Author Archives: Sean Golden

About Sean Golden

After a degree in physics, then a 35 year career in Information Technologies, I am now focused on writing. My first epic fantasy series, "The War Chronicles" is available on Amazon.com.

Developing Tension Over Time

When I think about how to develop tension in a story, I think of the stories I’ve read that create a sense of anticipation in the resolution of a story element. Tension can be raw and primal, like the tension between the great white whale and Captain Ahab, or it can be subtle and somber, like the tension in “Flowers for Algernon.” There are many kinds of tension an author can employ, but for any of them to work, the tension must be compelling. And what makes tension compelling is consequence. When the story element is resolved, the character or characters involved must cross some line, and their lives should be forever altered. For better or worse, there is no turning back.

It is the anticipation of the consequence that drives the tension. If you want to create truly compelling tension, you have to make the consequences clear, and make them matter to the character or characters involved. The more characters involved, and the more severe the consequences, the higher the tension can be driven.

A good story will have multiple, simultaneous narratives, each with its own conflict and tension. Just as plot lines should intersect and diverge, tension also should rise and fall. A story should have a rhythm, a cadence, a variation of pacing that gives the reader a chance to absorb the story and increase the anticipation of the final climax.

Foreshadowing is one way to promote the anticipation necessary to create compelling tension in a story. But if you want to really push your tension to maximum levels, you should have the resolution of minor tension create new and more powerful consequences for the major tension you are developing. Ideally all of the tension should eventually coalesce into the final, dramatic resolution of the major conflict of the story, delivering all the resolution the reader has been hoping for, and tying the entire story together.

That all takes careful planning. It’s harder to do if you are a “seat of the pants” writer, than if you work from firm outlines and stick to them. When I am editing my stories, I look for any opportunity to adjust story elements to weave the plot more tightly. I do the same for tension, tweaking scenes and tying elements together so that every scene contributes something to the major elements of tension, driving the story to the ultimate conclusion where that tension is finally released.

An End to New Beginnings…

I’ve really enjoyed this month’s Fictorians’ posts on new beginnings. As I am typing this, I am sitting in my newly finished basement, in the new house we built in 2016, and am about to head to the Superstars Writing Seminars. I’m also starting a new novel and looking forward to a new year.

Some of the posts I found the most interesting and helpful were those where the author embarked on a new direction after deciding a previous effort was not working out. Taking motivation from rejection, using a new start to rekindle a love of writing, taking a leap into a new genre… All of them were helpful and entertaining.

I hope our readers found them helpful. It was my deliberate desire to provide new writers, or writers who were dealing with difficulties and lack of motivation some encouragement and ideas.

I’d like to thank all of the Fictorians who posted, and would like to especially thank this month’s guest posters. As far as I’m concerned, you all hit it out of the park.

Now, on to Superstars!

Starting Over in a New Genre

My first three published books are an epic fantasy trilogy. I’m not even sure how that happened, throughout my life I’ve really been much more of a sci-fi fan than a fantasy fan. I like a lot of fantasy, to be sure, and agree with the general opinion that “Lord of the Rings” is one of the greatest works of literature of all time, so I clearly appreciate the fantasy genre, but back when I imagined myself as an author, I always envisioned myself following in the footsteps of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke. Maybe Ray Bradbury. Instead I ended up with something more like Robert E. Howard.

So now I’m moving on to a new book, and this time it’s going to be sci-fi. But after spending most of the last two years deeply immersed in a fantasy universe, I’m going to have to re-orient myself in a world governed by hard and fast physical laws.

But after some conversation with some writer friends, I’ve realized that moving into a new genre means more than just what sort of world the story is set. Also, my experience with my first epic series was that it may have veered a bit too far off the epic fantasy genre expectations for many readers. Instead of being set in a medieval world, with castles, knights, swords and sorcery, it started off in a stone-age culture, and the magic in it was unusual as well.

So, that has led me to a decision to do a bit more research about the current tastes and expectations of sci-fi. That means everything from what the book cover should look like, to what sort of blurb will draw attention to it, to the flavor of the story itself.

When I was writing “The War Chronicles” and some of my early alpha and beta readers warned me that it was bending genre expectations a bit much, my pride and ego got in the way and I, sometimes literally, scoffed at such concerns. I told myself that a good story will transcend genre expectations, and that I wanted to focus my creative talent on my story, not on conforming to people’s expectations.

After devoting years to that, and not finding a book publisher (although I did find an audio publisher) for my first series, I have decided that was probably not a great career decision. So, this time I’m going to do what I deliberately avoided last time. I’m going to research the genre, especially the top selling books in the genre, and while I’m going to have a unique story, where the story doesn’t require bending the genre expectations, I’m going to generally follow them. Just to see what happens with my next book.

Maybe that’s “selling out,” I dunno. I don’t think so. I think it’s just accounting for taste and trying to give readers what they want.

Stay tuned, we’ll see how it turns out this time.

Starting a new story after finishing a series

You’ve finally done it. After years of hard struggle, you’ve put the final “The End” on your story. You’ve edited, re-edited, proofread and sent the final manuscript off to your publisher, or you’ve hit the “publish” button yourself. It feels good. It feels like you’ve accomplished something major. Because you have.

Now it’s time to move on.

It’s not that easy, is it? Those characters that have been in your head for the past years, it’s hard to let them go. Sometimes they don’t want to go. After all, you grew to like some of those characters. Some of them seem like old friends, and nobody wants to let old friends go.

Well, you don’t have to let them go forever, but you do have to let them go for now. Because your new story, book, or series deserves the same focus and attention that you gave your last one. And you will develop new appreciation for new characters, new challenges and new plot twists.

This is particularly meaningful for me because I finished my first epic series and have begun working on my next book. It has been surprisingly difficult to put aside the story I’ve been working on for years. There are so many little side stories that intrude on my consciousness. As I’m trying to plot out the new story, the old story keeps popping into my head with ways the new idea could have improved the previous work.

The best approach I’ve found so far is the same tactic I’ve used for virtually every other writing obstacle I’ve encountered. Just write. Just put words on paper. The more words I put down of the new story, the more compelling the new story is becoming. The more I develop the new characters, the more vibrant and alive they feel.

To me the real measure of when I’ve begun to truly get a story moving is when the story starts to write itself. When the characters start telling me what they would do, and how. I’m getting to that point now, and that is when writing is the most fun to me.

I suppose I should try to find some other clever approach, or a five-point plan or some trick to tell other authors, but the reality is that nothing seems to work as well as applying backside to chair, and fingers to keyboard. So, if you’re in the same place, and finding it difficult to make the transition, all I can do is say “Just write.”