Expecting Something Longer Part two of Short Story Workshop


 UPDATE: I did NOT forget to grade your homework, but I think you’re going to prefer I do that in the morning.  It’s been a long and tiring day.

(Oh, please! Take your mind out of the gutter, do. Go ahead and look at the heading. See, Sarah, not Kate. You’re safe, my precious. Mostly.)


If you’re a natural novel writer, or simply a not very experienced writer, you might not have realized that there is a difference between ideas for novels and ideas for short stories.

Or at least, you might never have given it much thought.


Some of the worst stuff I did to poor innocent stories when I was starting out, was to cram a novel idea into a short story. (Or a trilogy idea into a novel, but that’s something else yet again.)


So in this episode of our rousing workshop, we’re going to learn to distinguish between short story ideas and novel ideas, so we don’t either stick a story in a way too short space or start what we think is a nvoel only to have it die after ten pages.


So, how do you tell the two apart?


With experience.


Okay, fine, that was the honest answer, not the detailed one.


The truth is that it’s extremely difficult to give you hard and fast rules on what constitutes a short story idea and what constitutes a novel idea. I’m going to give you several rules of thumb that were given me, which might serve as tools to start evaluating your idea – but none of them is absolute in itself, so don’t go making dogmatic decisions based on a single one of them.


For instance, a short story usually takes place over a shorter unit of time than a novel. But this is not necessarily true. I’m sure we all have read novels that took place in twenty four hours or less. And my early novels all tended to take place in less than a week, while the short story Thirst took place over centuries.


The next rule of thumb is that a short story is usually “a day in the life” and might concentrate on a central, pivotal moment, but it’s not a life-changing moment, just a mind changing moment or something like that. Of course, if that’s the case, they Cold Equations is not a short story.


Then there is the “Weight” rule, in which a novel deals with weightier subjects. In my experience this rule is exactly reversed. A short story can deal with much more serious subjects and, by not weighing them down with local color; by not diluting them with incidentals, the story is that much “punchier.”


As I said, all those rules are imperfect. In my opinion the one rule that works is that a short story is capable of a much greater unity of voice/theme/presentation. Think of it as a super-concentrated flavor. While a novel has a much more diffuse, lengthy view of something. It’s deeper, but it might have less impact.

Some examples:


You can write a novel about the American revolution, set in the future. There will be contretemps, set backs, and that awful winter at Valley Forge.

Or you can write a short story either set in the equivalent of Valley forge or the future equivalent of crossing the Delaware. You can give us the ups and downs in a paragraph or two, but for the short story to be a short story, not a news report, you’re going to have to concentrate on one event only, and on a theme of loss or win, only.


You can write a novel about a complex marriage, with ups and downs. Or you can write a short story about someone finding out his/her spouse cheated on him/her and decide what to do with his/her life.


You can write a novel about a quest for a magical artifact, or you can write a short story about the final battle and /winning/losing the artifact.


A novel is the bedroom light going on, and a short story is the tight beam of your bedside table lamp.


If you feel up to doing an exercise this week, give me two ideas in novel and in short story mode.


Next week we shall dwell upon the various ways of structuring a story to make sure it has the impact it should have. Novels are way more forgiving, but short stories, as I said, have to be tightly focused. So plotting is a little more important than in novels. (and it’s important enough in novels!)


  1. My problem has always been trying to write a novel and realizing I’m still writing a short story.

    1. been there, done that. IT starts with fixing the “idea”. We can do a plotting workshop for novels later. (I think I did a short one, long ago.) Them is tricksy. I’m still studying it.

    2. I hope to have that problem some day. 🙂 For me it is, “oops, that’s STILL a novel”… or trying to write a short story when I am writing a series. 🙂

      1. My problem with short stories is getting through the first draft. All’s well as long as nothing interrupts me, but if I have to set the story aside for more than a few weeks before that draft is finished, I never seem to pick it up again.

        And some sort of screaming emergency always occurs.

  2. Novel:
    Scientist was working on time travel when MAD tipped over into global thermonuclear war everybody dies mode. He and his friends went back in time to apply a few tweaks . . . returned to their time and find a different disaster. Rinse and repeat until they realize someone is causing things to always tip into disaster. Find out who, have a nice big fight. Settle down to eternal vigilance.

    Short Story:
    Policewoman finds out the man who assassinated a senator is a time traveler, trying to keep the senator from becoming the president who destroys the world. Obviously a total fruitcake . . . but . . . Her daughter was killed in a car crash five years earlier. Is she going to arrest the killer or persuade him to take her back five years and save her daughter?

