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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Writing - part x221, Novel Form, still more Building Tension and Release

15 August 2017, Writing - part x221, Novel Form, still more Building Tension and Release

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 your scenes.


Here is an example of developing or building tension and release in a scene.  This example is from Valeska:  Enchantment and the Vampire.  This is the initial scene from the novel.  I don’t have to tell you the key setup for tension in the scene is George is unexpectedly shot.  He also unexpectedly meets a hunting vampire.  There are many details and small tension builds in getting to this point.  Once George and Valeska have meet, the tension and release continues.  Notice the added means of tension building that are foreshadowed and then used later in the scene.  I’ll note some of these in the notes at the end.    


A full moon hung above midnight Gdańsk.  The dark medieval streets were wet and filthy.  Puddles ringed with oily rainbows covered the cracked cobblestones.  The moon shone in each puddle, reflected as a grimy milky glow.  The scent of saltwater and rotting fish rose with the night tide, an unavoidable stench this close to the waterfront.  At street level, the night was utterly dark.  The very few modern lights along the crumbling cobblestone avenue shared little illumination with the ancient alleyways that pierced the darkened buildings on either side of the street. 

George Mardling eased into the alley beside an old shop and glanced down it.  His eyes were already well adjusted to the dark.  Still, he flipped the night vision goggle over his left eye and scanned the alley.  It was clear.

The late fall night was cold--George wore a suit and over it a black overcoat.  A dark felt fedora sat on his head.  That helped conceal the night vision goggle.  The night vision equipment was very modern and compact.  The organization issued it to the field last month.  The point was to get a lot of night visibility out of a very small package—it worked well, but the battery life was limited.

George was a tall and thin man.  He liked to think his physique was like a body builders’, but he was too thin.  He also looked too young and too serious.  More like a student or a professor than an agent.  That was probably good for the organization. 

George carried a Beretta nine millimeter in his jacket holster and a Beretta nine millimeter kurz in his waistband, he hadn’t unholstered either weapon—yet.  According to headquarters, his target wasn’t supposed to be armed.  According to his orders, this wasn’t an attack or an arrest—he was making a reconnaissance, a surveillance with a contact.  If he could identify the mark, all the better.

Usually, George worked in a team--he was alone this time.  His partner was busy, and this was supposed to be a simple intelligence gathering mission—hardly a mission.  George moved across the storefront.  It was an old toy store, but the building wasn’t on his target list either.  He stepped carefully and quietly toward the next alley.  If the mark wasn’t in the first alley, he should be in the second—that’s what their intel said.  George glanced down this alley and caught a slight movement—he noted a flare in his night vision goggle, obviously a human being.  George slipped into the alley.  He saw something else move as well.  The moment George stepped around the corner, something in his field of view moved very quickly.  It seemed like an animal, but it didn’t flare much in the infrared—not enough for a person or an animal.  Perhaps it was just a blowing piece of trash.  He stood a little straighter, puzzled, there was almost no air movement on the street or in the alley.

George stepped a little further into the alley.  He put his hand over his pistol—no need to draw it unless necessary.  He wanted a contact and not a confrontation.  He snuck down the alleyway.  These old alleys in Gdańsk made all kinds of twists and turns.  He eased his way toward the back of the store.  The alleyway opened up a little near the backdoor of the shop.  He saw a small dumpster on the left side, and on the other side, a stack of garbage the city wouldn’t collect.  The alleyway closed in again and continued further into darkness.  It was a darkness so black his goggle couldn’t pierce it.

The person flared next to the dumpster.  George held his hand near his Beretta.  He was about to speak.  The point was to make contact—that was all.  A sudden footfall behind him at the front of the alleyway caused him to start.  That’s when he realized they had made a terrible mistake.  That’s when the admonitions of all his instructors came immediately back to him at once.  He had no backup—no partner.  This was supposed to be a simple contact and not a risky mission.  It wasn’t really a mission, just information gathering.  He wondered in that moment if they had all broken protocol and training.  His boss rushed him out to the field when the information stream passed the data to them.  He approached this work like a simple lark in the evening. 

