Try This: Borrow a Page from Krakauer
This Time, From 'Into the Wild'
Let’s talk about how to make a small story big. And let’s talk about pacing. For an excellent example of both, read Jon Krakauer’s 1996 book Into The Wild. Be warned, I’ll spoil the plot here, but we’re looking at structure more than plot in this case.
First, Krakauer had published most of the main story as a 9000-word, 1993 feature in Outside magazine: A middle-class, recent college graduate from the D.C. suburbs treks across the country, eventually abandoning his car and most of his possessions.1 He befriends people, and works manual labor jobs, and gets as far as Alaska, where he dies in 1992. The magazine story was a sensation, and wonderfully undecidable, with readers passionately split about whether the subject, Chris McCandless, was a visionary or an idiot.
Still, the story’s been told. The “horizontal”2 is no mystery. How could you turn a magazine article into a book?
Likewise, in the Tennessee Williams play Suddenly, Last Summer, how can you take a small, dramatic episode and tease it out for two hours? And in the Tobias Wolff story Leviathan, how can you make the short whale-watching anecdote into a full-fledged short story?