Writing Small: The Devil Is in the Details, by Clay Sanger

Clay Sanger has been writing fantasy on the darker side for some time now. I’ve had the pleasure of publishing a couple of his short stories in my anthologies, including the upcoming Knaves. His long-awaited debut novel, Endsville, is now available from Crossroad Press. It's a dark fantasy novel featuring occult gangsters operating out of Los Angeles who, in order to recover a huge amount of money stolen by a hostile sorcerer, go through an adventure rife with betrayal, violence, and black magic. Be sure to check it out!

Clay joins us today to talk about how the devil is in the details of a story, and how to hone in on those small details to make the book have a big impact. —Melanie

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Cut the stuff readers tend to skim. Keep everything else. Sounds simple, right? But deciding what the key details are in any story versus all the other the stuff that tumbled out of your brain and onto the keyboard isn't a simple magic trick. In fact, it's downright painful, and more than a little slippery.

Which details truly matter? The answers to questions like that always sound so simple at face value. It's the details that make the reader engage with the story. The ones that make the reader feel and connect.

So which ones are those? Well, there are the explosive, awesome moments in any story that stick with us. But no matter how big the story, there are only so many of those. So what keeps the reader reading? Invariably, it's the small things. And writing small is the real magic trick.  

You can hit me with 3 pages of narrative describing, in wide-angle shots, the apocalypse visited upon your fictional city, and I might hang with you for a paragraph or two. But my eyes will soon glaze over, and I'll have to fight the urge to skim. But give me a one-liner about a little girl's half-burnt red shoe laying on the side of the road as your lost city blazes in a storm cloud of ash and brimstone in the background, and I'll likely remember that little red shoe forever. That half-burnt, discarded shoe will tell me more about what's happening in your world in one or two sentences than paragraphs of wide-angle shots of crumbling buildings and falling skies ever will.

It's the small that gives readers the emotional connection to the story. It's the bite-sized details that are properly scaled for us to wrap our brains around that stick with us and make us feel. For most of us, we don't feel the big. We feel the small. The burnt red shoe. The hastily spray-painted words Here There Be Dragons scrawled across the side of an abandoned car. The dog-eared paperback book the lost old man is clutching in his hand as if it were his last possession while the world burns behind him. 

Not to say a grand sweep of the narrative camera can't raise the hair on the reader's arms if used sparingly and timed well – because, oh boy, it sure can – but paragraph to paragraph, page to page, what resonates with most readers, what gives them the feel of the moment, is the small.

Step one of the magic trick is write the small. Step two is knowing when to repeat it and when to quit. 

Ten small details heaped on top of one another are not ten times better than one small diamond. In fact, it's probably the inverse. It's likely to be about one-tenth as effective. You might certainly write those ten little smalls into the draft. But when you're going back through and making your editing passes, you need to decide which one or two to keep. Then kill the others along with the rest of the darlings. Writing small is incredibly powerful, but it's quickly diluted by misuse.  There are endless details you can write into your story. But which ones stick? Which ones really ring and chime? Do those. Skip the rest.  

Fantasy and science fiction are especially rife with avalanches of smalls. For me as a reader, that's usually not for the better. If obsessing over every button on every vest and every platter at every feast is what draws you in, so be it. But my entire face goes numb and I start skimming until one of those buttons or one of those platters becomes meaningful in some way. There's a real disconnect between quantity of detail and quality of detail. Quality detail is meaningful. Engaging. For me, anything less probably belongs on the cutting room floor.

One of the most useful questions I ask my beta readers is "Please tell me whenever you start to feel the urge to skim." Why? Because they're a better judge of that than the keyboard monkey who wrote it (me). I pay special attention to any points in the story that made my readers feel impatient about moving ahead. Then, with any luck, I go fix them.

So why do readers start to skim? Let's discard the more common causes like clunky, poorly written narrative. That's its own problem, and it's not really relevant to the matter at hand. Artfully written prose can induce the urge to skim just like trash on the page can.

Readers feel that urge to skim because they've become disconnected from the story. Essentially, they're bored. Their mind is starting to wander because it's been too long since the author gave them some kind of hook.  Generally speaking, those hooks are tied to emotion – some strategically placed detail that caused the reader to feel something meaningful. Something that caused a spark in their brain or struck an emotional chord of some kind. When done successfully, those hooks tend to be small and well-paced. Frequent without being piled on top of each other.

You can lay down an awful lot of words without resetting the hook if you're not careful. A knack for writing small helps you avoid that. What is the little thing that made the reader feel? Focus on that and turn a scrutinizing eye to the rest. Can't find one in the last few paragraphs? If it's not there, then it's as critically absent as the wheels missing from a car.  

Holding a reader's interest is an exercise in writing small, doing it well, and doing it repeatedly. Their engagement in your story is a like passing a helium balloon down a line of people from hand to hand. It will float away if someone in the chain loses their grip. 

Your story only has a handful of big things to drop on the reader, no matter its length or complexity. Crowning moments of awesome can't carry a story all by themselves. The big things might have been great. But if the author neglected to write small along the way, they probably failed to keep the reader engaged. 

It's the meaningful smalls that lead your reader from big thing to big thing in your story. Like stepping stones across a river, they allow the reader to happily navigate between your highlights. Skip them, and the reader's attention is going to fall into the drink and get swept away. And once you lose it, it takes more than a magic trick to get it back – it takes a miracle. 

Clay Sanger is a professional technogeek by day and a writer of fiction and whatever else strikes his fancy the rest of the time. A life-long lover of all things wild, Clay spent much of his early adulthood wandering the four corners of the country in search of the weird and wonderful, the dark and the light. As chance would have it, he found them. The rest is a tale yet to be told. After meandering far and wide he returned to his native Ozarks where he lives with his dazzling wife, their sons, and a menagerie of mythical creatures both real and imagined. You can learn more at www.claysanger.com

A Little Mythology Goes a Long Way, by Dan Rabarts

Please welcome author Dan Rabarts to the blog today! He is going to tell us a little about using mythology in our fiction, and why mythology continues to resonate with us even in this age of science. Be sure to check out the new book Teeth of the Wolf, which he co-authored with Lee Murray! It the second book in the Path of Ra series, which started with Hounds of the Underworld.

