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Friday, August 4, 2017

Writing - part x210, Novel Form, Tension and Release, Pathos, Surprise

4 August 2017, Writing - part x210, Novel Form, Tension and Release, Pathos, Surprise

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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.

Surprise is a very powerful emotion to reflect in your characters and your readers.  Surprise must be set up through usually more than one scene to be effective.  It theoretically can be set up in a single scene, but that is usually difficult and defeats the power of surprise.


Surprise can be approached from verbiage or word-play.  It can be set up physically.  It can be knowledge based or intellectual.  One of the simplest surprise means I like to setup follows this type of word-play.


“Do you believe?”

“I don’t believe—I know.”


This may not sound significant, but depending on the context, this can be a very surprising and powerful statement in a couple of sentences.  The problem is that it must be set up properly.  What is the focus of the belief, and what is the focus of the knowledge.  My point about surprise is that it always requires some degree of set up.  Here is an example from Khione that illustrates the release for surprise.


Yumi applied a keycard and the latch clicked.  Jennifer pushed open the door.  Khione stood on the kitchen counter and rummaged through the high shelves.

Jennifer and Yumi slipped in the door.  Yumi shut it—hard.  Jennifer’s voice was cold, “Caught you.”

Khione jumped down from the counter and landed on the balls of her feet.  She crouched like she was going to spring, “What you want?”

Jennifer didn’t move, “You can give up the fake bad English.”

Khione straightened.  Her voice turned suddenly soft and refined, “All right.  You tricked me.  What are you doing in Pearce’s apartment?  I’m sure he didn’t ask you to come here.”

“How do you know?”

“He’s a very simple man—he would have told me.  He acts like he’s very concerned about me.”

“He is concerned about you.”

Khione scrunched up her nose, “Not as much as you think.  He thinks I’m polluted, unclean.  Why don’t you come in and sit down.  I’m certain Pearce wouldn’t want you in here, but I don’t intend to bite either of you—not right away.”

Jennifer took a deep breath, but she moved a few steps deeper into the room.

Yumi hissed, “You shouldn’t trust her.  She already lied about her injuries and about speaking English.”

Khione went to the table and sat in the closest chair, “I’m a good actress.”

Yumi frowned, “Not that good.  You couldn’t keep it up.”

Khione snarled, “I told you I won’t hurt you right now.”

Jennifer carefully picked her way to the chair across the table and sat.  Yumi followed a step behind her.  She pulled one of the other chairs around to Jennifer’s side and sat.

Jennifer put her hand on the top of the table, “When would you hurt us?”

Khione shrugged, “When I feel like it.”  Khione raised her nose a little, “Did you bring burgers again?”


“Can I have one?”

“The way you are, I should make you say please and thank you.”

Khione stuck her finger in her mouth and bared her small sharp teeth, “The way you are, I should take the burgers from you and kick you out of Pearce’s house.”

Jennifer blushed.

“But I will ask nicely.  I’m hungry.  Would you please share your burgers with me?”

Jennifer opened her large pouch and brought out a bag of McDonalds kids burgers.  She placed a couple in front of Khione, Yumi, and herself.

Khione smiled and ripped the paper off the burgers.  She devoured the meat and discarded the buns.  After she swallowed the burgers, she asked, “Do you get kids burgers because you think I’m a child?”

Jennifer wrinkled her nose, “I get kids burgers because they’re cheap, and I like them.”

Khione picked her teeth, “Oh.”

“Why did you lie to Pearce about your legs and your language?”

Khione shrugged, “I didn’t lie at first.”  She stuck her finger in one of the discarded buns and shuffled it in front of her on the table, “I just never had anyone take care of me before.”

Jennifer and Yumi ducked their heads, but Jennifer’s came up right away, “Are you lying?”

“Not about that.”

Jennifer pressed her lips together, “If you lie all the time, how do we know when you’re telling the truth?”

“When I tell you.”

“Why did you lie about speaking English?”

“He ordered me to speak in English—I didn’t want to.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t like the way it sounds—I like Greek.”

“Then why aren’t you in Greece?”

Khione stared at her.

Yumi laughed, “She’s just contrary.”

Khione’s twisted her lips, “Contrary—I’ve been called that before, so I guess it’s true.”

Jennifer looked down at her burger and took a bite.  After a moment, she stammered, “I…we like Pearce.  We don’t him to get into trouble because of you.  So, just what are your intentions with him?”

Khione leaned indulgently across the table.  She brought her shoulders forward to let the loose top of her t-shirt fall open, “I like Pearce too.  I’d like to seduce him.  Since he owns me, he should have me every day.”

Jennifer choked, “Seduce him?  Do you want to be a slave?”

“I don’t have any choice.”

“What do you mean you do have any choice?  All you have to do is leave here.  You could stay with me and Yumi.”

“It’s not as simple as that.  I told you I was cursed.  You have to undo that part and then I can be free of Pearce…, but I like him.  No one else ever took care of me before.  I like it.”

“You want a slave for yourself?”

“Yeah, I’d like a slave, but Pearce hasn’t been a slave to me.  A slave is owned and controlled.  Pearce did everything for me just because I needed help.”

