Category Archives: Guest Posts

Shave and a Haircut

The thing about tension is, it wants to be released. This is true not just for bowstrings drawn back to the ear, unresolved chords, or tectonic plates grinding up on each other in the world’s most excruciatingly slowed-down dance club. All of life, every life, is about the release of tension.

Sometimes the release comes quickly. Sometimes the stresses just continue to build, ratcheting up ever higher, long past what we would have believed to be possible. (On a possibly related note, it took me eleven years to earn my doctorate.)

But all of us are bullets, shots in the dark. We begin explosively, super-charged with unimaginable kinetic energy– as every parent of a small child knows. Over time, we lose it. Our trajectories curve groundward, our orbits decay, and we fall.

It is in this sense that mortality is a coil, in Hamlet’s famous phrasing. Life is a spring, tightly wound. Tension is what keeps it all going, what keeps this whole universe humming along. Sure, we complain about the stresses we endure day after day. But in a way, they’re reassuring. They let us know we’re still here, still kicking, not yet resting in peace.

I’m in no hurry to achieve entropic resolution myself. Oh, I know I’ll get there in time. All of us will. What’s the rush? Yet, on we run. We can’t help it. Tension propels us, speeding us toward that ultimate release.

I think this is true for stories, too. We all know the unbearable agony of being wrenched out of the narrative before we know our heroes are safe. I think that’s why parents grant their children the small mercy of finding a “stopping place” in their book (or game, or show) before they have to come help set the table.

We also know that in the very best stories, you can never find a stopping place. It gets its hooks in you right from the start and doesn’t let you go until the end. “It rips my life away, but it’s a great escape.

So, how do I make it work for me?

First, take a cue from Dean Wesley Smith and try exercising a little mind control over your readers. Hang those cliffs. Don’t make it easy for them to put your book down.

This doesn’t come naturally for me, but I’ve been experimenting with my preschooler. He wants to hear stories every night, one from mommy and one from daddy. And for the last few months, daddy’s stories have all followed a single hero (Percival Bunny-rabbit) in a continuous narrative, usually cutting off at the moment of maximum tension.

It’s cruel, I know. And every time the boy flops back on his bed with a frustrated groan, or spends the next day begging to hear the end of the story, there’s a part of me that thinks it can’t be good parenting to torture him so.

But another part of me is delighted.

He tells me he prefers stories that have an ending. So every few nights I give him a break and we come to a place where I can pronounce THE END. But the very next night my boy is asking me if we have any “leftover stories.” He can’t wait to find out what his hero is going to do next. And neither can I.

Which is the second way I am trying to make tension work for me: keeping myself in suspense. I don’t like leaving things unfinished. In fact, I’m like Roger Rabbit, positively vibrating with the need for closure.

So I’ve been experimenting on myself, trying to use this tension as a driver. Instead of stopping my writing for the day at a place where I’ve finished my scene and said all I want to, I cut it short and walk away.

The pressure of that incomplete ending, that unfinished chapter, pushes me to get back to the keyboard. And until I do, the untold story is bouncing around in my brain– generating dialogue, action sequences, etc. It itches at my brain, keeps me up at night, kicks me out of bed early in the morning to curl up on the couch with my laptop and punch out the lines that have been running through my head since my last writing session.

The experiment is still young, but it’s had some promising results. I’m really excited. I also am a little anxious, because we’ve got a new baby coming and I know that’s going to turn my whole life upside down (for the third time). And then we have the end of the semester, and then summer (and attendant travel) is going to nuke my schedule, and then we’re going to move.

So even though I’m telling you this works, I really don’t know if I can even keep this up myself. Will my new writing plan survive the month of March, or will it fall casualty to sleep deprivation? Will I find the time to finish my novel, or miss my deadline and maybe miss my chance? What will become of our peerless hero?

Find out next time, in . . .

PERCIVAL BUNNY-RABBIT

AGAINST

THE WORLD CRIME LEAGUE

Coming soon!