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Down here in New Zealand, we live on an unlikely strip of land between an ocean and a sea, on a planet which exists in a tiny fraction of a void between eternal heat and eternal cold, where life has taken hold and refuses to let go. It is little wonder that our ancestors looked up at the stars, the sun, the moon, and wove the mystery of those lights in the sky into folklore. They put names and stories to the celestial faces, just as they named the rage of the ocean, the howl of the wind, and the black embrace of the beyond. 

Ra, the sun. Marama, the moon. 

Tangaroa, god of the sea. Tāwhirimātea, god of the winds. 

Hine-nui-te-pō, goddess of night and death.  

Mythology predates science by thousands of years. It has been with us since we first heard the rumble of thunder and imagined gods roaring at each other among the clouds. Fear of the unknown has been part of our collective subconscious for longer than civilisation has stood, and will be with us long after it has fallen.

 So even when science, that inevitable and inexorable juggernaut, continues to reveal the workings of the universe one quark at a time, we cling to our myths like we cling to life in this fragile strip of the solar system. Our mythologies were our explanations for all the forces at work around us which we did not understand. Now, as we learn how vast the universe truly is and how alone we are in it, those mythologies remain our security blankets, the persisting hope that something greater watches over us. That the fact of our existence is not so unlikely, and that we are not so very, very alone in the dark. 

This idea, the persistence of mythology and how humanity has an innate power to give a sort of life to that in which we are willing to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, is a key element in The Path of Ra, a supernatural crime-noir thriller series co-authored by myself and Lee Murray. In Hounds of the Underworld, scientific consult Penny Yee refuses to buy into her brother Matiu’s insistence that there is a dark force at work behind the murders she is investigating. As long as she can explain the bodies piling up as the doings of a criminal mind, she can accept any atrocity with scientific clarity. But in Teeth of the Wolf, the second book in the series, when the evidence starts to mount that not everything can be rationalised away, and that the shadows Matiu is always jumping at may indeed be something that all Penny’s science and logic cannot explain, Penny tastes doubt for the first time.

In the writing of The Path of Ra series, I’m very lucky to work with Lee Murray, who brings a sense of rationale and reason to the story through Penny Yee. Lee works hard to drive the science in our science fiction/dark fantasy/crime-noir mash-up, while Matiu insists that the things scratching at the inside of the walls are not rats, nothing that can be so easily explained away. This conflict between the logical and the weight of the mythological lends the books a constant tension, between the need to make sense of the madness the world is falling into, and the need to hold back the faceless, inexplicable dark. It’s a powerful dynamic, and a testament to the success of the co-author relationship that this tension sustains both the story and the characters. Matiu brings the monsters; Penny explains why they simply can’t actually be there.

Science will keep on solving the riddles of our existence. It will continue to drive the changes we are making to this world, for better or worse. Science has given us, in equal measures,  space travel and space junk. Global travel and global pollution. A knowledge economy and the age of internet trolling. Nuclear energy and nuclear weaponry. Climate change and the means to combat it, if we have the will. 

Science will, in time, become our new mythology, the making and the breaking of civilisation. 

But as long as we hear voices in the dark when there is no-one there to speak, we will cling to our deeply-ingrained beliefs in the unknown, the unknowable. As long as we can cast a light into the shadows and the shadows swallow that light, we will continue to fear and revere our gods and monsters.

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Dan Rabarts is a New Zealand author, editor and podcast narrator, winner of four Sir Julius Vogel Awards and two Australian Shadows Awards, occasional sailor of sailing things, part-time metalhead and father of two wee miracles in a house on a hill under the southern sun. His science fiction, dark fantasy and horror short stories have been published in venues such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Together with Lee Murray, he co-edited the award-winning anthologies Baby Teeth - Bite-sized Tales of Terror and At The Edge, and co-writes the Path of Ra series. His first solo novel, Brothers of the Knife, kicks off the grimdark-yet-madcap Children of Bane fantasy series (Omnium Gatherum). Find out more at dan.rabarts.com.

The Elusive, Inspirational Soul – by S.E. Lindberg

Please welcome guest author S.E. Lindberg to the blog this week!

For most artists, including writers, the act of creating attempts to capture and share some emotion, or conversely, evoke an emotional response from an audience. Often, we draw inspiration from our past experiences, traumatic or enjoyable, to deepen the impact. As a scientist, I find the entire transaction of emotions oddly inspirational and terrifying. Feelings are ubiquitous, but cannot be measured objectively; they do not seem to adhere to any law of conservation like energy or mass obey (is there any limit to sorrow or joy?).

Could we better our craft if we knew how emotions flowed from an object (fine art or prose) to a person (or vice versa)? Let us examine the sources and sinks of emotion: our souls. In playful art, this is quite easy to simulate; heck, consider the soul-currency for crafting in From Software’s Dark Souls videogame series—if only we could see as the undead do! In real life, studying the soul is harder.

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Many ‘Renaissance Men’ were inspired to find the soul while the art of anatomy flourished. The prevailing Church did not permit the dissection of innocent believers, so criminals or ‘sinners’ were often studied. Bodies were considered divinely sacred and were thus difficult to obtain; acceptable corpses could not be refrigerated, so one had to work fast. Nor were there cameras or video to capture the observations, so artists and alchemists convened in the dissection theaters to document the microcosms of life.  Leonardo Da Vinci provided detailed notes along with his drawings (from The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Oxford World's Classics, 1998):

 "I have dissected more than ten human bodies, destroying all the various members and removing the minutest particles of flesh which surrounded these veins, without causing any effusion of blood other than the imperceptible bleeding of the capillary veins. And as one single body did not suffice for so long a time, it was necessary to proceed in stages with so many bodies as would render my knowledge complete; this I repeated twice in order to discover the differences. And though you should have a love for such things you may perhaps be deterred by natural repugnance, and if this does not prevent you, you may perhaps be deterred by fear of passing the night hours in the company of these corpses, quartered and flayed and horrible to behold; and if this does not deter you, then perhaps you may lack the skill in drawing, essential for such representation..." p151

 Da Vinci determined that the senses were linked to a ‘common sense’ that led to the brain. But no actual soul was discovered. He yielded the goal of managing the soul to religion.  Below, from his treatise on painting, he spoke how the artist must deal with this and impart the soul into its subjects otherwise: 

"A good painter has two chief objects to paint, man and the intention of his soul; the former is easy, the later hard because he has to represent it by the attitudes and movements of the limbs.” p178 

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Anatomical artists had to grapple with documenting macabre scenes of opened bodies while remaining 'artistic'.  For the dignity of the specimens and to satisfy the surgeons' needs, artists often found harmony by posing their subjects. Perhaps most famous are Johannes de Ketham's Fasiculo de Medicina (1491), Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543), and Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks (1500). The contemporary Bodies: The Exhibition continues this controversial tradition of displaying the dead artistically.