Jennifer rolled her eyes, “You didn’t need help.  You were just faking it.”

“I told you already, not at first.  I really couldn’t move.  I would have killed him… if I hadn’t been injured.”

Jennifer’s mouth fell open, “You would have killed him?”

“I almost did.  If he hadn’t… struck my thigh, I would have strangled him.”

“So, you’ve done that before?”

“I’ve killed many before.  A few men, but mostly women.”

Jennifer’s eyes widened, “Just how old are you?  You don’t look much over sixteen or maybe seventeen.”

Khione bared her teeth in a kind of feral smile, “You asked me that before.  A woman doesn’t share that kind of information freely.”

“There’s no reason you shouldn’t share it with us.”

“You already know what I am.”

Jennifer scowled, “All we know is that you are a marvelous liar.  You lied about your injury.  You lied about how well you can speak.  What else have you lied about?”

Khione lowered her head, “That is part of the curse too.  You will definitely hate me.  I know you do already.”

Jennifer’s face took on a triumphant appearance, “Listen to me Khione.  There is no such thing in the world as a demigod, a gigantic fox, or a goddess.  Your whole story is a lie.  Everything you told us.  Pearce should just throw you out.”

Khione’s eyes shone, “I already told you that was the way of it—didn’t I?  They own me, but they take their lovers, and I end up in the barn.  Hestia made it this way for me.  Do you think I asked for it?  It is my punishment.  Pearce will take a lover and put me out, but I will not be able to leave him.”

Jennifer laughed, “Pearce doesn’t have a barn.”

“Then I will end up on the streets again.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You don’t have to believe anything—this is the way of it.  It has been this way since the beginning.”

“…And if you are just mentally ill?”

“I’ve never been told that before.”

“That can’t be true.  Listen, Khione, we can get you help.  You are living a big lie.  It’s just your imagination.  None of it is true.  You’re just a person who needs mental help.”

“In the past, my owners knew exactly what I was.  This is a new world.  I haven’t had much interaction with human beings, but what I have seen disgusts me.  If I really am mentally ill, then I might be cured.  If what I say is true, you condemn me to more of a living hell.  Don’t you see, I am already living in a kind of hell already?”

“If you hadn’t lied before…”

“If I had told the truth, would that make any difference to you?”

Jennifer stood, “If you won’t get help on your own…”

“What will you do?  Force me?”

“We’ll tell Pearce.”

“I really wish you wouldn’t.”

“You know that isn’t possible.”

Khione gave a great sigh, “He’ll put me out earlier than they usually do.”

“Why would a man put you out at all…that is, if you give them yourself whenever they wish?”

“Even rapists get tired of their victims when there is no emotion in return.  I can only give them my body.  Men desire a lover.  I can’t love.  I can’t please them—they can only please themselves with my body.”

Jennifer sighed, “And that is part of your curse?”

“It is my curse.”

“You really are screwed up “

“Hestia made me this way.  It is all her fault.”  Khione’s face contorted, “No…no…I meant to say it was all my own fault.”  She screamed, “You see, I can’t even speak my own mind.”

Jennifer looked down at her, “It is your own mind and thoughts.”


Jennifer and Yumi made their way to the door.  After a moment, the latch clicked shut, and Khione was alone again.


In this example, Khione is surprised by Yumi and Jennifer.  They catch her walking and talking without any disability.  Khione has been dissembling for a long time.  In the example, she explains why.  I hope my readers are surprised by finding Khione hid that she had healed and that she knew much more about English and speaking English than she let on.  At the same time, I hope my readers can look back and say, only in retrospect, oh I should have seen that coming.


The point about surprise is that surprise becomes the most powerful when the reader can look back and see evidence that they shouldn’t have been surprised.  In other words, foreshadowing of the surprise makes the surprise even sweeter.  That foreshadowing must be subtle enough not to give away the surprise until the right time.  This is a critical kind of nuance in writing where you want your readers to be surprised.  You must foreshadow, not the surprise, but the events that should evidence the surprise.  At the same time you don’t want your readers not to be surprised.  This is a balancing act.  I think it is relatively easy to achieve.  Most of your readers are really smart, but if you don’t give them a context to frame the surprise, they usually won’t put together all the evidence.  For example, prior to the example, I didn’t tell the reader that Jennifer and Yumi were going to sneak into Pearce’s room to check on Khione.  Just like I didn’t warn Pearce or Khione about the sneaky visit.  If the reader knew that the visit was gong o happen, they might put it all together—I don’t give them a chance to reflect.  The surprise happens because the visit is a surprise to the reader, to Khione, and to Pearce.  The results are surprising, but notice that Jennifer and Yumi both act as if they expected Khione to be hiding something.  Again, if I were to broadcast in a prior scene that Jennifer and Yumi expected Khione to be hiding something—that would let the cat out of the bag.  The reader would put it all together and therefore, no surprise. 


Surprise is an excellent emotion or reaction to build in your readers and your characters—you just need to be very careful about setting it up to take real advantage of it.                 


More tomorrow.

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