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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Writing - part x225, Novel Form, yet Another Example of Building Tension and Release

19 August 2017, Writing - part x225, Novel Form, yet Another Example of Building Tension and Release

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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 your scenes.


Here is an example of developing or building tension and release in a scene.  This example is from Shadow of Darkness an Ancient Light novel.  This is one of my favorite scenes in this novel.  The point of this scene is to reveal one of Lumière’s (Sveta’s) special language skills.   


The girl in this scene is Lumière—she has been blessed with the name Sveta by her Russian saviors.  Lumière and Sveta mean the same thing: light.  She was wounded while she was trying to escape the Germans and the Russians during the battle for the Reichstag building.  Sveta has returned to Moscow with Vasily Grossman.  Vasily has borrowed the use of a dacha (a summer house) and has taken his family and Sveta there for a month. 


There is much said and unsaid in this example.  Look carefully at the example.  Look how I use the creative elements to build an entertaining tension and release.  Look at how the conversation and the action interact.  The point is all entertainment, and at the same time, I am moving the plot forward toward the climax of the novel.  Let’s look at the example.        


        Fedya ran up the path toward the dacha.  He was just in time to meet his mother, Katya, and Sveta as they made their way down the road toward the middle of Peredelkino.  They headed toward the small railroad depot straight down the street.  The trees thinned a little, but not much.  Sveta did not slow them down too much.  Not many were on the streets.  Those that were, only stopped for a moment to stare at the girl with the cane.

        When they reached the crossroad nearest the railroad depot, just across the street was the rabbi’s book store.  Olga continued on to the market.  When she left them, she called, “Don’t get into any trouble.  I’ll pick you up on the way back.  You can carry my bags.”

        Katya and Fedya led Sveta into the bookstore.  The bell on the door rang, a gentle tinkle.  It was more for the rabbi’s wife than the rabbi.  He always stood or sat at the back.  The store was not large.  It smelled of old dust and paper with a topping of cinnamon and nutmeg.  The books were on shelves and on tables, on chairs and stools—they filled the place.  The most precious were held safe in old glass fronted cases at the back.  The rabbi greeted them with a smile on his face.  He was tall, sported a long beard, and dressed in black.  The rabbi was not old or young.  He never seemed to change.  He glanced up from the book he was reading, “Good afternoon.  You are Grossman’s children?”

        Katya walked up to him, “Yes, rabbi Mosa.  This is Svetlana Evgenyevna Kopylova.  She is our friend.”

        “Kopylova?” the rabbi stroked his beard, “That does not sound Jewish.”

        “She is not Jewish, but she is still our friend,” Katya emphasized the association.

        “Yes, I see,” Rabbi Mosa returned to his book, but he kept an eye on Sveta.  He always kept a special eye on goyim in his bookstore.

        The rabbi’s wife stepped through the large door in the back—she had heard the bell ring.  The rabbi’s wife was plump and always smiling.  Katya and Fedya only knew her as the rabbi’s wife.  She took one look at them and smiled more widely, “Hello children, you will need sweets?”  She took one look at their downcast features and smiled again, “Perhaps later.”  Then she disappeared behind the door that led to her mysterious and wonderful kitchen.

        Katya and Fedya knew they had limited time today and almost unthinkable time for the next month.  At the beginning of vacations it always seemed that way.  They jumped unorganized from stack to stack and tried to determine what was new and what newer.  They had not been in the store for years, and the titles all seemed new to them.

        Sveta discerned almost immediately the pattern in rabbi Mosa’s catalog.  He placed Russian works by author and period.  She hobbled around the shop a couple of times and found a few stacks each in French, German, Latin, Greek, as well as other languages.  The books that most intrigued her were those in the cases.  She was attracted to them like a fly to honey.  The rabbi’s brow rose when he saw her at his special cases.  He half stood when she opened one.  Her fingers reverently caressed the books, and for one moment that reduced his anxiety, but then she pulled one down.  She opened it and her eyes lit up.  She disappeared behind the stacks.

        With a grumble, the rabbi stood and walked slowly to where he could watch the girl.  Along the long row, she sat on a cleared stool and appeared to read the book.  Her flushed face was filled with wonder and excitement. 

