My Favorites

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Writing - part x209, Novel Form, Tension and Release, Pathos, Disgust

3 August 2017, Writing - part x209, Novel Form, Tension and Release, Pathos, Disgust

Announcement: Delay, my new novels can be seen on the internet, but the publisher has delayed all their fiction output due to the economy.  I'll keep you informed.  More information can be found at  Check out my novels--I think you'll really enjoy them.

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

The four plus one basic rules I employ when writing:

1. Don't confuse your readers.

2. Entertain your readers.

3. Ground your readers in the writing.

4. Don't show (or tell) everything.

     4a. Show what can be seen, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted on the stage of the novel.

5. Immerse yourself in the world of your writing.

These are the steps I use to write a novel including the five discrete parts of a novel:


1.      Design the initial scene

2.      Develop a theme statement (initial setting, protagonist, protagonist’s helper or antagonist, action statement)

a.       Research as required

b.      Develop the initial setting

c.       Develop the characters

d.      Identify the telic flaw (internal and external)

3.      Write the initial scene (identify the output: implied setting, implied characters, implied action movement)

4.      Write the next scene(s) to the climax (rising action)

5.      Write the climax scene

6.      Write the falling action scene(s)

7.      Write the dénouement scene

I finished writing my 28th novel, working title, School, potential title Deirdre: Enchantment and the School.  The theme statement is: Sorcha, the abandoned child of an Unseelie and a human, secretly attends Wycombe Abbey girls’ school where she meets the problem child Deirdre and is redeemed.  

Here is the cover proposal for Deirdre: Enchantment and the School

Cover Proposal

The most important scene in any novel is the initial scene, but eventually, you have to move to the rising action. I continued writing my 29th novel, working title Red Sonja.  I finished my 28th novel, working title School.  If you noticed, I started on number 28, but finished number 29 (in the starting sequence—it’s actually higher than that).  I adjusted the numbering.  I do keep everything clear in my records. 

How to begin a novel.  Number one thought, we need an entertaining idea.  I usually encapsulate such an idea with a theme statement.  Since I’m writing a new novel, we need a new theme statement.  Here is an initial cut.


For novel 29:  Red Sonja, a Soviet spy, infiltrates the X-plane programs at Edwards AFB as a test pilot’s administrative clerk, learns about freedom, and is redeemed.


This is the classical form for writing a successful novel:


1.      Design the initial scene

2.      Develop a theme statement (initial setting, protagonist, protagonist’s helper or antagonist, action statement)

a.       Research as required

b.      Develop the initial setting

c.       Develop the characters (protagonist, antagonist, and optionally the protagonist’s helper)

d.      Identify the telic flaw of the protagonist (internal and external)

3.      Write the initial scene (identify the output: implied setting, implied characters, implied action movement)

4.      Write the next scene(s) to the climax (rising action)

5.      Write the climax scene

6.      Write the falling action scene(s)

7.      Write the dénouement scene


The protagonist and the telic flaw are tied permanently together.  The novel plot is completely dependent on the protagonist and the protagonist’s telic flaw.  They are inseparable.  This is likely the most critical concept about any normal (classical) form novel. 


Here are the parts of a normal (classical) novel:


1.      The Initial scene (identify the output: implied setting, implied characters, implied action movement)

2.      The Rising action scenes

3.      The Climax scene

4.      The Falling action scene(s)

5.      The Dénouement scene


So, how do you write a rich and powerful initial scene?  Let’s start from a theme statement.  Here is an example from my latest novel:


The theme statement for Deirdre: Enchantment and the School is: Sorcha, the abandoned child of an Unseelie and a human, secretly attends Wycombe Abbey girls’ school where she meets the problem child Deirdre and is redeemed.


Here is the scene development outline:


1. Scene input (comes from the previous scene output or is an initial scene)

2. Write the scene setting (place, time, stuff, and characters)

3. Imagine the output, creative elements, plot, telic flaw resolution (climax) and develop the tension and release.

4. Write the scene using the output and creative elements to build the tension.

5. Write the release

6. Write the kicker


If you have the characters (protagonist, protagonist’s helper, and antagonist), the initial setting, the telic flaw (from the protagonist), a plot idea, the theme action, then you are ready to write the initial scene.  I would state that since you have a protagonist, the telic flaw, a plot idea, and the theme action, you have about everything—what you might be lacking is the tension and release cycle in the initial scene.


