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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Writing - part x212, Novel Form, Tension and Release, Pathos, Reader’s Trust

6 August 2017, Writing - part x212, Novel Form, Tension and Release, Pathos, Reader’s Trust

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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.

Is trust really an emotion?  Trust is not necessarily an emotion, but trust is something the average reader gives freely to the author.  In almost every case, the reader will trust the protagonist that is the reader’s view of everything.  I don’t think they should.  In fact, if you remember, all novel writing is about the revelation of the protagonist, and that means all protagonists have secrets, you will realize, trust is not exactly the right word.


The reader trusts the author and the protagonist, and I wouldn’t do anything to necessarily ruin that trust, but the reality of writing is that it is a journey of revelation where the writer surprises the reader while at the same time leaving plenty of breadcrumbs (foreshadowing, analogy, ideas flat out statements) to let the reader know where they are going.  The reader should always trust the writer, but not so much the characters, but in every case, the reader should be able to look back and say, I saw that coming—even if they never did.  I’m not sure what to call this concept in writing.  I haven’t read much about its expression, but I think it is a critical point of writing well.


What should we call this?  The expectation of revelation?  In any case, the most effective (entertaining and exciting) authors build an expectation of revelation in their writing that doesn’t give away anything, but at the same time predisposes the revelation of the protagonist.  The revelation itself to the reader simply expresses what they think they already know.  The surprise (that I wrote about before) is the actual revelation, the expectation of revelation is that the reader in looking back mentally believes they can see the reasons or the fact of the revelation.


Example, example, these are not difficult of come by, but most are intentionally subtle in an author’s writing.  Here’s a concept.  Your protagonist is in love with someone.  The author doesn’t come out and tell you that at all—they show you.  The protagonist follows her with his eyes.  He sighs when he sees her.  He speaks to her.  He carries her books (or tires to).  He tries to ask her out.  Is it really a surprise when he finally tells her that he likes her and would like to go out?  The answer is—it depends on how the author sets up the event.  A very careful and strong writer can show all of this and still make the confession of love a surprising and powerful moment.  When the reader looks back at the evidence, they express, I knew it while being surprised.  Here is an example from my writing.  This is from Ancient Light, the Warrior of Darkness:


Niul was very agitated when he picked up Klava at the Lyon’s house the next Sunday.  Instead of heading directly for Westminster, he turned off into Saint James Park and stopped the car.

Klava’s voice trembled, “What’s wrong Niul?”

“You and I need to speak about something.”

Klava covered her face with her hands, “What other sins have caught up with me?”

Niul stepped out of the car and went to her side.  He opened the door and put out his hand, “No sins just something I need to know.”

Scáth scowled as she slid out of the car, “What else do you need to know about her, Mr. O’Dwyer?  You’ve already taken an unfair share.”

Niul clasped Klava’s hand.  She did not stop trembling.  Niul led her down the walk.  The day was dreary with early fog and cloudy skies.  Scáth trailed them at a pace behind.  Niul took Klava’s hand in both of his.  He caressed it and took a deep breath, “Klava are you blind?”

Scáth’s voice was tense, “Does she act blind?”

“Yes, in many ways, she does.”

Scáth nearly spat, “Mistress, you don’t have to tell him.”

Klava smiled.  She still trembled, “No, Scáth, I must tell him.  He has a right to ask.  It is one of my defects that is not readily apparent.”  Klava pulled up short.  She turned Niul to face her.  Her deep emerald eyes sought his and were slightly off queue.  They stared obviously unfocused at his cheek.”

“You are blind.”

“Who told you?”

“The Dean of the department mentioned that you were the most accomplished student he ever taught, and related his astonishment that you couldn’t see.  You are blind.”

“Yes I am.  I have been blind since I was a child.  Is this a defect that makes me unacceptable to you?”

“No it doesn’t at all.  It just makes me more ashamed, and me, more unacceptable.”

“More ashamed, Niul O’Dwyer.  How could that make you more ashamed?”

“I took advantage of a blind girl.  A person who was handicapped.  What kind of monster does that make me?”