 With the most promising connection to our souls being the senses, it follows that the next great promise of discovery came when optical technology allowed scientists to see new worlds. Pioneering microscopists had to draw their observations. In 1664, Robert Hooke published a large treatise entitled Micrographia or Some Physiological Description of Minute Bodies, containing an encyclopedia of detailed drawings of his microscopic views. In his preface, he explains to the reader that optics have enabled a spiritual quest: 

“… by the help of microscopes, there is nothing so small, as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visible world discovered to the understanding.  By this means the heavens are opened, and a vast number of new stars, and new motions, and new productions appear in them, to which all the ancient astronomers were utterly strangers.”

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The soul has never found, however.  Despite ‘the opening of heaven’ with microscopes, the soul still eludes us.

 Ernest Haeckel (1834-1919) was another famous artist-scientist fascinated with the aesthetics of nature and the elusiveness of the soul. His 1904 set of lithographs Art Forms in Nature brilliantly exhibit his obsession with the symmetrical beauty of biological microstructures, and his extensions into comparative embryology brought him controversy. He argued this in his support of his own monistic religion that scientific adventures continually uncovered the beautiful designs inherent in nature (monism generally supports that ‘body and soul’ are one connected entity, not separate as many dualistic religions profess): 

“The remarkable expansion of our knowledge of nature, and the discovery of countless beautiful forms of life, which it includes, have awakened quite a new aesthetic sense in our generation, and thus given a new tone to painting and sculpture. Numerous scientific voyages and expeditions for the exploration of unknown lands and seas, partly in earlier centuries, but more especially in the nineteenth, have brought to light an undreamed abundance of new organic forms... affording an entirely new inspiration for painting, sculpture, architecture, and technical art.”

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In 1900, Haeckel published his scientific, spiritual book Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century in which he explains his monistic philosophies.  He shares elegant philosophy on the soul's lack of participation in the "Laws of Substance" (conservation of mass and energy); below, he discusses how many related the nonexistent soul to that which is tangible:

“Thus invisibility comes to be regarded as a most important attribute of the soul.  Some, in fact, compare the soul with ether, and regard it, like ether, as an extremely subtle, light, and highly elastic material, an imponderable agency, that fills the intervals between the ponderable particles in the living organism, other compare the soul with the wind, and so give it a gaseous nature; and it is this simile which first found favor with the primitive peoples, and led in time to the familiar dualistic conception.  When a man died, the body remained as a lifeless corpse, but the immortal soul ‘flew out of it with the last breath.’”

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 Indeed, the many myths of preserving a dead man’s soul, or gaining its powers, is pervasive. The notion of relics is common across cultures and time. It assumes that the soul is a contagion remaining attached to the body postmortem. Hence, the power of a Saint could be absorbed if one obtained his or her bones; this gave rise to the theft and desecration of many crypts and catacombs. Many crypts remain with the bodily relics on display. The crypt of Saint Munditia of Munich and the Vienna Imperial Crypts are fine examples. Other famous examples include the shrines of Capuchin monks in Rome and Palermo, Sicily (>6,000 bodies) and the Kostnice 'Church of Bones, Kutna Hora, Sedlec Ossuary, Prague (~40,000 remains).

Alas, we cannot study the soul directly yet, but the journey is inspirational. H.P. Lovecraft summarized our human condition best in his opening to “The Call of Cthulhu” (Weird Tales, 1928):

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age…”


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S.E. Lindberg resides near Cincinnati, Ohio working as a microscopist, employing scientific and artistic skills to understand the manufacturing of products analogous to medieval paints. Two decades of practicing chemistry, combined with a passion for dark fantasy, spurs him to write graphic adventure fictionalizing the alchemical humors (primarily under the banner “Dyscrasia Fiction”). With Perseid Press, he writes weird tales infused with history and alchemy (Heroika: Dragon Eaters, Pirates in Hell). He co-moderates the Sword & Sorcery group on Goodreads.com, and invites all to participate, and regularly interviews authors on the topic of Beauty in Weird Fiction.








 

Alethea Kontis on Imposter Syndrome

Please welcome Alethea Kontis, bestselling author, princess, and all around awesome person (the tagline on her website is "optimism is the true resistance"), to Once and Future, where she offers us some wise words on that dreaded beast, Imposter Syndrome.

Earlier this year, I met the only student Katy Kellgren ever had. He told me he just about had to bully her into being his teacher. This amazing, multiple award-winning voice actress with hundreds of audiobooks under her belt truly didn’t believe she knew anything that anyone would want to learn. 

And yet, I totally understand why. Because I felt exactly the same way. 

As writers, we tell everyone that “Impostor Syndrome” never goes away. It’s true, in a sense. The more we work, the more we learn to recognize it when it pops up—and then we tell it to go away. I mean heck, I winged my fairy tale talk at the Library of Congress. Sure, I wrote up an outline and jotted down a few notes, but fairy tales are something I’ve studied my whole life and genuinely love to talk about. The “OMG WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU IDIOT?? THIS IS THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!!!” didn’t hit me until about 3/4 of the way into my talk…and by then it was time for questions. 

Where that Impostor bugger really loves to rear its ugly head is when you’re starting something new and different. Who are you to think that anyone will follow you down this path your forging? Sure, you’ll make it to the top of that mountain, but what if you turn around and they’re all laughing instead of cheering? That’s right, show up on [Famous Author]’s doorstep, hotshot—she’ll either love you or hate you! And teaching? I mean seriously! Who the heck are you to think that you know anything that anyone wants to learn?