Tension and release is the means to success in scene writing.  The creative elements you introduce into the scenes (Chekov’s guns) are the catalysts that drive entertainment and excitement in a scene, and this is what scenes are all about.     


I am moving into the way to develop sufficient tension and release.  One of the best means is through pathos.  I’ve written about pathos developing characters.  What I want to do is expand this into pathos developing scenes.  In most cases, a scene with a pathos developing character can be made pathetic.  In any case, almost any scene can invoke pathos—pity and fear.  This development of pity and fear is the driving force in tension and release.  The question is how the author develops it.


Fear is just one mechanism for developing powerful and sufficient tension and release in a scene.  The other mechanism is pity.  


In a novel, pity is the emotion of sorrow and compassion in the reader caused by the suffering and misfortunes of the characters. 


Pity and fear are the classic means of producing tension and release in a novel and in a scene.  There are other emotions that can be used for tension and release.  Here is a list of emotions:

  • Fear → feeling afraid
  • Anger → feeling angry. A stronger word for anger is rage.
  • Sadness → feeling sad. Other words are sorrow, grief (a stronger feeling, for example when someone has died) or depression (feeling sad for a long time). Some people think depression is a different emotion.
  • Joy → feeling happy. Other words are happiness, gladness.
  • Disgust → feeling something is wrong or nasty
  • Surprise → being unprepared for something.
  • Trust → a positive emotion; admiration is stronger; acceptance is weaker
  • Anticipation → in the sense of looking forward positively to something which is going to happen. Expectation is more neutral.

I’ll write about disgust, but I’m not sure it has a place in writing novels or other fiction.  In good horror, surprise fear, pity, sadness, anticipation, and perhaps a little anger are good for the entertainment of the readers—disgust, I think, would tend to lose your readers.  Here is where we should look at the art of suspension of disbelief. 


Although this term of art has come into criticism lately, I think it applies to every piece of fiction ever written.  In the past, this term of art indicated the submersion of the reader into fiction.  This submersion is what the author is writing for.  The author wants his or her readers to suspend their disbelief and be immersed in the writing to the extent that they can’t or won’t put down the novel.  The concept suspension of disbelief comes from the, many times, unbelievable ideas an author can produce.  Unbelievable, I would state, outside of the construct of the novel that author wrote.  For example, Harry Potty is a perfect example of suspension of disbelief.  If I put it to you in a synopsis—an incompetent wizard overcomes a murderous demonic magic user and saves the world of witches and wizards—you might get the point.  First, unless you are still in middle school, uneducated, or just easily manipulated, there are no wizards, witches, or magic in the real world.  Second, the idea of the uneducated, untrained, and inexperienced overcoming anything is preposterous in the real world.  On the other hand, although the Harry Potty novels are not the best written fiction, they are compelling stories that provide a strong suspension of disbelief for the reader.  Some of the novels are better than the others at the suspension of disbelief.


All fantasy and science fiction uses the suspension of disbelief.  Almost all novels are engaged in the suspension of disbelief.  Even novels that don’t have unbelievable concepts like magic, wizards, unnatural creatures, talking animals, witches, superheroes, and all, still use the suspension of disbelief to immerse their readers in a world created by words.


The true suspension of disbelief is the immersion of the reader into a world created and controlled entirely by words.  There are few pictures in novels.  The world of the novel is entirely created by words on a page (on a computer screen).  Every novel requires the reader suspend their disbelief and become engrossed in the world the author has devised.  The power of the author to accomplish this is how we judge the good from the great and the excellent from the great.  Every novel requires the suspension of disbelief or the reader will never fully appreciate or comprehend the world of the writer.


In these terms, this is why I write that disgust can be a dangerous emotion for your readers.  Most great writers shy away from producing disgust in their readers.  For example, Ernest Hemingway presents the disgusting scene of a man who has been shot in the head with an elephant gun by describing the reactions and emotions of those who observed it and not by describing the results themselves.  Arlo Guthrie Jr., the author, points out this short story in his Field Guide to Writing Fiction as a means of tension and release development.  I think there are numerous examples where authors rightly shy away from producing disgust in their readers.  I admit, I have provided disgusting scenes and tried to tone them down or reflect them in ways that reduce a reader’s disgust response.  I specifically try to turn the reader’s emotions from disgust to fear, anger, and surprise.  Here’s an example from my published novel, Aegypt:


An excited shout from Legionnaire Dubois interrupted them. The men turned to see Dubois, pale and shaken, rushing toward them.

