10 June 2018, Writing - part x520, Developing Skills, Build a Scene, Details of Character Tension Development
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 www.ancientlight.com. 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 http://www.pilotlion.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-novel-part-3-girl-and-demon.html.
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 http://www.ldalford.com/ and select "production schedule," you will be sent to http://www.sisteroflight.com/.
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.
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. I’m just finishing number 30, working title Detective.
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.
For novel 30: Lady Azure Rose Wishart, the Chancellor of the Fae, supernatural detective, and all around dangerous girl, finds love, solves cases, breaks heads, and plays golf.
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
Today: Many people would like to write, but writing is hard work. I’ll express again, if you want to be a skilled and potentially a published author, you need to write about one million words. That equates to about ten 100,000 word novels. When you look at it this way, it is a daunting goal especially if you haven’t written a single novel.
To become a good writer, you need two specific skill sets first reading and then writing. Without these skill sets, I really can’t help you much. I provide advanced help and information on how to write great fiction.
Characters are the key to great writing. Entertainment is the purpose of fiction writing. The key to entertainment is character revelation, and specifically revelation of the plot and protagonist telic flaw (the same thing). If we want to be a successful writer, we must aim for great protagonists, and a great protagonist means a great or compelling telic flaw.
With a character, we now can move into the mechanics of the writing.
Here is my expected scene setup.
1. Initial scene: General Bolang informs Sorcha and Deirdre that they are going off to a Catholic girl’s boarding school instead of to aviation training. He gives them reasons, and sends them off. This is the output.
2. Based on the expected output, Deirdre and Sorcha are taken or go to school. Somehow I need to give them no options to escape. They inspect the school and the output is the end of the day.
3. First day of class is the obvious input. The output will be their investigation of the off areas in the school that they observed. Perhaps they will talk to the teachers and the students.
With a scene input, we can move to the scene itself. The scene input is the hard part. Following the setting, we move on to the output. The next step is to write the tension development in the scene.
An entertaining (successful) scene is always made up of tension and release in the scene. No matter what the subject or concept of the scene, a scene cannot be considered a good scene without tension and release.
First a scene is not a novel, but every scene must include tension and release. This is a complex way of stating that every scene must be filled with entertainment and excitement. Tension and release is the way you incorporate entertainment and excitement into a scene.
1. Setting tension – there can be tension that comes directly from the setting.
2. Character tension – tension that comes from the interaction of the characters.
Character tension is the main way we build tension and release in a scene.
Perhaps I should look at tension from this standpoint:
1. Telic flaw
4. Existing conflict
5. Character details
6. Setting details
Tension doesn’t mean open conflict. Tension means strain, stress, and anxiety along with conflict. Any time characters or rather scenes incorporate these characteristics, they should be entertaining. In this example from Valeska: Enchantment and the Vampire, there is little direct or indirect conflict. There is intimate and revealing conversation. The protagonist is a vampire and the revelation of her life is part of the beauty of the scene. I will remark on the tension development and the release in this scene. Just follow along.
The table in the dining room was glass and chrome and the chairs were white fabric and chrome. George intentionally led Heidi to the left. On the left lay the kitchen and a small dining area. The chairs and the table were also white fabric and chrome. George waved at the four chairs around the table, “Take a seat.”
Heidi plopped the sack on the table and pulled out the two boxes. She placed one at one side of the table and the other at the other side of the table. George brought over a couple of spoons. He put them beside the boxes. George gestured again, “Sit.”
Heidi glanced at the floor, “Nicolas was right. I’m filthy. If I sit on this white chair, it may never be the same again.” This is simple tension concerning anxiety about damaging the white chair.
George sat and opened his box, “Sit down. It will piss off the cleaning crew, but I don’t make many messes at all. If you leave a permanent mark, my company will pick up the tab.”
Heidi primly tucked the remains of her dress under her bottom and sat. She picked up her spoon and opened the box. The tension is released by Valeska sitting. George dissipates the tension with his quip about the cleaning crew. At the same time, this is a relief to Valeska. Tension and release.
George glanced over at hers, “Nicolas outdid himself. I think this is his way of asking forgiveness.”
Heidi took a bite of the ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate and closed her eyes. A smile crept across her very dirty face, “This is so wonderful.” Her stomach growled. She dug in.
George noted that she ate with quiet dignity, like a person from a military academy. George should know. He spent much of his youth at those kinds of schools. She possessed the manners of a very wealthy and well brought up young lady. George tasted a bite of the parfait, then he asked, “How old are you?” This is the beginning of tension. It actually started in the previous paragraph, but the sudden question accentuates the slow build of tension.
