Thursday, March 16, 2023

How to Write a Short Story Spin-Off from Your Novel

By Rayne Hall, @RayneHall

Part of the Focus on Short Fiction Series

JH: Short stories can be a fantastic marketing tool for your novel. Rayne Hall shows you how to use your novels to create short story spin-offs.

Do you want to create short stories as spin-offs from your novel? This can be a great marketing strategy. When readers who discover your short story on your website or in an anthology and love it, they will look for more fiction by this author. This can strengthen your reputation as an author and boost your novel's sales. 

Can you use the novel's main character for spin-off stories?

Perhaps you can create a story featuring your novel's main character. After all, you know him well and are familiar with his goals, habits and dilemmas. Readers who love the story will be happy discover there's a whole novel about this character, and are likely to click the 'buy' button. 

Featuring a novel character in short spin-offs works especially well for series Fans will be delighted to discover a story they can read until the next volume in the series comes out. Famous fiction characters from novel series who appeared in short stories include Lee Child's Jack Reacher, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Dorothy Parker's Lord Peter Wimsey and Lisa Gardner's Detective D.D. Warren. 

Besides being all series characters, the examples have something else in common: they are all sleuths of some kind. This is because Thrillers and Mysteries—usually more plot-driven than character-driven—lend themselves to spin-offs revolving around their main characters more than other genres do. 

You can easily let the series sleuth solve some minor mysteries between the novels, using the same strategies and showing the same quirky habits. Keep in mind that the limited space of a short story requires a much simpler plot with fewer suspects. In a novel your detective may hunt a serial killer and investigate fifteen suspects. In a story, she's more likely to unravel which of the three suspects stole the diamond brooch. 

With other, more character-driven genres, you may face a dilemma.  In fiction with psychological depth, the character learns, grows and changes. The character’s change in the short story may clash with his growth in the novel.  

The situation is even trickier in Romance fiction. Readers want the main character to find their one true love. If you show him finding the love of his life in the short story, the readers won’t be happy if the novel features him courting someone else. 

If you want to avoid the main character's development in the novel and the short story to clash, here are possible solutions: 

Use a scene you deleted from your novel draft and recycle it as a short story. 

Perhaps you had to cut a scene, a chapter or a whole subplot from your manuscript because they led away from the main plot or because the book was growing too long. Although entertaining and exciting, these sections were not right for the novel and had to go. If you were sad to 'kill your darlings', now you can bring them back to life. With some restructuring, they may become perfect stand-alone stories.

Make the short story a prequel to the novel, featuring the main character’s earlier adventures. 

Let's say your novel is a swashbuckling Epic Fantasy in which the MC goes on a dangerous quest to fight the evil overlord. Then the short story could show him in his youth, learning sword-fighting skills or defeating a minor villain. 

Use the novel’s main character as a minor character in the story, because a minor character doesn’t need to change. 

Let's say your novel is a Romance, in which the MC found here true love and married him. The short story she makes an appearance in a minor role, perhaps as the main character's sister, bridesmaid, work colleague or best friend. 

However, my favorite solution is this:

Promote the supporting cast to lead roles in the spin-off

This is a safe and fun solution. Minor characters from your novel are perfect candidates for short stories. Who are the interesting, quirky, fascinating people in the novel? Think of the ones whom you enjoyed writing, and the ones your fans love. 

Could one of them be the star of a short story? 

You know the character already and don't need to develop him from scratch. This saves time. Readers who love the character in the story will be happy to hear he’s part of a novel, and fans of the novel will enjoy reading a tale featuring their favorite sidekick. The character can grow and change during the short story without affecting the novel series' story line. 

Start by making a list of the minor characters in your novel. Highlight the ones you enjoyed working with, and also the ones for whom you got enthusiastic feedback from beta-readers, book reviewers and fans. 

Choose one of them. What did she want to achieve in the novel? Did she get it? If not, write a story about how she pursues that goal. 

What kind of challenge does she face, what difficult situation does she find herself in, what problem does she have in her life that you didn't have room in the novel to explore? This is material for a short story. 

The plot of this kind of short story can unfold at the same time as that of the novel, although it's easier to avoid continuity errors if the story takes place after the novel's end. 

Benefits of writing spin-off stories from your novel

You can submit the short stories to anthologies, where they'll get discovered by genre fans. This will attract new readers to your novel.

Sulu reads Writing Vivid Plots
By publishing a short story on your website, you give readers a free sample of your writing. After reading a complete short story, they will know whether or not they want to read more from this author. Add a buy-link to your novel, so those who love the story can immediately click to buy the book. 

When promoting your novel, you can use a short story as a prize in giveaways. This works better than giving away the novel itself. 

If you are writing a novel series, releasing short stories will keep fans connected and happy until the next novel comes out. 

Which authors do you know who have written short stories related to their novels? Which of their works did you discover first—a short story or a novel? Do their shorts feature the same main characters? 

Rayne Hall lives in Bulgaria where she has created an eco-project for organic gardening. She has adopted several rescued pets and trains cats. Yes, cats can be trained – if they want.

She is the author of over seventy books, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Her books have been published by several publishers in several countries, and translated into several languages.  A trained publishing manager with more than thirty years’ experience in the industry, she also publishes her own books and champions indie-publishing for authors. 

She edits and publishes short story anthologies, mostly in the Horror, Gothic and Fantasy genres. Her bestselling Writer’s Craft series (the ‘blue guides’) teaches writers advanced and professional skills. 

About Writing Vivid Plots

Do you want to give your novel a powerful story line? Do you want to power up a draft you’ve written?

This guide shows professional techniques for developing and structuring your fiction book.

It solves plot problems such as slow beginnings, sagging middles and flat endings, and guides you to write specific story parts such as the ‘Black Moment’ and the ‘Climax’.

The focus of this guide is on plotting full-length novels, but there are also chapters on plotting short stories, series and serials.

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  1. Also, I can see this as a way to boost the author's interest in the novel during production. A short story to introduce readers to a novel being developed (as my friend Dalene has done with her WWII historical novel), and she could do the same with other characters as she continues her WIP). An author is bored with the middle of the WIP, where the "doldrums" often happen - heading off on another path to see where it goes could prove to renew interest. Or the author has writer's block - a short story offshoot of the WIP could become the necessary detour around a problem. This idea can be used before, during, and after the WIP is written and published. The WIP itself can become a prompt, or many prompts.

  2. What an interesting idea. After writing the zero draft for my first science fiction novel, I've been stumped on how to replot it and haven't yet developed the energy to get another draft started. Some prequel work, even a short from an alien perspective, might not only fun and generate interest but could help me get started on the novel again. Thank you!

  3. Another option is to write a short story for a moment in time not long after the novel ends and offer it as a bonus to subscribe to your newsletter. Several authors do this very successfully. In a romance, you could write a short story about the proposal or the wedding. In a mystery or thriller, an event that happens in the days after the arrest of the killer.

  4. A related thing I've done is to interview your characters. I've done guest blog posts this way.