He stopped before the lieutenant. “The infirmary…Doctor Flair is dead.”

The sergeant and Paul ran to the small building. In his rush, Dubois had left the door open. Through the doorway, it was obvious the infirmary was demolished. Sergeant Le Boehm took out his pistol, and they both warily entered the building.

The doctor hung from the low ceiling. His body was a mass of cuts and exuding viscera. He was trussed up with ropes so he hung in a crouch. His face was bruised and torn, but his features, though locked in pain, showed no fear. He appeared at once at peace and in distress. He was long dead—at least as long as Legionnaire Gauroi, the dead guard still lying outside Paul’s office.

“Search the room,” Paul ordered.

His comment was unnecessary. The sergeant was already surveying the building.

A whirlwind of destruction had blown through the room. Everything was on the floor. The drawers were emptied and cases overturned. The doctor’s tools, books, and papers lay in confused heaps. A sprinkling of blood lay over the top of everything. In places, the blood splattered walls, floor, and ceiling, while a large pool formed under the doctor’s gently swaying body.

Under the overturned autopsy gurney, Paul found one of the mummies from the tomb. He turned it over and noted it stank less than he recalled. Something else was unusual about the mummy’s head. It looked different than he remembered when they removed it from the antechamber. At the moment, Paul couldn’t tell just what that difference was. On the floor beside the mummy lay the equipment from the top of the gurney. The doctor must have been working on the mummy for some reason, Paul thought. He found a heavy suture and needle and a metal bowl filled with a black substance. He smelled the contents of the bowl—tar. What could the doctor have been doing?

Near the gurney, Paul picked up a black shroud. It had probably covered the mummy. Under the shroud was an ancient adz. What could the doctor have been doing with the tools of Osiris? To what use could he have put the adz of an Egyptian priest? Then, in the detritus, Paul saw the doctor’s notebook. He immediately picked up the small book and placed it in his pocket.

“Lieutenant Bolang,” called le Boehm.

“Yes Sergeant.”

“Whatever murdered the doctor is no longer in the room.”

“Yes. There is nothing to fear here now. See to Legionnaire Gauroi. Bring his body here.”

“Yes sir.” Sergeant le Boehm left the room.

Paul found nothing else of interest. He walked over to the poor doctor’s body.

“Sacre bleu,” Paul said under his breath. “So you preceded me in death. I hope God greeted you with grace to match the suffering you knew here.”

The doctor was hobbled and his vocal cords cut. He couldn’t scream; he couldn’t escape. The creature had tortured him mercilessly. It appeared to Paul that the doctor’s skin was sliced so the organs would exude, and then, still alive, he slowly bled to death.

This was the moment of death each soldier expected—to die by violence. It came upon the doctor without warning, but Paul knew Doctor Robert Flair was ready. No man who saw so much death, who was so close to death, could not know God. The British said there were no atheists in the trenches. Paul knew this to be true. He also knew no man died in vain when he died in the service of what he knew was right.

“I will miss you, my friend.” Paul sighed aloud. “You were the only one I could trust. You knew, you believed. You understood what we are up against.”

Paul reached up and cut down the unfortunate man. He straightened the lacerated limbs and then covered the body. I need your strength and faith, Paul thought as he lowered the black shroud over the doctor’s face.        


In this example, I hoped to reduce disgust be describing the aftermath of the torture of Dr. Flair.  This is still a horrific scene.  My point is to reduce the disgust your readers’ might feel to continue the suspension of disbelief and not kick them mentally and emotionally out of the story.  That is the point of suspension of disbelief, and for that reason, I suggest you reduce the potential for disgust as a reaction in your readers.  Turn disgust into, anger, sadness, surprise, and pity—mostly pity.


More tomorrow.

For more information, you can visit my author site, and my individual novel websites:

fiction, theme, plot, story, storyline, character development, scene, setting, conversation, novel, book, writing, information, study, marketing, tension, release, creative, idea, logic

No comments:

Post a Comment