Well, you might be Katy Kellgren. Or you might be me. 

In the last few months, it seems like every time I check in on social media, another friend has made a movie deal. Or a TV deal. Or comic book. Or they’re writing for a property I would give my left arm to be part of. Or they sold foreign rights in twenty countries. Or they just shared a picture where some super famous performer is reading their book to his/her kids. 

We all reach an age at some point where everyone around us is getting married or having kids, right? Well, when you’re a writer, you reach the age where everyone around you is suddenly Announcing Big Deals. And YES I am happy for them. Immensely! And YES, I get that comparison is the thief of joy. My time will come! But when I posted the link to my online writing workshop for teens, that Impostor voice seeped through the cracks. 

Who are you? the Impostor said. Your bestselling book was published 12 years ago. No one remembers you. You haven’t walked a red carpet. No movie stars retweet your posts. Where’s your coloring book? Where’s your HBO series? No one wants to learn from a Nobody.

I could lie and tell you that voice wasn’t constantly in the back of my mind, poking at my ego with its malice. But I won’t. No, I heard that voice loud and clear. But you know what? I did it anyway. And not a ton of kids signed up, but that’s okay. Because SOME DID. 

Besides, I told myself, smaller groups are better. Fewer students to forgive me if I screw up, so less pressure for me to put on myself. I’ll feel more comfortable. Stretch my legs. Work the kinks out. 

By the end of the first online session (of four), I could feel the magic. I missed working with kids, yes, but more importantly, I had never worked with young writers before. And I don’t ever want to stop working with them for the rest of my life. You know how some teachers say that they feel “a calling”? I do believe I’ve found mine. 

AND HERE IS WHY:

—Writers are always asked “If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?” (When I asked Anne McCaffrey this, she said, “To have more sex while I’m young and beautiful.”) My answer is always: Write more. Never stop. And finish what you start. Now…until they invent the TARDIS, I can’t actually go back in time and tall my teenage self this. BUT I CAN TELL THEM. I can tell them all of that, and more!

—I was a teen writer. Would you believe that I actually forgot this would make a difference? I remember what it’s like to have parents who tell you to “major in something that will get you a real job.” I remember form letters from editors telling me never to use a pseudonym. I remember staring at that novel and KNOWING that I wasn’t old enough to write it. Knowing that I just didn’t have the experience yet to tell the story the way it needed to be told. Knowing that I had not known enough pain and hardship and broken hearts and death. I remember how the stories still wanted to be told, regardless, and how my friends wanted me to write them all, no matter what. 

—I had that Cinderella story. I peaked early, both as an actress and a writer. Of course, I didn’t know it at at the time—that’s the curse of peaking early in one’s career. You don’t know how to handle it until it’s too late. But if writing is what you want—if it’s what you really want—nothing will be able to stop you. In the meantime, you lean the hard way how to buckle down and teach yourself a work ethic. You watch friends come up from beneath you and rise above you in record time. Sometime they stay your friends. Sometimes they don’t. You begin to recognize which projects are wort spending time on…and which people, too. 

That last bit came directly out of all that vile nonsense the Impostor voice had been spewing. It made me laugh to think that all those reasons I was telling myself I had no business teaching young people was exactly the reason why I should be teaching….especially young people

It’s true. The Impostor never really goes away. But my teens will learn its tricks, and they will learn them far earlier than I did. AND THEN THEY WILL RULE THE WORLD. 

Want to know more about Alethea Kontis's upcoming classes? Follow her on social media (Twitter @AletheaKontis, Facebook @AletheaKontis) and check out her Eventbright profile here: https://www.eventbrite.com/o/alethea-kontis-16376673838

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New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a voice actress, a force of nature, and a mess. She is responsible for creating the epic fairytale fantasy realm of Arilland, and dabbling in a myriad of other worlds beyond. Her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. Born in Vermont, Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and the magic, wonderful world in which she lives here: https://www.patreon.com/princessalethea

Writers, Know Your Weakness: A Guest Post from Aaron Rosenberg

I always have a great time seeing author Aaron Rosenberg at the Gen Con Writer's Symposium and other events, and I love seeing the progression of his career via his posts on social media. He's always got a project going, and is one of the most perseverant and hardworking authors I know. His latest release is Digging Deep: An O.C.L.T. Novelwhich is a paranormal mystery series featuring a crew of misfits (pardon me, "disparate individuals") who help protect NYC from strange happenings that seem to originate from...strange...sources. It's something that fans of Hellboy, Supernatural, and the Dresden Files can sink their teeth into! Aaron seems to be unstoppable (read his bio at the end of this post), but does he have a personal kryptonite? And how does he conquer it? Read on to find out!

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When Melanie kindly invited me to write a guest post here, my first response was “Thanks, that’d be great!” Followed immediately by, “Oh, crap, now I have to write a blog post! I suck at those!”

The thing is, I can and do write all kinds of things. Not just genres, either, though I’ve written most stripes of fantasy and science fiction, plus horror, thriller, action-adventure, comedy, mystery, superheroes, and western. But I’ve also done picture books, middle-grade books, young adult novels, educational books, essays, poems, short stories, novellas, and roleplaying games. A lot of my friends ask me, “Is there anything you don’t write?”

To which my usual answer is, “Yes—straight-up military, full-on romance, and blog posts.”

That may sound like a snarky answer. It’s actually a serious one, and not off-the-cuff, either. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about myself as a writer, things I think all writers should know about themselves: how/where/when I work best, how fast I write, and what I’m capable of writing. Ask me to write an epic fantasy and I’m thrilled. Suggest I write sci-fi comedy and I’m there. Tell me you want a high-octane techno-thriller and I’m happy to oblige. But ask me to do a military novel or a romance novel and I’ll reply, “Sorry, I’m not your guy.”

Why? Because I’m not comfortable writing in those two genres. There’s nothing wrong with either of them, and I admire the people who can write them well, just as I admire the people who can write any genre well. They’re just not right for me. I don’t feel that I have the proper experience to do justice to a military novel—not saying you have to have been a Green Beret or SAS yourself, but I think it certainly helps to have had some military training. And anyone who’s read my work knows that I tend to write PG-13 just as a matter of course—I prefer the cutaway to the sex scene and action or introspection to public displays of affection. I can and have written both military characters/scenes and romantic moments in my books, but those are elements rather than the main focus.

