarring to readers, so it’s important that anything added to your narrative flows organically.
  4. Know when to quit. While useful for extending points of view, major conflicts, and various plot points of a story, once you’ve accomplished the goal of your expansion, end it. If you carry on for too long, you’ll end up boring or confusing your reader. Balancing the right amount of information to give your universe the dimension it needs is key to expanding a great short story.

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