    1. For a multitude of reasons, I would love to see the finished version of that short story. 🙂

      1. It’s a good example of the emotional intensity of a short story vs the more detached novel. “Can I save my daughter” vs “Oh, good grief those idiots did it again.” The billions of people are faceless. The daughter, on the other hand, matters deeply to the POV character.

    2. The first needs a bigger overarching plot for a SATISFYING novel, Pam. reads too episodic. Short story idea is spot on, though — provided you start with her arresting the killer 😉

  3. Novel: The difficulties of moving to the US (or a US analog) from a different country.

    Short story: The realization that in this people don’t try to dodge things like jury duty.

    1. Better idea for a short story (sorry). Maxwell the disillusioned medieval monk tries to summon a succubus. He gets a nerdy, chaste one who helps him set up life as an attorney instead.

      1. I’d enjoy that one.

        (The only thing I like even less than vampire paranormal romance and absolutely refuse to read is angel or demon/succubus paranormal romance. I realize this leaves me with shapechangers and maybe aliens.)

              1. Um… you should have seen Dan at the thrift store when the lady asked him “Are you an Arc-Angel?” (Meaning, would you like to donate to charity.) Robert, “Oh, Lord. You’re caught.” Marsh, “Well, he’s lost his flaming sword.” Dan, face in hands “stop helping me!” Me — giggling insanely.

              1. I’m pretty sure nothermike was making a reference to an old joke about men claiming they were buying Playboy magazines, “Just for the articles”.

                1. I consider it one of the many wonderful ironies of modern life that, given the fact that people who want generic pornography can get limitless quantities of it for free off the internet these days, one increasingly finds that the only reason to buy a magazine like Playboy is…for the articles. 🙂

      1. Ah, I took that as two examples of each. Everyone feel free to ignore my second examples.

  4. I can parse the assignment as two per category, or two, one per category.

    Let’s see.

    Short One: A young Oni is attacked by a far more dangerous monster. The youngster happens to be carrying an iron club. Youngster manages to survive long enough to kill the monster, at the cost of being badly injured.

    Novel One: A very young, very junior deputy Sheriff is the only one available to do some investigative work on a killing thought to be political. They investigate, and deal with the involvement of an outside LEO and the wife of a suspect. They eventually find that the killer was a madman with a mad reason for the killing.

    Short Two: ‘Indigo Children’ actually describes sociopath. A police officer discovers this after a local drug trafficker develops a variety that unlocks the latent mystical powers of young indigo children.

    Novel Two: The noble and military castes of a fantasy polity use a baroque system of fostering. Their children are ‘kidnapped’ at an early age, and then go through a series of schools and development programs under assumed names. A group of youngsters has a different experience when sent into an otherwise forbidden forest to carry out a specific ritual. As adults, they discover that this abnormality is tied to an unrecognized set of problems, and solve some of the problems.

      1. I would not be surprised if I am short on plot.

        Novel one is the first of a semi-cozy trilogy. The young deputy is short a lot of professional development, hence spends a lot of time interviewing unrelated people based on an incorrect theory of the crime. Many of these same people continue to be suspicious in later murders, and most will be relevant to the final series of crimes. I started figuring out the trilogy after finishing Short One, and deciding that TXRed and Oyster would probably be disappointed by it, and feel it didn’t deliver on the opening.

        I don’t think I want to do a narrow focus on novel one.

  5. (Oh, please! Take your mind out of the gutter, do. Go ahead and look at the heading. See, Sarah, not Kate. You’re safe, my precious. Mostly.)

    I’ll finish the article momentarily, but wanted to take a moment to acknowledge my thanks that the coffee was safely resting on the desk.

    So, you’re saying I’m safe from the Kate clarity, but I probably ought to keep an eye out for the Sarah subtlety?

    Got it.

  6. Short: We were standing there, right there in the park, when the alien ship crashed. I was splashed with dirt from the crater.

    Novel: It’s long been speculated, what happens when we find out we’re not alone in the universe? We found out, when one of the last surviving ships of a dying galactic society crashed on Earth. We hadn’t been alone in the universe all this time. But maybe we were now…

    1. I think that the novel idea would be an excellent short story. It could be done in a single scene, just going by what is there. No doubt it could have lots of other stuff happen, lots of complications, too, and end up much longer.

      1. Well, the short and the novel are two parts of the same larger story. I figured I could keep some punch in the short and broad brush the bigger concepts with a dangling end.

        The novel would take the same structure and explore those bigger concepts with more subtlety, explore more of the “what happens next” post crash, perhaps with a more complex cast. And a dangling end.