John D. Payne lives in Houston with his wife, two sons, and (maybe, by the time this post goes up) his newborn daughter. (Still looking for names, so please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.) His hobbies include removing peanut butter and chocolate from the stupid white couches, blowing bubbles for little boys to chop with laser swords, and using a Mickey Mouse doll to do Pharaoh’s part in the Moses story (complete with Mickey voice).

John’s debut novel is The Crown and the Dragon. His stories can also be found in magazines and anthologies such as Leading Edge, Tides of Impossibility: A Fantasy Anthology from the Houston Writers Guild, and Dragon Writers: An Anthology. For updates on his writing and stories about his kids, follow him on Twitter @jdp_writes.

Sexual Tension in Fiction

Attraction is easy. Desire is a deep and constant companion for most people. Even advertisers know this. We all have idle thoughts. People go out on a weekend looking for sex, and may find it or not. This is not sexual tension.

For sexual tension, you need a compelling sexual attraction – something that really pushes a character to do something they might not do otherwise.

Often sex and romance get lumped together in fiction. Both serve similar functions in a story, and often the protagonists’ sex is an expression of the love.

But not always. People can strongly desire sex with people they don’t love first, or at all, and it can have consequences other than love. Sex can also be an exchange, or a pressure, used in relationships characterized by imbalanced power. People can deny their true sexual attraction and still have pleasurable sex with others – even of different genders than their natural preference – who are not their first choice. Or, all of the above at once!

Sexual tension is a thing of the body, of the senses, of the id. It is the realm of the cad, the rake, the femme fatale – and yet, it is for all of us. It is manipulative and often shadowy, if not actually dark. It is our selfishness, our self-indulgence.

In fiction, sexual tension has something inappropriate or unwise – from the character’s view, or from the story’s. I don’t mean to demonize sex, or advocate a subtle puritanism, but fiction is always a distorted and extreme depiction, and sex is always a vulnerable state.

Characters can deny it, or give into it. Giving in is inherently heedless – if the sex were uncomplicated, they would just have it. It may lead to ruin. It may be for the good of the persons involved if not the society that denies them. It may even lead to romance and love, but not easily, and not without great disturbance in other aspects of the characters’ lives.

For good or ill, sexual tension leads characters astray.

The endless no

Not all attractions get acted out. Sometimes they linger, unacted on. Long enough and these denials can age like wine into bonds of friendship, or fester into ugly thoughts, or simply drag at us, like tides from a moon we’re bound to.

This works well for series characters, whose relationship can develop over several stories. In a standalone, the reader often comes in the middle of the relationship. In either case, seeing the tension is often more economical than backstory.

Be careful, however, to keep it in its place – after all, the characters are by definition in denial. When we see two characters drunk, or on their spouse’s arms at cocktail party, you can get to mutual sexual interest quickly and believably. In a crime scene investigation, it’s unprofessional, badly comic, and disorienting.

Locks and keys

As I said earlier, uncomplicated sex is not tense. If sex starts with a tension beyond simple anticipation, an attraction has to be more than the opening of a door. It has to be an unlocking, or a hacking, someone gaining access.

The disturbance I mentioned comes from this access, or can precede it. A person otherwise capable of denial might have had a separate major change in perspective making them less in control of their emotions. Or, they might simply find a person uniquely attractive person. I combined these in my novel The Demon in Business Class. When my rival protagonists first meet, they respond deeply on a sensory level, each for their own well-foreshadowed reasons. They’ve also both been through enough change in their recent lives that they are too compelled by their feelings. As my Gabriel later admits, “I was tired of doing the smart thing.”

You don’t have to underline what the character wants. You can even provide them with regular dollops of something they don’t want, even if it’s their normal. Charlaine Harris did this overtly, making Sookie Stackhouse unavoidably psychic, and vampire Bill Compton her first experience of not knowing too much.

Conditional attraction 

The ugliest sexual tension is also the most interesting – when it isn’t mutual. A character’s deep response to a disinterested, or manipulative, other gives the other power.

Usually these come on fast, giving the character no time to think. Also, once another is empowered, they quickly take what they want, or develop contempt.