        He watched her for a while, perplexed.  Then, he slipped a little closer as though stalking her.  He shuffled a little closer.  Finally he stood right above Sveta.  The book she held, contained no pictures or Russian words.  It was a book in Hebrew, an ornate book but without the Masoretic vowel points or word separations.  The rabbi could barely read it himself.  It was the book of Ruth.  His deep voice rang out, “Little goyim, what are you doing?”

        Sveta didn’t look up, “I am reading.”  Her raspy whisper grated on the rabbi’s ears.



        At the strength of the rabbi’s voice Katya and Fedya looked up.  Katya moved toward the rabbi—she couldn’t see Sveta. 

        “I don’t believe it,” the words were like blows.  The rabbi didn’t mean them so roughly, but he obviously couldn’t believe the word of this goyim child.

        The rabbi’s wife stepped out of the kitchen to see what was going on.

        Sveta looked up from the book to the rabbi.  Her mouth was open in astonishment as though she could not understand what the rabbi meant.

        “Why are you gawking at me like that child?  You can’t read that book.  You are lying to me.  The book is very expensive.  I think you should put it away and leave my store.”

        Sveta could not imagine being expelled from the presence of so many beautiful books, “Please Rabbi Mosa, don’t make me leave your wonderful store.”

        He almost gave in to her.  What matter that she lied to him and pawed his most valuable books if she thought his store wonderful.  Instead he browbeat her, “Why don’t you speak out right instead of whispering?  What are you hiding?”

        “N, n…othing,” she stammered.

        “If you are not hiding anything, then why are you lying about reading the book and why do you speak like you are scheming something.”

        “I can’t help how I sound,” Sveta’s cheeks were burning, “I can read it.”

        “You can’t,” the rabbi’s voice rose. 

        “I can…I can.”

        The rabbi gazed around for Katya and Fedya.  He appealed to them, “Children, your friend says she can read this book.  It is ancient Hebrew written in Torah style.  Do you know if she can read it?”

        Katya and Fedya both numbly shook their heads.  They were both worried themselves about being expelled from the bookstore for the whole summer.

        The rabbi put his hands on his hips, “There child.  Your friends say you cannot read it.  You cannot read it.”  He grabbed the book from her hands and hauled Sveta up by her right arm.

        Sveta cried out in pain and alarm, “Please don’t hurt me.  I didn’t do anything wrong.”

        “You lied.”

        Sveta blanched tottering on her feet.  She bowed her head, “I didn’t lie.”

        The rabbi shook the book under her nose, “No goyim child can read this book.  This is a book for Hebrew scholars.  Not even many rabbis can read this book.  What makes you think you can?”

        Sveta wiped her face with the back of her hand, “I can.”

        The rabbi’s wife stepped a little closer.  She stood at the end of the row, “Mosa.  Stop yelling at the child and test her.”

        “Test her?”

        “Have her read it, Mosa.  If she can’t, then banish her from your store.  If she can…”

        “She can’t.  It is impossible.”

        “Many things are possible.  Many things are impossible, but they happen—test the child, don’t berate her.”

        Fedya and Katya stood trembling hoping against hope, the rabbi’s ire would not turn itself on them.

        Rabbi Mosa scratched his head.  He stuck the book in front of Sveta’s face, “Very well.  If you can read the book, the book a rabbi scholar can’t read—read it!”

        With shaking hands, Sveta slowly reached out for the small book.  She took it lovingly in her hands and opened it.  She sucked in a deep breath and opened her mouth.  And out of her mouth came breathlessly beautiful Hebrew.  Her words were whole and fine.  She read and Rabbi Mosa stood straight up, and for a moment, appeared completely amazed.  He stroked his beard and mumbled, “She reads it perfectly.  She has no Russian in her accent.”  He stared at his wife, “She speaks like the rabbi at Moscow.”  His face changed from amazement to anger, “It is impossible.  It is a trick.”  He pulled the book from her as Sveta was reading in the middle of a passage. 

        His wife clucked her tongue and made the sign warding the evil eye, “She was in the middle of the words.  You imperil us all.”

        “Oh hush, woman.”  He put his fists on his temples, “I must discover this trickery.”

        “Ha, wife before, woman now.  If it is trickery.  It is the greatest trick I have ever seen.”

        “Here, can she read more?”  The rabbi stepped over to the next case and pulled out an ancient volume, “Read this if you can Svetlana Evgenyevna, the goyim.”