        I sorta see different protags in each.

        Or that’s what I was thinking, anyway.

    2. Okay, the problem is that you gave me blurbs, not plots. From the blurb, I can’t tell how long it would solve to fix things on the second, or what happens in the first. Try again?

      1. Okay, here we go.

        Short: A couple of young guys are shooting “dumb stunts” in the park when an alien scout ship crashes. They have to deal with the close proximity crash, and struggle with sense and adventure regarding approaching the downed ship. The obstacles and explorations of checking out an alien ship lead to discovering the alien, who’s suffering from the end stages of the contagion that destroyed the galaxy spanning civilization, he’s come to deliver the “Rosetta Stone” that’ll unlock the alien tech. The dangling hook is humanity is the last heir to the dying civilization.

        Aimed at fast-paced action driving to the hook on the end.

        Novel: Starts with the same premise above, with the additional information that an alien refugee ship is in orbit around Mars with what may be the last members of the multiple races that made up the society, and things are failing. With the scouts arrival humanity learns they’ve been under observation by this civilization, but now calamity has befallen them. Two paths lie before humanity, trying to save a dying civilization and/or spreading to fill the open niche of that civilization. For either path, they have to get a mission to Mars.

        I think the plot is riding on the race against the clock to get to Mars, with the underlying question of what happens when they get there.

        How’s my blurb writing, by the way?


          1. Yeah, not surprised. I have no idea how to do blurbs. But Dorothy Grant had some good pointers in her blog series that I need to consider.

            I can see some shifts and leanness working the novel into a short, I’m not sure I have the chops to stretch the short into a novel without getting into the ‘novel’ storyline.

            Things to think about. And it’s fun to work out details and iterations on a couple of ideas I tossed up out of nowhere. Flexing the brain!


  7. Novel: Two detectives come into possession of a magical artifact that must be returned to the Keep from which it was stolen. To do this, they have to cross several dimensions, each one having its own risks and clues to who stole the book.

    Short: Young woman doing ‘routine’ inspections discovers that her L-5 station has been hit by a meteor shower.

      1. Thank you.

        We’re working on that. Right now, each “world” becomes increasingly more dangerous and less willing to give up the clues.

  8. Short (Yes, Eamon reminded me): Given that the number of unexplained UFO sightings is so large, and the necessary reliability of interstellar spaceships needs to be so high, that for even a small percentage of sightings to be real, the Earth must be surrounded by millions of cloaked alien ships. There is no way to safely launch our own spacecraft without their cooperation, so there are agents here, silently controlling launches so the alien craft can be out of the way. What happens if some cowboy of a private space entrepreneur decides to launch off schedule?

    Long: Interstellar naturalist (Steve Irwin type) travels to various planets to do nature documentaries, but gets production interrupted by some major crime, and winds up solving the case. This could lead to a series of cozy space mysteries.

      1. Didn’t think about that, but yeah, I see it now. It would probably also require making the mystery practically the only focus, and merely include short informative bits about his career, rather than making it integral to the story.

  9. Short: Human colony on a distant planet, settled 100 years ago by dissidents from a stifling regime on Earth. No contact with Earth in all that time. Suddenly contacted via radio by what claims to be an FTL starship from Earth entering their solar system and congratulating them on being rejoined with even more stifling regime on Earth. Colony never set up a central government (reaction to what they had to deal with on Earth). Various factions on colony begin arguing as to what to do now — fight or submit?

    Novel: As above, but additional POV from aboard ship. These are refugee rulers from the overthrown stifling regime looking for a bolt hole and rolling the dice that they can take over the colony with a smattering of high tech equipment, a handful of soldiers, and one ship they barely know how to operate. Is that enough to take over a colony of 30,000 farmers and tradesmen at about 1920s tech level?

  10. Short: Elizabeth of Sarmas tries to visit one of the ruined Lander cities, but duty and love persuade her to leave the dead alone.

    Novel: Marta deSarm, sister of the “ruler” of a small mountain county is trying to keep things going after her brother dies in an accident. The larger state next door tries to muscle in, When Marta’s husband starts leaning toward the enemy, Marta must find a way to preserve her people’s independence. At the same time, a group of miners begin to claim that a blind young woman, Odile Derhine, is one of Godown’s chosen. Is this a sign of Godown’s favor, or a warning that Marta has overstepped the bounds of a woman’s place? [Note: I do NOT want to write this novel, Muse. Go away! Scat!]