Scáth laughed, “One much worse than I.”

Klava put her arms around him, “I don’t think it makes much difference.  We all are handicapped in some way.  Most of us just don’t acknowledge our deficiencies, or we exaggerate things that are not deficiencies to hide our true faults—like sin.”

“But you are blind.”

Klava sighed, “And that makes you want to turn away from me?”

“No it makes me want to protect you even more.”

“You pity me?”

“Yes.  I do pity you.”

“That is not a foundation on which to build affection.”

“Nah, there you are very wrong, Klava.  If love is a commitment, then a person who loves must commit to everything for the one he loves.  Pity is a feeling that makes me want to never let you be away from me—I’d gladly be your eyes.  As it is, I’m not sure how you manage as well as you do.”

“I manage because I see through the black tablet.”

“A black tablet, what is that?”

“The black tablet.  My black tablet.”

“Still, what is that, Lamb?”

Klava opened her purse and took out the tablet.  Niul reached for it.  Klava jerked it away from him, “Don’t touch it.”

“Why’s that?”

“If you touch it, it will take your ka.  It will pull your ka into the tablet.”

“Why can you touch it?”

Scáth sneered, “Duh!  She’s the goddess who controls it.”

Niul moved his head to get a better look at the tablet, “It bears your face.  What can it do?  Is it the source of your power?”

Klava held the tablet close to her, “The Dagda is the source of my power.  The tablet allows me to manipulate the forces of the world and the kas of men.  With it, I can control darkness and use darkness.”

“And it allows you to see?”

“I can’t see real colors.  Everything is like black and gold to me.  They are all shades of black and gold.  It is very lovely to my sight, but there is no color.”
     “Is that why you only wear black?”

She blushed, “Yes, every other color makes me appear underclothed.  The tablet allows me to see in a region that is near infrared.  My body shows through anything but black.  Grays, in my sight, are scandalous, but usually not too overexposed.”  Klava tossed her head, “I also dress this way to irritate my mothers—both of them.  I like to remind them that I am not my sister, and I am not like them.  I am who I am, and who the Dagda has made me to be.”

“And what you eat?”

“Dark foods appear unappealing to me.  White ones are like gold.  They are radiant.”

“What you drink?”

“I can’t see light liquids very well in a glass or cup.  I make a mess.  I can manage drinks that are black—I have come to enjoy them very much.”

“You usually wear dark glasses during the day.  What about liking the night and darkness?”

“In daylight everything appears too bright to me.  I can’t see details.  At night and in darkness everything is clear.”  She shrugged, “I can see much better.”

Niul laughed, “Here, they all think you have a character flaw, and you simply are trying to live life on your own terms.”

“Niul this is a secret.  It is my secret.  Scáth knows it, but few others.  I told you because you guessed and you asked.  No one else has ever cared enough to ask.”

“The smoking?”

Klava laughed, “That is just a bad habit.  I am not pure as you think.”

Niul clasped her to his chest.  He put his face in her thick hair, “Please, Klava, it is justice when you remind me of what I did to you, but it only makes me sad.  If there is any lack of purity in you, that was my doing.  You are perfect.  You are precious…”

“I am neither, and I didn’t mean to remind you.”

“But you should, all the time.”

He reluctantly released her.  Klava didn’t step back.  She reached up to his eyes and wiped them with her fingertips.  “If we hurry, Niul, we can make Communion.”


In this example, Klava reveals to the reader and to Niul some facts about her reasons for doing things.  The reader knows circumspectly about some of her issues, or actually, the reader has not been directly told, but has been shown some of these issues.  In any case, her revelation should be a surprise to the reader and to Niul.  Niul knows about her blindness, but he received the information from a person he works with.  You see in this example exactly what I’m writing about.  You can achieve this if you show and don’t tell.  An inexperienced author would have told us from the beginning that Klava was blind and etc.  The trick in writing this way is to show and don’t tell—then the revelations when they come from the lips of our characters are an expectation of revelation that produces surprise in the reader.


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

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