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Friday, November 23, 2012

Scenes - Scene Setting, Time, Place, and Tension

23 November 2012, Scenes - Scene Setting, Time, Place, and Tension

Introduction: I wrote the novel Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon. This was my 21st novel and through this blog, I gave you the entire novel in installments that included commentary on the writing. In the commentary, in addition to other general information on writing, I explained, how the novel was constructed, the metaphors and symbols in it, the writing techniques and tricks I used, and the way I built the scenes. You can look back through this blog and read the entire novel beginning with

I'm using this novel as an example of how I produce, market, and eventually (we hope) get a novel published. I'll keep you informed along the way.
Today's Blog: To see the steps in the publication process, visit my writing website and select "production schedule," you will be sent to

Here are my rules of writing:

1. Entertain your readers.
2. Don't confuse your readers.
3. Ground your readers in the writing.
4. Don't show (or tell) everything.

A scene outline is a means of writing a novel where each scene follows the other with a scene input from the previous scene and a scene output that leads to the next scene. The scenes don't necessarily have to follow directly in time and place, however they generally follow the storyline of the protagonist.

A storyline outline is a means of writing a novel where the author develops a scene outline for more than one character and bases the plot on one or more of these storyline scenes. This allows the scenes to focus on more than the protagonist. This is a very difficult means of writing. There is a strong chance of confusing your readers.

Whether you write with a scene outline or a storyline outline, you must properly develop your scenes. All novels are developed from scenes and each scene has a design similar to a novel. Every successful novel has the following basic parts:

1. The beginning
2. The rising action
3. The Climax
4. The falling action
5. The dénouement

Every scene has these parts:

1. The setting (where, what, who, when, how)
2. The connection (input)
3. The tension development
4. The release
5. The output

There are lots of approaches to scene setting. That means there are about a million plus ways you can set a scene. The main point is you have to clearly get across the where, when, who, what, and how.

Here is a little more from the last scene in Aksinya.  This scene runs through more than one tension and release and through at least three separate places.  I mark scenes by time and not so much by place.  I mentioned how scenes can be defined as tension and release.  Usually, the end of a scene in a novel is marked by the end of a place sequence, a time sequence, and a tension and release sequence.  I'll try to show and explain what I mean by this.  At the beginning of this scene, Aksinya exits a trolley at Union Park in Boston and heads down the street:

Aksinya halted when her counting reached the correct house number and glanced at the building.  She stopped skipping and walked carefully up the stairs in front.  The sign was right beside the door: Sacred Heart of Christ, Russian Orthodox Seminary for Young Women and Girls.”
Aksinya smiled.  That sounded like just the place for her.  All the other schools where she applied to teach mistook her for a student.  None of them had called her back.  She luckily heard about this place from a friend at their Ecclesia.
Aksinya pulled the bell.  After a couple of minutes a matronly woman dressed as a chamber maid answered the door.  She was pleasant looking.  Aksinya smiled and announced in English, “I am Mrs. Aksinya Andreiovna Lopuhin.”
The maid responded in broken English, “This is a Russian academy, are you certain you are at the right place?  We don’t accept married students.”
Aksinya changed to Russian, “I am here to apply for the position of English and linguistics teacher.  You posted it with the Russian exchange office.”
“Yes, so we did.”  The woman frowned and looked Aksinya up and down.
“Is there a problem?”
“None at all.”  The woman’s tone of voice said there was.  “I’ll take you to see the headmistress.  She is also the wife of the owner of this school.”
The building was similar to many of the row houses Aksinya was familiar with in Boston.  The foyer wasn’t large.  It opened to a stairway that led up into the building and a hall that led to the rear.  A parlor was on the right and a classroom on the left.  Aksinya could hear the teacher lecturing through the closed door. 
The maid didn’t lead Aksinya into the parlor or upstairs but rather headed down the hall on the first floor.  They passed a second and a third classroom on the left and right and finally arrived at a large dining room and kitchen.  They were also on the left.  On the right was a door labeled Office of the Headmistress.  The door was closed.  Outside the door sat four hardback chairs in a row.  A girl of about twelve slumped in one of the seats.  She didn’t seem very happy.
The maid turned a stern look at the girl then pointed to the seats.  Aksinya sat next to the girl.  The maid knocked at the office, entered and closed the door behind her.  She exited just a moment later, “The headmistress will call for you in a moment.”
Aksinya answered “Thank you.”

In the part of the scene I gave you, we have a change from the front door to the interior of the building and then to the waiting place in front of the headmistress' offices.  The first tension and release was with the maid.  There is also a foreshadowing for the next tension and release sequence. 

You can see already that the scene isn't simply demarcated by the place or tension and release.  We will see that the culmination of the scene is the end of the place, the time, and the final tension and release. 

The interior setting for each place must be fixed.  It is not enough to tell us that Aksinya moves with the maid to the hall outside the headmistress' office.  You must show this to us.  You show in the narrative with description.  Thus, the scene moves from the exterior of the building at the front door to the interior and I give you a description of that interior.  On the interior, the scene moves from the foyer to the hall (and waiting area) in front of the headmistress' office. There happens to be a girl in one of the other seats.  The girl is a set up for the next tension and release sequence so I can prep the reader for the events to come and give them information to foreshadow the visit to the headmistress' office.  More details tomorrow.

My Notes: once you have a theme, you need to begin to visualize your plot, focus your theme, and define your characters. More tomorrow.

I'll move on to basic writing exercises and creativity in the near future.

The following is a question asked by one of my readers. I'm going to address this over time: Please elaborate on scene, theme, plot, character development in a new novel, the framework, the development, order if operation, the level of detail, guidelines, rule of thumb, tricks, traps and techniques.

I'll repeat my published novel websites so you can see more examples:, and the individual novel websites:,,, http://www.thefoxshonor,

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