      1. 😛 With all due respect. Remember, this whole (now seven books and a novella) shebang was supposed to be a short story. *whimper*

  11. Short: Dying, Ole Dufus realizes the acid trip he took as a teen is just now ending.
    Novel: Young Dufus takes an acid trip, and for the rest of his life has experiences that make him uncertain about reality. He resolves to be normal, and defines that as reality.

  12. “In my opinion the one rule that works is that a short story is capable of a much greater unity of voice/theme/presentation. Think of it as a super-concentrated flavor. While a novel has a much more diffuse, lengthy view of something. It’s deeper, but it might have less impact.”

    The original short story version of Flowers for Algernon is so powerful it punches you in the gut. When it got turned into a novel with the addition of a love story, almost all the characteristics that in my opinion made the short story so great were lost. The movie version was even further diluted.

  13. Short, or at least a novella: Actually, this was supposed to be a novel, but I think that I might be stuck on it mostly because it’s not a novel. So… an agent of the Empire is chasing an agent that went missing 70 years earlier and stumbles onto a young clone of the Empress just as a kill order comes through for the girl. He struggles with carrying out that order and ultimately changes loyalties, helping the girl (and the missing agent) “escape” the Empire by moving the whole planet. (An ancient fortress had a big red OMG button the girl -but no one else- could activate.)

    Novel: Crap… we were a multiple ship blockade on a planet that just got moved to an unknown part of the galaxy, we were just threatening to blow the whole thing up if they didn’t surrender a little girl. Can we get home, are we stuck here forever, what are we going to do and how are we going to live? And… crap, our planet just got moved to an unknown part of the galaxy, and the military blockading us got pulled along. How are we going to live? Will the military be a problem? Also… crap, I didn’t mean to do that, I just wanted to live, and now I can’t undo it, but they think I *can*. Will anyone ever forgive me?

      1. I think you might be right. It’s entirely possible that I’m a novella writer.

        (Now I will remind myself that “novellas don’t sell anymore” is a Truth of the Old Paradigm.)

  14. Eh, why not? Got a couple rattling around in the old brain-box today.

    Short: Good Nieghbors.

    Iron Age merchant Dauro is breaking his fast on the trail. It is a beautiful spring day, chilly in the northern forests, but clear and beautiful as a young lover’s smile.

    A few leagues up the trail, the last survivors of a village too small and too new to merit a name are about to be burned alive. The Bear King needs no more slaves, and has too many mouths to feed already. Dry wood catches the sparks…

    Long: (No Title)

    The Silent Gods alone know why the world began in madness, or what came before. Ruins of entire cities lie scattered about the landscape, occasional scrolls or tablets are found in unknown tongues, faded with age long before Man awoke from his fevered dreams. The Sandless choose suicide over the madness that would eventually take them, and the Gorok grow ever more distant and closed to the world, though the scholars tell us this was not always so.

    Few are left who wonder about these things. Man strides ever forward, building, growing, and fighting- his own kind, the clever Moonkin, the beastial Bact. The New World has little need for an ancient past that seems full of foul magics, demons, and other impious blasphemy.

    But a handful of refugees from that ancient past may hold the key to taming this New World before its hidden dangers throttle it in its infancy.

      1. Yeah, after reading everyone else’s critiques and looking back at mine. Will see what I can do after I finish this resume today, I think I need more plot for the first, second should be a story (the backstory is not the story. Got to remember that.).

  15. Homework? Again? But I am (avoiding) writing! [/sass off]

    Okay, here we are.

    Deep in the jungle, an archeological site is discovered that might conceal an alien artifact. The archaeologist must find people who A) Believe her, and B) won’t sensationalize or otherwise manipulate the facts to use the finding to support a scary new cult that is gathering members and predicting the end of the world… that is also taking over the UFO counterculture– and some areas of the Anthro scene.

    *stands back* *squints* Um, novel? Because it has lots of consequences? Or is this a border case where you could handle the situation either way? Sigh… Okay. I’m going to say– Short Story, because I need one. Yes, this is my final answer. At least I can be a convenient example. I will stand and take my carping if required.

    Let’s try again!