        Sveta gingerly took the heavy volume.  Her hands were still shaking and her legs were shaking now too.

        “There is no way you could ever have seen this.”

        Sveta turned to the first page.  She had never seen its like before.  But, in her memories, she never remembered reading Ruth in Hebrew before.  She never remembered knowing Hebrew before.  She just could read it.  But these words in this book she never had seen before.  She paused a moment and glanced at the red face of the rabbi, then she began.  Her words did not flow as perfectly with the text, but she prized them out word by word sentence by sentence slowly and surely gaining momentum as she found the voice of the author.

        The rabbi rubbed the side of his head.  His eyes widened, and his face revealed more than one thought and emotion.

        The rabbi’s wife came up behind Sveta.  She gently put her hands on the girl’s shoulders.  She knelt beside her, “Mosa, you gave her a Talmud work in the Masoretic style to read.  She could not know it.  She reads it better than the rabbi of Kiev.”

        “I see,” the rabbi half turned around.

        “Mosa, you frightened the child.  You made fun of her and made her sad.  You frightened Grossman’s children.  All this sweet child wanted to do was read your books.”

        “I understand.”  He took a half step back and cleared his throat, “Svetlana Evgenyevna, I owe you an apology.  I don’t know how…”

        “Mosa, you can’t have an apology with buts in it.”

        “I apologize, Svetlana Evgenyevna.  Will you forgive me and accept this book of Ruth for your own.”

        Sveta pursed her lips and nodded, “I can’t help how I speak.”

        Katya had come all the way around the row and up beside the rabbi’s wife, “She was injured in the war.  She can’t help the way she speaks.”

        Rabbi Mosa chewed his lip, “I apologize for that rudeness also.  Forgive me, Svetlana Evgenyevna.”  The rabbi held out the beautiful little Hebrew book of Ruth.

        “I can’t take such a fine book from you, Rabbi Mosa.”

        He pushed the book into her hands, and tried to smile at her, “You can and you must—I insist.”

        The rabbi’s wife turned Sveta around, “He means it.  He would not give you a book if he didn’t.  If you don’t accept it, his Erev, Yom Kippur will be ruined, and he will never receive his atonement.”

        The rabbi’s smile turned much more genuine at that remembrance, “I do insist.  It is as my wife says.  I do atone for my mistake.”

        Sveta just softly intoned, “Thank you, Rabbi Mosa.”

        His wife laughed, “The rabbi should thank you for the lesson in humility.  I shall myself even if he doesn’t.”  She stood and glanced around.  “Come here Grossman children and their friend.  I have fresh cinnamon bread that was supposed to be for the rabbi’s supper.  I think his atonement should be that you each get a slice with fresh butter.  The rabbi’s wife led them through the mysterious door to a well lit large kitchen with a big table.  She sliced cinnamon bread, put a thick spread of butter on it, and served it to the three with fresh milk.  She gave an extra slice to Sveta, “Svetlana Evgenyevna, you look as though much bread would do you good.”

        “You may call me, Sveta.  I don’t deserve any greater title.”

Notice especially the last few paragraphs of the scene.  I’ll call it the atonement of Rabbi Mosa.  Look back at his words.  Look at how the Hebrew book of Ruth is used as a creative element.  Mosa tries to give the book to Sveta, but she says she can’t accept such a valuable book.  The Rabbi’s wife becomes involved.  There are references to Jewish festivals and atonement.  The entire scene is centered on this release. 


Each of these creative elements and the conversation is intended to draw out and build tension and release.  This is entertaining.  Let me point out the emotion in this scene.  There is little emotion shown by the characters.  The closest is when Sveta wipes her eyes.  The emotion is in the reader.  I can’t read this scene, my own scene, without feeling powerful emotion for Sveta and for the Grossman children.  I can’t help but feel embarrassment for the Rabbi.  This emotion comes to the reader, but not through the characters—the characters aren’t driven or racked with emotion, the readers are. 


I think this is a very critical part of writing.  The entertainment is the focus, but the emotional response of the readers is an important part of that entertainment.  Emotions are not reflections of the emotions of the characters.  Emotions come out of the tension and release in the scene.  Perhaps I should center on that in the next post.       


More tomorrow.

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