As far as blog posts, I’ve found I have two main issues. First, I’m always a little uncomfortable talking about myself. It feels too much like bragging to me. Second, I find blogging to be too much like pantsing a story—unless I have a clear idea what I want to say beforehand, I just wind up rambling without ever really saying much at all.

That’s okay, though. I wish I were better at blogging, sure. But I accept that it isn’t one of my strengths. That’s important. Why struggle to write something that doesn’t come naturally to me—and that I don’t have fun writing as a result—when I can instead write one of the things I am good at and do enjoy doing? That’s the same reason I don’t beat myself up over not writing military or romance novels. I write enough other things, it’s not like I’m lacking for projects. There’s no point in worrying about topics or genres or formats I don’t feel comfortable with.

It took me a long time to come to that realization, though, and even longer to accept it. When you’re a writer, especially a writer for hire, your natural impulse is to say yes to any project someone offers you. After all, you never know when the next project will come along, and every project is not just another credit and another paycheck but another connection and another way to prove your worth to editors and publishers and readers. You learn over time, though, to start saying no. Sometimes you just don’t have the time to do a project properly. Sometimes the money isn’t enough to justify the effort and stress involved. And sometimes it’s a topic or a genre that doesn’t interest you, or that you’re not comfortable in. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s a good thing. The more you know yourself as a writer, and the more you are willing to be honest with yourself and others about what you can and can’t do and what you will and won’t do, the more you can focus your efforts on what you really want to write, and what you’re really good at writing. In the end, there’s only so many hours in the day, and you only get so much time to write. Why waste it on something you don’t enjoy? Write what’s fun for you to write.

Which for me, surprisingly enough, has included this blog post. :)

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AARON ROSENBERG is the award-winning, #1 bestselling author of the DuckBob humorous science fiction series and the Dread Remora space-opera series, and the co-author of the O.C.L.T. thriller series and the ReDeus modern-day fantasy series, among others. He's written tie-in novels (including the PsiPhi winner Collective Hindsight for Star Trek: SCE, the Daemon Gates trilogy for Warhammer, Tides of Darkness and (with Christie Golden) the Scribe-nominated Beyond the Dark Portal for WarCraft, Hunt and Run for Stargate: Atlantis, and Substitution Method and The Road Less Traveled for Eureka), children's books (including an original series, Pete and Penny's Pizza Puzzles, and work for PowerPuff Girls and Transformers Animated), roleplaying games (including original games like Asylum and Spookshow, the Origins Award-winning Gamemastering Secrets, and sections of The Supernatural Roleplaying Game, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and The Deryni Roleplaying Game), young adult novels (including the #1 bestseller 42: The Jackie Robinson Story, the Scribe-winning Bandslam: The Novel and two books for iCarly), short stories, webcomics, essays, and educational books. He has ranged from mystery to speculative fiction to drama to comedy, always with the same intent—to tell a good story. Aaron lives in New York with his family. You can follow him online at gryphonrose.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/gryphonrose, and on Twitter @gryphonrose.

Tension on Every Page: A Guest Post by Bradley P. Beaulieu

If you've read one of Bradley P. Beaulieu's books or stories, you know his works are full of tension and high stakes, even in scenes that seem to be between action. How does he do it? Well, Brad was kind enough to explain in this article, using examples from Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games! And don't forget to check out Brad's newest book in his epic fantasy Shattered Sands series, A Veil of Spears!

I heard a wise writer once say that if nouns are the frame of a car, then verbs are the engine. They make the sentence go. If we abstract that same concept to a scene or a story, then conflict, or tension, is the thing that makes a story “go.”

When I started writing, I’d known about tension in a story in an instinctual (not to mention woefully incomplete) sort of way—after all, it makes sense that readers are interested in those big scenes in which action happens or conflicts are resolved. But it was formalized for me when I read Donald Maass’s excellent book, Writing the Breakout Novel, in which he spends several pages on the subject. In it, he brings up the notion not only that tension should be present in the story, such as in the high points of chapters and the turning points of the novel, it should be present on every page.

At the time, this seemed counterintuitive. I mean, there are times when characters relax, aren’t there? Times when they’re recovering from some setback and they’re thinking about their options and choosing which way to go? These are known as the sequel in scene structure parlance, and Maass contends that taking time to assess and making plans for the next line of attack is an outdated technique. He uses the example of John Grisham and the thriller technique of moving breathlessly from scene to scene, hardly giving the reader a chance to breathe before moving on to the next high-tension situation. And there are plenty of other examples in fiction that use similar techniques.

Let’s take a look at some examples from The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Here’s the opening paragraph of the book:

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

Collins opens her novel with Katniss waking, and in five short sentences introduces us to the primary driver of the entire novel: the reaping. We don’t yet know what the reaping is, but with the title and the nature of the word itself, Collins has created a mystery for the reader, one that involves Katniss’s sister, Prim. It’s an instant tension creator, and it creates not just one type of tension, but two. First, it makes us wonder what the reaping is, a mini-mystery that makes us want to read on to discover its nature, and second, it creates a sense of foreboding over Prim. We don’t even know who Prim is, but we do know that Katniss cares about her, and that alone is enough to not only deepen Katniss’s character, but make us worry over—or at the very least wonder—what’s going to happen to Prim, and how it will affect Katniss.

Here’s the second paragraph:

I prop myself up on one elbow. There’s enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother’s body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prim’s face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named. My mother was beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.

Here we discover that Prim is in fact Katniss’s sister, and that their mother is nearby. However, in that same breath we find that Katniss’s mother, even while sleeping, looks “still worn but not so beaten-down.” Not so beaten-down, as if to say her mother’s normal state in life is “beaten down,” and it’s only through sleep that she can manage to look merely worn. And the cocooning of Prim should not go unnoticed. We’ve just learned that there may be some danger to Prim, and now we find her “cocooned” in her mother’s arms, as though her mother, even in sleep, feels the need to protect her.

In the third paragraph we’re introduced to Buttercup, a cat that Katniss nearly drowned in a bucket, partially for the fleas it carried but more because “the last thing [Katniss] needed was another mouth to feed.”