    A scooby gang of miscelanea plus religious devotees find out that their small town is infested with a demonic cult. Hilarity ensues as they find each other, uproot the tendrils of evil, and try to ‘help’ exorcise the situation with the help of a greenhorn exorcist– who is supposed to be the expert. Will they succeed, or will their failings– and the devil– remain triumphant? Meh. That’s probably a series– trying to be a novel. Heh heh.
    Plans are announced by a young (but somewhat reckless) king for a grand palace– dedicated to his new wife– to be commenced on the moon. It’s not quite insane, but a profoundly ambitious task, but possible thanks to technology of unknown origins in the hands of the court astrologers, who command “The New Science”. Not much later, the body of the king is found on the moon, and the call goes out to the Kingdom’s Greatest Detective to find the killer in a maze of corruption and political intrigue surrounding the young ruler. Sad to say, he’s not cozy with the Astrologers, or the ruling classes. Can our hero spare the life of the young queen, likely innocent, who will be sacrificed to the polity if the real killer isn’t found by the time the news has been broken to the masses? THAT is a novel.

    Okay, one last try at a short story. *crosses fingers* *says short prayer*

    World renowned scientist, while on a space mission, discovers that she has doomed herself and all her shipmates thanks to her own hubris and a fatal clerical error. Not only that, but there are too few crew to really keep the mission going and stay quite sane– even without the error in question. She must struggle against the result of her so far cavalier attitude toward the rest of the crew, and her own fatalism– to decide to act– or not.
    What ever she does, she will betray her people. Is she woman enough to face the music? Will the lowly but observant engineer figure out the problem in time? Will she talk sense to the scientist before it’s too late?

    Ha! I think I am done.

      1. @Sarah — I ‘cheated’ with the last one. I wrote it out, thinking it was a novel, and it turned out to be a short story. Er…or what looks like one to me. I should probably send it to you. It is one of my better efforts, I think. The idea came from a dream I had in college. Of course, I may suddenly decide it’s garbage when I look at it again. I’m reliably informed this is not unusual.

  16. Short Work

    In an alternate early 21st century Chicago, Susanne, a young hard working executive secretary, must deal with the awakening of her Seer powers while working with Steve, an ogre-like Stone Man PE, to discover what the evil Elf Lord who tried to kill Susanne is up to. Steve and Susanne are aided by Steve’s Rogue Elf partner and Susanne’s not-so-ditsy co-worker, Daphne. While they try to get to the bottom of the Elf Lord’s plot, Susanne wonders about her attraction to Steve and wonders what’s going between Daphne and the Rogue Elf. Everybody knows Elves don’t fall in love with humans.

    Note to self, I really need to find out the name of Steve’s Rogue Elf partner.


    The American Civil War is just beginning when both North and South face bigger problems than their “little disagreement”. Besides the multi-caste Elf Clans and their traditional foes the Stone Men-Human Families appearing all over North America and the world, there are true monsters invading North America and the world.

    The monsters are no friends to the Americans, the Clans and the Families but can the Clans work with their traditional enemies and these humans using weapons that they never dreamed possible?

    Can the Families convince the Americans that the Stone Men are more human that they look?

    How does the South handle the fact that the Families hate slavery more so than the North especially when they learn that the Clans see no difference between Blacks and Whites and that the Clans would be tempted to enslave all humans?

    For that matter, even if North America can be made monster free, what’s happening in the rest of the world?

    Note, the novel would be the “back story” of Susanne’s story. IE how her world came to be.

    1. Grumble Brumble

      Steve is a “Private Investigator” so I should have had “PI” not “PE”.

        1. Thinking about it, I agree (to a point). I’m thinking that the second might need several novels (especially dealing with the rest of the world).

        2. Would this be a short.

          Fourteen year old Steve after years on the road with his “crazy” mother must deal with the facts that his mother had been raped by a Stone Man and that he is a young Stone Man.

          Note, Stone Men boys appear to be “standard” boys until late adolescence. A medical exam can spot the differences but Steve’s mother successfully avoided taking Steve to a doctor.

  17. Short Story
    Two officers investigating an assassination attempt in a orbiting O’neill type habitat. A basic mystery short story. Several suspects, conflicting evidence and political pressure to make a arrest.
    A mystery a-la Clarke’s White Hart or Asimov’s Wendell Urth stories.

    Short Story
    The story of the first gardener on the moon telling the tale of how life was started and then nurtured in the lava tubes threading beneath the moon’s surface.

    A interstellar probe is observed decelerating to enter a solar system where the local intelligent species at a 19th century tech level. It is observed for many years sparking technological progress, societal changes, and a race to be the first to contact the probe.

    Novel – The Adventure of Ford Ghaslon
    On May 25th 2777 at 12:56, the deep space craft “Werhner Von Braun” was in route from the Anten space yards to its new home base at UCBerekley High in the Earth-Moon Elfour point. The ship had been purchased by the university as a long duration research vessel for exploring the outer solar system. It was so new it still had that new spacecraft smell. On board were the new owners and a skeleton crew that was ferrying the ship to its new home. Ford Ghaslon was a junior member of that crew on his first trip into the black.