George identified the sound behind him at the street as the scuff of a boot on the cobblestones.  Then he heard a click.  George spun around to the street and backed toward the collection of garbage and not the dumpster with its hidden person.  A green laser dot appeared on the left side of his chest.  In front of him, he caught a very bright flare in his night vision scope.  Directly after the flare came a thump.  It took only an instant to process that a bullet had been fired at him.  By then, it was too late.  George felt something tear into his left chest.  It pushed him half around, and he dropped to the damp ground.  The bullet pierced him and he felt it tear through his skin.  It broke a rib, and burned as it drilled a hole through his lung.  He felt it break another rib and exit at his back.  The pain was excruciating, but he was too shocked to make a sound.  If he made any noise, it was a great exhalation of breath when his left lung collapsed. 

George fell into the pile of garbage.  The pain and burning was so intense, he didn’t notice if it hurt when he struck the ground.  The man behind the dumpster moved—he didn’t say a word.  The man who fired the shot didn’t say anything either.  They just bolted and left him there…to die.  He heard their rapid steps as they ran down the street.  The sound slowly died out, and was gone.  For a while, he perceived no sounds after that.

George knew he was dying.  It wouldn’t do any good to cry out—too late now.  He dragged his phone out of the pocket of his jacket and fumbled with it for a moment.  He pressed the panic button.  He sighed.  They would be here in an hour maybe two.  He tried to dial the local police, but the phone slipped from his suddenly slick hand and dropped to the cobblestones.  He couldn’t gather the energy to pick it up again.  The blood poured out of the bullet wound in his chest and he felt it bubbling out of the hole in his back.  He pressed his hand against the wound in his chest and groaned—that hurt.  It didn’t staunch the blood much, and he could do nothing to stop the flow of blood on the other side.  He was amazed.  In all the movies when people were shot, they moved around and chased the bad guys.  He couldn’t do anything but lie there on the cold and wet ground.

He was dying.

A movement caught him by surprise.  It came from the dark alleyway away from the street.  A small person moved very quickly from the opening to stand right in front of him.  It stopped suddenly and whimpered, then sat on its haunches.  It squatted outside of his reach and watched him.  Its face was thin and pale.  The face barely showed in his night vision goggle.  That in itself was surprising.  It wore clothing that seemed exceedingly fine, but which was filthy and obviously damp, the remains of a girl’s party dress.  The dress had once been white with red or pink ribbons, but now it was torn and bedraggled.  The ribbons blended with the stains on the dress.  The stains seemed to be long dried blood and not just the dirt of the streets. 

The girl, it was a girl, stared at him with bright eyes tinged with silver.  They appeared slightly dull in the night vision goggle.  Her hair was black and matted.  It reached almost to the cobbles of the alleyway where she squatted.  Her face was finely etched and hard.  She let her tongue slip out of her mouth.  She licked her lips.  Her tongue was slightly pointed, and George could swear her incisors were elongated and pointed like fangs.

She raised her eyes to his and spoke.  It wasn’t Polish.  She pronounced her words in high German with a strange lilt.  Her voice was low and melodious, “You, mortal man, you are dying.”

George groaned, “I’m dying.  Can you call the police with my phone?”

She eyed him strangely, “I don’t have a phone here—what good would it do?”

“My iPhone.  It fell at my side.”

She shrugged, “I don’t know what that is.  I wouldn’t be able to use it.  You are dying.”

“I am dying.  Can you help me?”

The girl stared at him, “You are dying.  It’s a full moon—I’m starving.”

George laughed and immediately wished he hadn’t.  He felt the blood bubble from the wound at his front and his back.  His laugh cut off suddenly, “What did you plan to do—eat me?”

“I’d like to dine on your blood.”

He wanted to laugh again, but stifled it, “Are you a vampire?”

The girl drew her finger across the cobbles, “I’m a vampire, and I’m very hungry.  It’s a full moon, and you interrupted my hunt.”

“Why’re you asking my permission?  If you’re a vampire, just drink my blood.”


“What do you mean can’t?”

She spoke mournfully, “You are one of those.  I can’t just take.  I’m not sure I can ask, but I’m starving.”