In three short paragraphs, Collins has already laid down subtle clues that give hint to the danger this family is in. The reader doesn’t understand the nature of the danger, but they know good and well that things are not right in this world.

Note also that this is not a hectic, helter-skelter sort of scene. One of the dangers for young writers is to take this notion of “tension on every page” and take it to mean that there should be nonstop action from front cover to back. This isn’t the case. Years ago, while I was attending Clarion, this became clearly evident when I read a story that started powerfully and hardly took a breath until it was over, showing scene after jam-packed scene of action and hard dialogue and, yes, tension. The trouble was not only that it never paused to take a breath, but that it also crammed the scenes with the same kind of tension. And there’s the rub. When the reader is exposed to the same sort of thing over and over, they become numb to it. It’s like listening to white noise. When you first start listening, it may seem loud because your mind is subconsciously comparing it to silence, but soon it will feel “normal” and will cease to have the same effect it had when it began.

The lesson learned was this: a successful novel needs not only to vary the tension level, but it needs to combine a variety, and the most successful novels will combine them in different ways to create a symphony of anxiety within the reader to keep them turning the pages. Just take a look at mysteries like Sherlock Holmes. There are still action-packed sword fights and times of suspense and dread. And within sweeping tales like The Lord of the Rings, there are still times where Frodo pines for the life in the Shire, raising those memories in sharp relief against the arduous and danger-filled path he’s taking toward Mount Doom.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the types of tension in The Hunger Games. Within a few pages we learn more about District 12. Even the name—District 12—implies something deeper. Why not call it Madison or New Denver? Because Collins wants to paint her world in stark terms, and dividing this place into districts implies some form of governmental control. We learn that District 12 at this early hour is usually “crawling with coal miners” heading out for the morning shift, and that many have “long since stopped trying to scrub the coal dust out of their broken nails, the lines of their sunken faces,” but today is the reaping, so why not sleep in a bit longer?

Later, we learn of the chain-link fence topped with barbed wire that’s electrified some parts of the day, depending on whether the electricity is actually running. The fence is supposed to keep predators out of District 12, but it certainly implies that the inhabitants are meant to stay in. In fact, that very fear is confirmed only a few pages later. Trespassing into the woods, we are told, is illegal. This simple realization provides a bit of exposition, but it also builds Katniss’s character. She’s taking matters into her own hands. She’s taking the more dangerous route so that her mother and sister, and even Buttercup, have a better life. 

We are also told that Katniss’s father was “blown to bits” in a mine explosion—an explosion so bad that “there was nothing to even bury”—and that Katniss still wakes up screaming for him to run. This is obviously something very personal to Katniss, but it also deepens our understanding of the conditions in which the coal miners work.

Through Katniss’s path toward the woods, our understanding of her and this world is deepening. But Collins is also creating a crucible of sorts. She’s laid the groundwork for the world in which Katniss was raised, in which she and her family now struggle to live, and she’s showing it to us, bit by bit. In other words, it is through this intimate knowledge of District 12 that we understand the way in which Katniss was forged. Beyond this worthy goal—so much about writing is having the words perform double- or triple-duty—we also have a societal sort of tension. We see not only that Katniss and her family are downtrodden, but that the world in which she lives is every bit as downtrodden. By the way, I use the term “world” only to describe the extent to which Katniss knows her world, which we find later is not much wider than District 12 itself. This is another form of tension, because it implies that knowledge is suppressed, that people are not free to move around and exchange information.

Now clearly this is all backdrop; it’s the canvas on which the story is painted. But this is a crucial skill to build, particularly for speculative fiction writers, who have different worlds to show the reader. And what better way to get the reader interested in the world than if the world itself is filled with tension?

When Katniss crosses the fence and enters the woods, she retrieves the bow her father made and we learn that possession of such weapons—even to hunt and gather food—is illegal. Anyone getting caught making weapons could be “publicly executed for inciting a rebellion.” And now we’re moving into a different sort of tension. This information paints the world, true, but it also reveals that Katniss is taking a risk by picking up the bow and hunting. She might not be executed for merely possessing one, but there would be harsh penalties were the wrong people to find out. And this tension plays foil to the harsh reality of Katniss’s situation. She has to hunt for food and a bit of money for other necessities. She and her mother are barely scraping by. We’re left with only one conclusion: that it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

And then Collins does something very interesting. We’d been heading on a certain trajectory up to this point. She’d been painting the world with a very grim brush indeed. And then we stumble across Gale…    

In the woods waits the only person with whom I can be myself. Gale. I can feel the muscles in my face relaxing, my pace quickening as I climb the hills to our place, a rock ledge overlooking a valley. A thicket of berry bushes protects it from unwanted eyes. The sight of him waiting there brings on a smile. Gale says I never smile except in the woods.

“Hey, Catnip,” says Gale.

We can feel the tension shedding from Katniss like rain. The troubles of the world melt away. And Gale seems more than a little thick not to notice that the smiles are for him and not for the woods. “Hey, Catnip,” he says to her in greeting, showing a certain familiarity between these two: not just friends, but close friends. This is the beginning of a romantic interest. There’s no obvious reference to sexual attraction, but make no mistake: this is a form of sexual tension. It’s clear the two like one another, and this is where such things often start, a friendship that turns into something more.

This is one of the many brilliant things about this opening chapter. Here Collins has been steadily building her world in a particularly dark way. In the hands of the inexpert writer, they might simply bull forth and continue to hammer the message home, but Collins instead sends us into the woods to meet Gale and have what I could only call an idyllic breakfast with a potential love interest. It would actually be romantic if it weren’t for the little reminders of how hungry they normally are and the reaping that’s about to take place. This focus on a friend and the picnic in the woods creates a variation of tension, a landscape of sorts. We know that the reaping is approaching—and by extension we know that something momentous is about to happen—but Collins delays the gratification of the reader by inserting a lovely scene filled with a different sort of tension.

And here is a very important lesson to learn. There are certain types of tension such as action—a fight or an argument—that create interest in the reader, but those are rather straightforward techniques. They’re techniques with short half-lives, and while they certainly have their place in fiction, it’s the long-building tension that keeps the reader interested over the course of a full novel.