    At 12:57 on May 25th 2777 all power was lost on the Von Braun.
    When power was restored, the crew and passengers found they were no long in trans-lunar space but were now orbiting a unknown red giant.
    After surveying the stellar system they discover several habitable moons orbiting a gas giant in the habitable zone of the red giant.

    Where they were? How they got there? And how can they get back to the home are some of the questions they will have to find the answers to.

    If they live that long.

  18. Novel 1: An Outspoken Reformer Baron is called to court to pay the king homage. His wife dies under possibly suspicious circumstances while he’s away. He takes this poorly, and swears vengeance against enemies real and imagined. Over the course of the story, he brings the monarchy low (Stealing freely from history, The Baron’s War and the English Civil War most prominently. And of course synthesizing the wonderful characters of Simon de Montfort and Oliver Cromwell makes up much of the protagonist’s character.) He does much good for the common folk, but only his timely assassination by his second-in-command (the POV character) keeps him from becoming a worse monster than that which he replaced.

    Novel 2: A callow modern day man-child escapes to fantasyland, only to find it isn’t what he dreamed it would be. He grows the #5$^ up, and eventually overcomes a great deal to return to the real world.

    Short Story 1: A man realizes his murderous daughter is the reincarnated spirit of a crazy chick he had a drunken tryst with back in college.

    Short Story 2: A child wants a Shoggoth for Christmas. Her father agrees. So they hop in their infernal machine and travel to Carcosa to pick one out. It only costs an arm and a leg. Good thing they brought spares.

    1. Please ignore Novel 2 and Short Story 2.
      I took the instruction as to provide 2 examples of each mode. I was obviously in the minority in taking it that way, so I blame insufficient caffeine on my part.

            1. Me too! LOL! I was aiming at “All I need for Christmas is my two front teeth,” but I think I got “We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine…”

              ‘nother Mike

        1. I cheated a bit on that one. I wrote it a few years back. I figured vivisecting it was totally thematically appropriate.

          Although it’s amateurish and only wound up being flash fiction, if you’d like a copy, I can send it your way.

        1. I’m throwing virtual spitballs at you.

          Back in the day, my aim was deadly. Or, at least good enough to antagonize the kid with the big ears in the front row. Such tempting targets they were…

        1. The people want the Shoggoth for Christmas story. You may have to take another crack at it…

            1. I bow to peer pressure. (Not that I have any idea how to expand it beyond ~800 words, mind you.)

              But since our hostess may have already graded our homework, I’ll leave it to her discretion.

      1. No, I think the appropriate answer is a gifted shoggoth shows up at the SFWA Christmas party. You could call it Secret, Politically Incorrect Santa.

      2. “Strange is the night where black stars rise,
        And strange moons circle through the skies,
        But stranger still is
        Lost Carcosa”

        Yet SFWA meetings seem significantly less comprehensible to me than that. And while they might drive you insane, it’s a boring, inane sort of madness.

  19. Let’s see. Pulling from the ideas I had recently:

    A boy from a magically hidden floating city is tasked by the wind elemental to go with a “down” team on their next mission to save an air sacrifice (capacocha) on the side of the next mountain. The sacrifice is no normal child, but instead enlists his help (and the help of some of the rest of the “down” team) in… perhaps saving a kingdom. [I haven’t decided precisely what s/he wants yet. But it will surely shake up the hidden status of the floating city.] [[Possibly not so much a “novel” as a “novella”.]]

    Likely previous to the first, an air sacrifice comes to terms with losing her old, relatively privileged life in the village and her new status as a citizen of the floating city.

  20. Short story — Attending the Executive Management Weekend Workshop that guarantees you will learn the secret of management — where they reveal the real magic that senior managers use! All you need is an athame, the correct diagrams, a bit of blood — oh, and you have to sell your soul, too. But it’s cheap at twice the price! Only available for a limited time through this special offer by Blackhearts, Inc. What will our plucky hero do when the workshop organizers start the final test?

    Novel — how about taking the same notion, that business management sometimes takes real magic, and a student going to a business management school? Where he (or she) encounters professors who aren’t quite what they expected, a few extra doors, tests, and other challenges, and perhaps the restricted library shelves straight from Hell’s Own Publications?

    Can you tell I just got a brochure inviting me to spend a chunk of change for an Executive Management Workshop where I can learn the secret of management? And that I really doubt they have some special magic that I can pick up in one short weekend for … whew, that much money? Are they nuts?