“I’m what?”

“You’re a cross-bearer.  I can’t attack a cross-bearer.”

George argued, “I’m not wearing any cross.”

She hissed, “You don’t have to have it on your body.  The cross marks your body, heart, and soul.”

“Do you mean because I am a Christian, you can’t attack me.”

“What you said—I cannot speak the name or the word.”

George thought he must be hallucinating, “Is that true of all vampires or only for you?”

“No vampire can attack those who hold to the cross.  You frightened my rightful prey, and I’m starving for human blood.”

George stifled another laugh, “You look like crap.  Are all vampires like you?”

She frowned and her lips twitched, “My master died, and I had to live on the streets.”

George smiled.  He was certain he was delirious, “A homeless vampire...”

She hissed, “My master died, and the house was sold.  I had nowhere else to go…”

“Now you wish to drink my blood.”

“While it is fresh.  Please let me dine on it.  I’ll take only a little.”

George smiled, “You may have all you wish.  I won’t need any of it soon.”

“Are you certain?  It may be a sin…for you.”

“A sin to give my blood to a starving vampire?  I don’t believe in vampires.  I’m sure you are a figment of my dying brain’s imagination.  My blood will have no other purpose soon.”

The girl moved closer to him.  She warily stepped toward him.  George could see muddy stains across her face.  She was dirty, and she smelled of old cemetery ground.

She pulled his hand away from the wound on his chest, and she opened his jacket and shirt.  He felt her eager lips touch him.  They were soft and strangely warm—perhaps because he was so cold.  He didn’t feel anything but it seemed her lips touched his chest for a long time.

Finally, she lifted her head and drew her hand across her mouth.  Her lips and cheek were slick with his blood.  She moved her face close to his.  She pushed the hair back from his eyes and touched his cheek.  Her hands felt cold, “I can give your life back to you mortal man—it is very likely a sin, but for your courtesy, I wish to do so.”

George smiled, “There is no need.  I have no more need of my blood.  I know I am dying.”

“I’m sure it is a sin, but do you wish to live?”

“I don’t want to be a vampire.”

The girl’s voice turned very sad, “That is certainly no gift.  I can give you back your life.  It is all I can do for you, mortal man.”

George raised his hand, “Not as a vampire.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in vampires.”

“I don’t.”

The girl bit her long tongue and pressed her lips against his.  He tasted her blood in his mouth.  He had been tasting blood since he was shot, but this was different.  The taste was different, and he sensed something burning in his body.  He felt her lips form a smile and pull back.  She licked her lips with that oddly pointed tongue of hers, “That’s all I can do for you.”

George felt groggier than before—perhaps he was finally dying.  He stared at the girl, “My name is George Mardling.”

The girl stood over him, “I was called Valeska by my master, but my given name is Heidi.”

“Heidi is the name of a vampire?”

She frowned again, “You don’t believe in vampires.”

“No, I don’t.”  George’s head fell to the side and he was suddenly unaware of anything.

As we move into the climax of the scene (the release), you can see the description of Valeska is tension building.  This is similar to the earlier description of George’s wounding and wounds.  These build tension just through description, then we get to conversation.  The conversation in the later part of the scene is driving the tension and release.  Each bit of information about vampires and about Valeska builds tension.  Do we really believe she is a vampire?  The suspension of disbelief here does mean that we do.  George can’t, not yet.  The buildup increases until George gives her his blood.  This was expected.  The unexpected is Valeska gives George back a gift.  This is the use of an unexpected resolution of an expected release (climax).    


I didn’t address in the notes all the small details that build up the tension.  For example, the cell phone and Valeska’s lack of familiarity with it builds tension.  George’s humor and lack of belief builds tension.  The description of Valeska builds tension—she doesn’t look like we expect a vampire to look.  Somehow, we have been encouraged to believe that vampires all are well dressed, have great hygiene, and etc.  How can this be true?  What might a real vampire look like?  What might happen to a vampire if they have no access to fine clothing or bathing facilities?  We learn much more about Valeska through the novel.  Each of these revelations build tension that is then released.  There is always more.   


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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