I’d like to consider some of these from The Hunger Games, but first, let me make an observation. These different types of tension I’ve noted so far have come up in the first five pages of the novel—five pages!—And the story is rife with tension. Not in-your-face tension, mind you. That isn’t what we’re talking about. (Though there’s nothing necessarily wrong with starting a novel that way, either.) The point is that Collins has invested these opening pages with a ton of tension, and I would contend that it continues throughout the entire novel. Tension on every page can seem like a ridiculously hard ideal in the beginning, but I think the more you consider the breakout novels, the more you’ll see just how good those authors are at this very thing. And please, rid yourself of the notion that your novel will become too tense. First, it’s much more difficult to do than you think, and second, if you do find that it’s true (and I’ll grant you, it could happen), then the fix is to pull back and add more variety on subsequent drafts.

Stated simply: you’re trying to focus on those things that create tension and weed out those things that don’t. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a difficult line to walk, especially for those new to the concept, but it’s one you should take to heart and actively try to employ in your writing.

Back to long-term tension. Collins builds this concept of the reaping through the first half of chapter one, and then we get to the reaping itself. We discover that it’s a lottery in which children—not adults, but children—are chosen for the Hunger Games. Katniss is considering the odds for her and Gale, praying that neither one is chosen, when something even more shocking happens. Prim’s name is called. Her sister is chosen—something she hadn’t even considered in the slow buildup to the lottery and the naming of the tributes.

This in itself is so packed with tension that I defy anyone to stop reading when it’s revealed that Prim is the tribute. And yet, this isn’t even my point. My point is that by the end of chapter one we learn much about what the games are, and we learn quickly thereafter that Katniss volunteers to be the girl tribute from District 12. But it isn’t until chapter eleven, 148 pages into the book, that we actually see the games themselves. This is the point at which Katniss is raised up in the glass cylinder to the arena, the grounds where the games take place. That’s right, forty percent of the novel has passed us by before we see the eponymous games, something Collins has been building toward since the very first paragraph of the novel. That, my friends, is some skilled manipulation. She knows we want to see the games, she teases us with it constantly, and she holds off on gratification as long as she possibly can.

This is another key to using tension, delaying gratification. Let me say it another way, though. When you grant the reader what they’re looking for—whether it’s an argument that’s been building between two colleagues vying for the same position, whether it’s sex after chapters of careful innuendo, whether it’s a battle to the death between children that you’ve been hinting at for 148 pages—there will be a release of tension once the encounter is played out. One only need look at sitcoms like Friends to see how dull a storyline can get once the sex is consummated. (Rachel and Ross, anyone?) Everything leading up to it left the viewer with an itch in the form of various implied questions: When will they actually do it? Will it be as good as they’d hoped? Will they stay together?

Holding off on gratification is no easy thing to do, though. If you’re not careful, you can end up with page after boring page of scenes filled with nothing but an obvious attempt at putting off the climax. What does Collins do in the space between chapter one and the games? Plenty. She fills it with the false grandeur of the Capitol. She prepares Katniss while exposing the pomp and circumstance around these horrific gladiatorial games. She fills in the history behind it.

First, we go to the Capitol, which is an interesting journey in and of itself; it is so different from District 12 as to practically be a different world. We see Katniss’s “coming out.” We see the strategy behind the games—that of attracting sponsors—which creates another sort of tension, one that Katniss had never even thought of and is ill-suited for. We see their joke of a trainer in the form of Haymitch Abernathy, which puts Katniss and the boys’ tribute, Peeta Mellark, at a disadvantage.

Another example of long-term tension? The slow-building relationship between Katniss and Peeta. Collins wisely introduces us to Gale early on. She makes it clear that, under different circumstances, he would have been a natural boyfriend and eventual mate for Katniss. But then come the games, and Katniss is thrown in with Peeta. One of the first scenes with him post-lottery is Peeta crying because of his entry into the games. Add to the fact that Katniss may be forced to kill Peeta to keep herself alive, and it makes for a very inauspicious start to a budding romance.

And yet these two children are thrown in together under very trying circumstances. Sure enough, as we enter the games themselves, we see Katniss and Peeta drifting closer to one another . . . but that’s filled with tension and setbacks along the way. Katniss wonders whether she should be close to him at all given not just the games but her feelings for Gale. Peeta surely wonders similar things. Katniss begins to distrust him as the games approach, and only then is it revealed that she was fooling herself all along. She’d blinded herself to Peeta’s true feelings for her, and it isn’t until the games begin, when it may be too late, that she fully realizes this and tries to bridge the distance she’d place between them.

I’d like to return to the subject of variation in the landscape. We know there are hills and valleys in fiction. The danger that Donald Maass laid out in his book is well taken: in those valleys (the times of low tension) lies danger. We can slack off and write scenes that are, well, just plain boring. The way to combat this, however, is not to shy away from things that aren’t action-packed, but to make these lower tension (lower tension, mind you, not low tension) scenes contain elements from these longer-term threads.

Case in point: when Katniss is lamenting over Gale and her growing feelings for Peeta, it’s not nearly as high tension as her coming out where she was clothed in a dress of fire and paraded through the Capitol in a chariot. But it’s tension just the same, and it plays against the other, ongoing concerns—her worry over her family and Gale, the marketing necessary to compete in the games, their complete lack of proper training from Haymitch, and the impending games themselves. These lower-tension scenes give depth and variety to the high-tension scenes, so that by the time the novel is complete, the reader feels as though they’ve walked through something unique, something real, and something special. Something—dare we hope?—that the reader would like to pick up and read again.

There are all kinds of tension, and I would challenge you to pick up some of your favorite books and identify the ones in play. We’ve discussed action and argument. We’ve discussed sexual tension. We’ve touched on mystery, which can be as simple as wanting to know the full nature of something like the games or as complex as a full-blown whodunit mystery that Sherlock Holmes might be asked to solve. We even touched obliquely on the basic necessity of survival. It doesn’t really come into sharp focus until later in the novel, but Katniss is very much fighting for her life once the games begin, both because of the efforts of the other contestants, but also because of the controlled environment of the arena itself.