  21. Short story: A young modern-day wizard summons a succubus as part of a test, and the succubus says for the right price, she’ll do anything he wants of her. This is taken in a manner not quite expected by the young wizard in question and hilarity ensues. (note: the wizard is a lawyer’s son and is studying business law…)

    Novel: The wizard, now running a business (officially) auditing companies with his beautiful succubus…er, secretary is hired by a company to investigate the meteoric rise of a rival company that seems to devour competitors in the business. The company under investigation is run by a literal (were)Wolf of Wall Street type, and sniffing around might lead to a bit more than the wizard can chew…

  22. Short: The bastard brother of the king must decide what to do as his brother’s reign brings ruin to the nation. Will he follow love of country, or brotherly love? Is there a middle way?

    Long: Survivors of a solar system-wide civil war board a cold sleep ship to a new planet. 2000 year voyage. After they leave, FTL is discovered, humanity settles the world they are traveling to, and then civilization collapses. They arrive to find a world of early Iron Age to Medieval civilizations.

      1. I had planned on weaving two stories around the main story-line of the interactions with the cold sleep colonists and the descendants of the FTL colonists. The main protagonist had a very hard war, and would have flashbacks of that war, while the mystery of why the FTL civilization collapsed so spectacularly would be told in oral legends, clues left in space and on the ground

  23. Short: Victorian era mad scientist begins terrorizing London with his latest Engine of Destruction, other scientists must devise a means of stopping him.

    Long: Young Scientist is forced by a bizarre legal system to become a mad scientist, and spends his career playing along while working on a way to subvert the system, and save the world too.

    (Okay, not really off the top of my head, that’s the Preface and the body of the Dr, Mauser novel).

    1. Sounds like you had a lot of fun in your world building. You’ve got me curious about this strange legal system and what’s going on.

      1. I was inspired a lot by Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog and The Venture Brothers (And a game called Evil Genius where you build a lair, fight off government agents, and build your doomsday weapon.).

        Criminal Syndicates (The Side of Evil) finance mad science through certain specialized crimes (Art and Jewelry theft mainly). The Forces of Justice, which includes everything from quasi military intelligence agencies all the way down to gangs of “Meddling Kids” come along and smack down the scientists when they go too far. But the goal is to capture their inventions, which they turn over to Government scientists to figure out better uses for. Everyone who is a participant in this shadow world is actually legally registered as “Good” or “Evil” and thus can operate outside the law, which makes life a lot easier for the Government, since they don’t have to maintain the resources to counter every madman with a death machine at the local police department.

        Of course, if you start acting like a mad scientist without being properly registered, it’s open season on you. Dr. Mauser does this accidentally, and it gets even worse when he shoots two S.A.B.R.E. agents who are after him. But he has an excuse, he didn’t know the world was like this…. you see, there was an experiment that went wrong and changed the world without him noticing.

          1. Thanks. I don’t have a deviantart account, and was just about to check again from this computer, and ask.

            1. Cool! I had a lot of fun with that bit.

              DeviantArt accounts are free, there’s a LOT of art there, mostly pushing the percentage on Sturgeon’s law, but some absolutely AMAZING artists maintain a presence there.

  24. Short story: Shortly before headlining at Dragon Con, Dr. Travis Taylor becomes convinced by irrefutable research that FTL, Warp drive, wormholes and the like are utter crap, and we are stuck on Earth forever. Does he announce his findings at the con, or let us live in blissful ignorance?

        1. There’s a TV ad running right now here in Japan that has three young boys sitting somewhere. Two of them are looking at a magazine, with one saying “Do you think there really are aliens?” About this point, the one on the end towards us turns his head and sneezes — momentarily flashing his silver egghead face with giant bug eyes — then he turns back and says, “No, that’s just silly. Who would believe that?

  25. Great, I’m late with homework already? Why am I having flashbacks?

    Novel (which I’ve got the first draft about 80% written):

    A colonial expedition crushed and abandoned by the empire, for reasons unknown, is thought extinct. They survive and rebuild the world to a pre-industrial level — fully aware of their star faring history. Our teenage main character falls into a dangerous mystery and accidentally discovers the secret keeping the long-distant imperial family on the throne, unaware that the empire has come back to poke around.

    Short story idea:

    Our main character is captured aboard an imperial cruiser (of course!). In his escape he befriends another prisoner, a tool using marsupial-like creature called a ‘malbear’ kept as a pet by the ship’s doctor.

