Author Spotlight

Just Use Guano Or How to Turn a Short Story into a Novel

You’d think I’d have learned something by now, some 300+ books along in my career. I should have said, “You have turned short stories into novels before–Dragon’s Boy, Snow in Summer, Dragon’s Blood, and others.” Surely, I should have remembered that having written a short story doesn’t make it easier to write it in novel form.

It makes it harder. Here’s why.

First, of course, is that a short story’s compression and singular focus, its lyricism and leaps as dazzling as Margot Fontaine’s jetes, can’t be counted on to work at novel length. As one of my brilliant editors years ago told me, “Let your story take its own time. If the story is interesting enough, the audience will follow where you lead.”

Next what can be suggested in a short story, hinted at, waved in passing, with a wink at the audience, needs to be spelled out in the longer length. It’s not just that more happens. It’s: more has to happen. It’s longer. You’ve got space–not to fill, but to use. Use wisely, not carelessly.

Fine, I knew those things. And after all the short stories I’d already turned into novels, I thought I was prepared. I was sailing along in the book, almost coasting. I’d had taken my time, woven in extra munchy stuff, texture that I was enjoying. And there I was, about halfway into Curse of the Thirteenth Fey, which is based on the short story “The Thirteenth Fey,” when I realized I’d used up every bit of the short story and there was no there there in the  novel. Oh I had fun characters. I had a setting I adored. I had some bits of possible tension. . .but in the novel as in the story, I was jumping right to the end. And. . .

And it didn’t work. I was a grump, a bear for the next couple of weeks because I had to sit and think plot, my least favorite part of writing. And yet that’s what I had to do. Think. About. Plot. My friend of forty years, Patricia MacLachlan (we’ve been in the same critique group for almost that long), likes to say, “I must have been absent from school the day they taught plot.” Even though we didn’t go to the same school, we both must have been absent on the same day!

Well, thank goodness for the Internet. My main character does an Alice, falls down a hole, and an entire new plot developed. When I got stuck, I talked to friends on line, learned that you can make explosions from bat guano, found out how by googling it (Guano makes a lovely purplish glow when lit, before it goes BANG!). And why should guano be important to the plot of Sleeping Beauty, the fairy tale on which the novel is based? Well, that’s a spoiler. You will just have to read the book to see how it all comes out–and why.

As for me, I learned something new this time–not to count chickens or books till they are completely hatched, in the chicken house, and busy laying their own eggs. In other words, the rooster crowed before the fat lady sang. This won’t happen next time.

PS I spoke too soon, but that’s another story–and another novel–altogether.



Our guest blogger today is Jane Yolen, prolific author of books for both children and YAs.

Some of her Fall titles include:

Visit her blog at

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at

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