The arena, by the way, and the games, are so expertly constructed that they highlight all of James Dai’s three basic conflicts (internal, relational, and external) and five of Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch’s seven conflict types (character vs. character, character vs. nature, character vs. machine, character vs. self, and character vs. society).

There are plenty more types of conflict we haven’t touched on. There is tension found in our upbringing and in our relationships. Societal pressures, familial pressures, peer pressures. Religious and political pressures and pressure we put upon ourselves through our own expectations and moral codes. All of these can be used to create dramatic tension. What it takes from the author is a deep understanding of those things as they relate to the world at large and the characters that inhabit the story. This is why worldbuilding is so important. Even in urban fantasy there will be a system of beliefs and a history underlying it that can be leveraged to create tension between the characters. Worldbuilding and character building set the stage for all that follows, including (and especially) plot.

Now that we’ve looked at tension, let’s examine how it builds. Just as the novel itself has hills and valleys, so does each subplot. This makes sense, as the novel itself is really just a collection of those individual parts. What you’ll find is that each of the scenes will either advance a plot or set it back. Either of these outcomes will create tension. Why? In one case, the plot will advance, and like the slow, clinking sounds and lurching motion of a roller coaster heading up toward that first, big drop, the reader will feel closer to the eventual resolution; their anticipation, in other words, will rise. And in the other, the setback will make the reader feel farther away. They will feel more internal angst because the characters they care about now have a more difficult path before them.

Each scene should do one of these two things: advance a plot or set it back. It seems like such a simple rule, yet so many writers avoid doing just that. Why? Because writing tension-filled scenes is hard. As authors, we live those scenes with our characters, and the emotionally convenient thing for us to do is to avoid the stuff that causes them pain. Time and time again I’ve seen writers build to a scene that should be chock-full of tension, only to see them skip forward to the end of the scene, the aftermath.

I remember this being a difficult transition for me—the notion that it’s the very scenes I was avoiding that I needed to focus on and maximize, while minimizing or eliminating those low-tension scenes that were so easy (from an emotional perspective) to write.

Before I close, let’s put the basic premise of this article to the test. I’m claiming that tension on every page is the key to good fiction, and I’m holding up The Hunger Games as an example. So let’s take three random pages from the book and see if it holds true. The book is 378 pages long. I rolled three random numbers from random.org and got the following pages: 27, 274, and 312.

On page 27, Katniss is dealing with the aftermath of the lottery and her decision to step in and take Prim’s place. Katniss is relaying how, after her father’s death, her mother was supposed to get a job to support the family, but her mother didn’t. She shut down into a deep depression and couldn’t provide for her family. Katniss had lost not just one parent to the explosion that had killed her father, but two. And now Katniss has to step up and provide for her family as best she can. This is one of the “lower tension” scenes I was referring to above. It isn’t action, it’s exposition, and yet it’s brimming with tension, especially in light of the fact that Katniss will soon be leaving for the Capitol, making her wonder if Prim and her mother will be okay.

On page 274, Claudius Templesmith (the one who makes pronouncements to the contestants in the arena) has just made an announcement that there will be special packages placed at the Cornucopia (a golden horn where important things are placed to help some contestants while simultaneously putting others at a disadvantage). These contain something each contestant desperately needs. In Katniss’s case, she knows it’s medicine to heal Peeta’s infected leg. Peeta knows this as well, and he implores Katniss not to go. Katniss lies and tells him she won’t, but we all know, including Peeta, that she’s going to go anyway. Again, not an action sort of tension—it’s actually buildup for the meeting at the Cornucopia—but it’s one of the more tension-filled scenes in the entire novel.

On page 312, Katniss and Peeta are eating cold rice and stew that to them is like an absolute feast after living in the arena for days on end eating only what they could find and prepare themselves. They joke around, slopping food in their mouths to the imagined dismay of their hometown and Effie Trinket. But as soon as they’re done eating, the mood shifts. They step outside, ready to head for the final confrontation with Cato, one of the strong favorites in the contest.

These are just three examples, but I would contend that any page I chose would have produced the same results. Tension on every page. It’s a simple thing to say, a very difficult thing to pull off. The first key is to recognize this formula. Second, you have to craft a world in which tension can naturally spring. And finally, you have to construct characters with wants and needs that will naturally bring those tensions to a head, either within themselves, with others, or against opposing people or forces.

The flip side of this is to minimize those things that don’t have tension. This may not be something you can do on the first round of writing—at least, not if you’re new to the concept. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend it. This sort of culling is more properly done in subsequent drafts. Look for scenes that don’t advance or set back the plot. Look for places where the story lags, and ask your readers to do the same. And then either cut them or recast them in such a way that they do contain tension.

You will eventually find, as with any skill, that it will come easier. You will start to intuitively weed out some scenes as unnecessary, and then you will start to formulate your world, characters, and plot to maximize these things. I rather suspect that Suzanne Collins spent a lot of time on how this world worked—the rules of the games and what they meant to the society, the background of the games and why they came into existence—before she seriously got into the writing of the tale. It all starts with recognizing the problem, practicing until it becomes internalized, and then employing it with greater and greater skill.

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Bradley P. Beaulieu began writing his first fantasy novel in college, but in the way of these things, it was set aside as life intervened. As time went on, though, Brad realized that his love of writing and telling tales wasn’t going to just slink quietly into the night. The drive to write came back full force in the early 2000s, at which point Brad dedicated himself to the craft, writing several novels and learning under the guidance of writers like Nancy Kress, Joe Haldeman, Tim Powers, Holly Black, Michael Swanwick, and Kij Johnson.   

Brad and his novels have garnered many accolades and most anticipated lists, including Twelve Kings in Sharakhai being named to over twenty Best of the Year lists in 2015. He also earned two Hotties–the Debut of the Year and Best New Voice–on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, a Gemmell Morningstar Award nomination for both Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and The Winds of Khalakovo, and more.   

Brad’s stories have appeared in various other publications, including Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies from DAW Books. His story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat,” was voted a Notable Story of 2006 in the Million Writers Award.   

Brad continues to work on his next projects, including The Song of the Shattered Sands, an Arabian Nights epic fantasy, and The Days of Dust and Ash, a forthcoming science-fantasy trilogy. He also helped to run the highly successful science fiction and fantasy podcast, Speculate. For more, please visit www.quillings.com.