    The short story plot is what happens when our main character gives, in good faith, the creature an implant ID allowing it to come and go as it pleases. Some areas of the ship are kept off-limits, for safety, but that doesn’t stop the malbear from causing havoc and creating a few (humorous?) problems for our main character.

  26. Do those of us who failed one short story assignment have to come up with another, or is it just a little red X on our virtual paper?

  27. And I am also late:

    Short story: In the aftermath of a devestating intersellar war, a Space Gypsy (with minor SG child in tow) investigates the drifting wreck of a clan-owned starship, discovers a horrific crime, and barely escapes with her life.

    Novel: Space Gypsy, having been estranged from her (professional thieving & exploring) clan following the events of the SS above, falls in with a Terran Customs Inspector on a mining world. The mining world is being traded between Terrans and an alien species that was allied with Space Gypsies (and later, reluctantly, with Terrans.) Together, the SG and TCI investigate sabotage & graft by commerical interests, murder by revolutionaries, smuggling & thieving (ie: life as usual) by other SG’s, and fight crime. Also each other.

      1. “don’t over complicate” – Heh. I would also like a pony and a plastic rocket, while I’m asking for the moon.

    1. Okay, have realized that perhaps I need to flesh out a bit more of the plot to the novel. So: Peaceful transfer of the world from Alien Cat People to Terrans depends on financial support of incoming Big Interstellar Terran Inc commercial interests, and on Alien Cat People having sufficent time to peacefully withdrawl their gear, rather than nuking the settlements from orbit, just to be sure. Space Gypsy people have been long time non-commerical “renters” of the planet, and part of the “sale conditions” are that this “lease” continues. Commercial rivals of Big Interstellar Terran Inc. are hiring individual Space Gypsies to “salt the mines” with false geological info. Revolutionary interests among Terrans (and allies) are carrying out a holy vendetta against the Alien Cat People and their pawns, the Space Gypsies, for actions during the war. (Collateral damage/friendly fire is a bitch when losses are being measured in planetary lots.) Customs Inspector is caught between taking bribes and waiting out the transfer period, and ‘doing the right thing’ Space Gypsy is caught between helping the Customs Inspector do the right thing, or sitting by as the mining planet’s population of Space Gypsies gets ground to dust doing what they have always done.

  28. Okay! I doubt if many people will see this here, but…

    I have set up a Google Group as an online resource for us to use. Right now it is set up as a web forum, which means we can post and discuss things online. There is also email notification. Basically, this is intended to be a place where we can hold the online workshop side — submissions, comments, discussion — which Sarah is posting about. For example, we might move the discussion of short story versus novel ideas over there, if you are interested.

    How to find it? Probably the easiest is to send me email — mbarker at mit dot edu is good — and I’ll give you the secret handsha… er, the URL.

  29. Short Story: A young man comes home from his first date with what he is sure is “the one” and finds waiting for him a ghost. Specifically, his own ghost. From the future. Where because he fell in love with this girl and pursued her, it caused an eventual war, escalation, and the destruction of the planet with a superweapon (which inadvertently created the ghost and sent it back in time). Now, he has to decide if it’s worth the risk to really pursue the girl, if the ghost is a hallucination, what the chances are of the girl’s father really becoming the power-mad dictator of a middlish-size country with a couple of super-genius minion types at his disposal… (And as the young man sort of works through the possibilities, the ghost’s apparent age keeps shifting, sometimes losing an arm, sometimes getting an eyepatch…)

    Novel: Earth has begun finally establishing colonies outside the solar system. The colonists have a toehold on the planet. I mean, they’re there, but life is still hard and anything could happen.

    Meanwhile, (back at the ranch), Aliens attack Earth. These aliens apparently do not have FTL. But they can get up to relativistic velocities. And they have a nasty attitude, formidable weaponry, and near-overwhelming numerical superiority. Earth is in a pitched battle. A long-awaited supply is sent to the colony alerting them to the conflict back home. Sort of a “last train out of the station sees the smoke and fire rising as they’re getting clear” sort of a thing.

    Conflict ensues.

    Some want to go back and help. (Earth has hidden its FTL knowledge, or destroyed it.) Some want to hole up and hide, which in their minds means preventing the advancement of technology forever. And some want to prepare, because they believe that sooner or later the aliens will be coming their way.

    Meanwhile, their FTL ship is in orbit, and no one wants to destroy it except a few radicals of the hole up and hide variety. So, I see this novel being a conflict between the three factions (Help, Hide, Stay and Prepare) while they’re figuring out how to survive on this planet with no further help coming from home, culminating in a race to prevent the destruction of the colony ship.

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