Remember that even in this situation, you need to consider both characters. It’s not enough that a person find themselves vulnerable to a predator. Why? It’s rare that another is so compelling to a healthy ego; maybe the character’s real weakness is a belief in a distorted version of their true self.

Meanwhile, the predator has to know its prey. Maybe it adapts to attract a known mark, or just happily senses the particular insecurities it knows how to enthrall.

The empowerment can come after the possession, too, like Scheherazade’s tales. If a powerful person takes on an inferior for a lover, but then is drawn into vulnerability, the stakes for the attraction become more compelling.

The movie Looper has a lovely and strange conditional attraction. The mother seduces the young hitman, not for any specific reason, and with a powerful excitement – an intuitive empowerment. She wants him when he is most lost, to get him to protect her son. It’s never stated, it’s hot, but it’s clear he’s the one changing, not her.

Closing the deal

Just as the moment of attraction says more than backstory, the sex that comes from the tension can express the tension economically. Sex isn’t a mindless act. Even if characters give into passion they still know themselves. They also tend to enjoy it. In positions of weakness, or sudden strength, they can still embrace that pleasure.

Sex goes great with any mature genre. Enjoy exploring all the unromantic reasons characters get together!


Anthony Dobranski writes stylish fantasy and science-fiction novels with big ideas and desperate characters. His first novel is the modern-day international fantasy The Demon in Business Class, from WordFire Press. He is currently writing his second novel.
He is a native of the Washington DC area. In his first career he worked for AOL, in Europe and Asia-Pacific, which gave him the international corporate background for Demon. When not writing or reading, he likes odd movies, challenging theater, and skiing.

Mental or Emotional Strain

Guest Post by Aubrie L. Nixon

Oh boy, do I love this subject. I have been told by many readers and a few friends that I am a wee bit, err…CRAZY. That the dark side of me comes out to play in my writing. Honestly? I wouldn’t argue with them. I like to torture and create the most delicious tension for my characters. Not only do I enjoy making them suffer physically and emotionally, but I am huge fan of sexual tension.

To create tension is to create a pace where your characters are suffering. For me, it is quite easy to do that. I have always found that the more you suffer the greater the reward. In the case of fictional characters, at least for my characters, it is the same. In order to grow and become who you need to become there needs to be tension, trials, etc… In the series I am working on now, there is a lot of strain put onto my characters and their relationships with one another. They are expected to accept what they have been assigned to do, and do it with ease. Now this lovely group of people are warriors and assassins. You can imagine what spending weeks with a group of killers that you don’t particularly like can do for the amount of tension in an already bleak situation.

To say it makes my dark heart sing would be an understatement (insert evil laugh).

Characters drive your story, to create more depth for them you need to see the struggle and grow. Tension, the dirty bastard that she is, can do that. My personal form of torture, I mean tension, is the big S. Sexual. It is perhaps the most fun to play around with. Especially when you have two characters who don’t particularly like one another. You can put them in the most ridiculous of situations, like having one tackle the other while they are arguing. They can stare at each other with anger, when we all know what they realllyyy want. You can create silly nicknames that one character gives another, that one doesn’t like. There can be beautiful banter, pranks and arguing. It will probably drive the other characters in your book batty, because everyone can what is happening but the two characters the tension is between. It is one of my favorite things, and I always get particularly giddy when I read it or write it. You always know how perfect it is going to be when they finally explode and just jump each others bones! Pure perfection.

No matter what kind of tension it is, I am a big fan! What about you?

What kind of tension do you like? What kind of tension makes you roll your eyes?

aubreyAubrie is 24 years young. She plays mom to a cutest demon topside, and is married to the hottest man in the Air Force. When she isn’t writing she is daydreaming about hot brooding anti-heroes and sassy heroines. She loves Dragon Age, rewatching Game of Thrones and reading all things fantasy. She runs a local YA/NA bookclub with 3 chapters, and over 200 members. Her favorite thing to do is eat, and her thighs thank her graciously for it. If she could have dinner with anyone living or dead it would be Alan Rickman because his voice is the sexiest sound on earth. He could read the dictionary and she would be enthralled. Her current mission in life is to collect creepy taxidermy animals because she finds them cute and hilarious. She resides just outside of Washington DC.

Reset

Guest Post by Connie Schultz

This past year was a rough one for me; full of changes and growth and not nearly as much writing as I would’ve liked, I can sit here and tell you until I’m blue in the face that I did the best I could with what I had. But now I can show you. I can stick my money where my mouth is, and show you how worth it all of the challenges of 2016 were to me.

Behold the New Year’s mindset.

It’s got a sort of magic all its own, doesn’t it?

As I sit here writing this, the second day of 2017, bookstore attendants running around me (I can’t write at home—one of many things I discovered about myself last year), I can’t help but be excited by the idea of a new slate. And I certainly hope that this isn’t just me. Because this is more than just a time for me to prove that I can measure up to my goals and expectations for this year.

It’s your time to prove this to yourself as well.

As we step further into January, here are some ways to go about taking this new chance, and owning this fresh clean canvas we’ve all been given.

  1. Be Kind to Yourself

I’m still learning this one myself, to be honest with you. It’s hard, and more often than not I feel slightly dumb when I think about this, and then think about all the people pushing themselves to new heights, but this is a pivotal point to wrap your head around. It’s not easy doing new things, and growth takes time. How much harder will it be if you’re criticizing yourself every time you make a mistake?

  1. Set Aside Time Periodically to Make It a Habit

This is something you’ve probably heard several times, especially in regards to writing. J.K. Rowling once said to “be ruthless about protecting writing days,” and even if it’s just thirty minutes a day, or an hour on Sundays, I agree heavily that that is essential. Even if you have non-writing goals, be ruthless about protecting them. Write down what you want to complete over and over again as many times as it takes until you think about it so much that you’re dreaming about it at night. And then go do it.

  1. Never Give Up

Sometimes this is easier said than done. To keep going with a project idea when you just aren’t getting anything is hard. I’ve been there several times. It’s hard to not look down on yourself because you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere. But sometimes the only way to get around something, is to walk straight through it. Don’t let yourself give up just because you run into what feels like a brick wall. Grab your climbing gear and start pulling yourself up, because sometimes that’s the only way to continue moving forward.

  1. Don’t Forget to Have Fun

Writing is meant to be an enjoyable act. It’s taking the weird in your brain and making it tangible for all the world to see. It’s giving the inner child in you as much candy as you dare, and letting them run. As much as it can feel like work at times, and as much as part of it is work, don’t forget why you love this. Because at the end of the day, that’s why all of us stick around. Enjoy yourself. Love what you’re doing.

As much as some this probably feels like a rehash of the same old advice you’ve read a thousand times before, I think it’s important to hear all of this again. Because we’re human, and humans tend to have difficulty remembering things from time to time. Especially the things that can sometimes be vital to our sanity. So I hope that as you continue this month, typing or biking or sweating or whatever-else-you-plan-on-doing away, you come back to this. And maybe you smile, or maybe you sniff and click out of the window. But you’re here for a reason, and I admire you for remembering that.

Happy writing. And Happy New Year.

An interesting thing I’ve noticed as of late, is that there’s a distinct difference between waking up one morning to the realization that you’re just one day closer to the end of the month, and waking up to realize you’ve lasted another full rotation around the sun. Part of it, I think, is the hype we silly humans place on it—New Year’s and New Year’s Eve parties are the next big focus after Christmas, and boy do they come fast. The part that gets to me the most, though, is that this is another chance to make things how I want them to be. And even more personally, to become the writer and author I so strongly want to be.

My name is Connie Schultz, I’m 18, and currently attending community college to attain my bachelor’s in journalism. I love fantasy and science fiction, but if the blurb on the back catches my attention, I will read just about anything. Eventually I would like to write novels full-time, but if I happen to write articles for science magazines/anything else involving science, I wouldn’t mind that either.

Some of my favorite things: J.K. Rowling, Brandon Sanderson, Star Trek, Veritasium, Philip K. Dick, Neil Gaiman, Stranger Things, and also dogs, chocolate, and orange juice.