“That is a woman’s prerogative, but I shall tell you that I was born in 1800 in Danzig which was then part of Prussia. Do you want to hear my entire story?” The date is 2014. This is building tension.
“Yes, very much.”
“I very much want to tell it because, truth be told, I’ve never recounted it to anyone before.”
“Never. You will be the first.” This isn’t release, but this is a step toward intimacy—intimacy in dialog.
Heidi took a bite of her parfait. She smiled brightly, “I was brought up as an upper class young woman. My father was a merchant and a wealthy one. I went to a private school, and I studied dancing, needlepoint, and managing a home, along with all the other subjects like math, German, history, and those kinds of subjects, but that wasn’t what I wanted to study.” Tension build up.
George leaned forward, “What did you want to study?”
“Sorcery!” This is huge tension build up. The reader and George obviously what to know more about this subject. I should have mentioned that curiosity is a form of tension—the desire to know.
“Sorcery? Is there really such a thing?” Tension building.
She giggled, “You are sitting across from a vampire, and you ask if there really is sorcery.”
“Is a vampire sorcery?”
She laughed again, “Not at all, but isn’t it enough to know there are vampires to understand there is sorcery.” She flipped her dark hair, “In any case, I wanted to study sorcery.”
“I suppose your parents were opposed to such study.”
“Not just opposed. Study of sorcery at that time could get you an ecclesiastical trial at the least and potentially a prison sentence. Either one would have put an end to my father’s business, or my mother’s social climbing. Don’t get me wrong, they were somewhat reasonable parents—I was a terrible daughter.” She sighed, “If I could have done it differently…” This is a very large tension buildup. There is a threat to her and then a desire to have a different life—this also builds pathos. That is the point of this novel, a pathos building vampire.
“Your life, you mean.”
She glanced at the floor, “Yes, my life—the entire thing.” She took another bite of the parfait. She had been eating between the times she was speaking. Heidi finished her bite, then continued, “I studied sorcery in Latin and was getting very good at it.” She held up her hand, “You see…”
George squinted at her hand.
“…you see the many small cuts on my hand. I have a few deeper scars, but those are not as evident, and I shall not show them to you.” Tension and titillating. Valeska does not intend her statement to be titillating in the least, but it is, and it builds tension.
“Why the cuts?”
“When you make an enchantment, you must make a sacrifice, the usual sacrifice is some of your blood. When an enchantment goes right, the wound heals almost immediately, and you are left with a small scar. If the spell goes awry, you gain a greater wound that doesn’t heal very quickly. My legs and breasts are marred this way.”
“You imagine me to be somewhat innocent. I was not innocent by the measure of my time. I was not a prostitute, but the sorcery I played with was encouraged by a friend of my family. You can imagine what he wanted with a young girl. He explained it was all a part of the enchantments. From the marks on his body, I should have guessed that I long surpassed him in skill. I didn’t like what he did to my body. I didn’t want him as a lover, so I planned to make an end of him using the very sorcery he taught me. I shall not describe the enchantment I made—I will only tell you that it resulted in the excruciating death of the man. His blood covered the cellar, and it covered me. I did not realize the whole of the power I evoked. I didn’t realize my enchantment, accomplished during a full moon, would have such an effect on the world. The enchantment and the blood attracted my master and his slaves. They made up a coven of vampires who lived in Danzig, now again Gdańsk, for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. They were hunting, and my enchantment drew them to me. I was not a cross-bearer. I was lost and damned, and in their blood frenzy they took my blood and my life. Veilislaw, my vampire master, delighted in my youth, evil, and beauty—so he said. He made me a vampire and kept me as a pet.” She turned her eyes to George’s, but couldn’t look him in the eye. She lowered her head, “I was fifteen when I was made a vampire. I have been in this state for almost two hundred years.” The entire explanation if tension building. There is no release in sight. This girl has ruined her life and is basically confiding that to George. He is the only one who would listen to a homeless vampire.
George’s eyes widened.
“Veilislaw called me his daughter. He kept me in his house and dressed and fed me like an aristocrat, a princess. The other vampires, mostly all women, hated me. Sometimes they would entertain me, but usually they ignored me. At the full moon, I did not hunt. Veilislaw hunted for me and brought me a gift of blood. I drank it from his crystal glass. To him I was his daughter and his pet.” She glanced at George, “You wonder if he saw me as a lover…who knows. Vampires don’t have sexual desires, nor can they reproduce that way. We have no desires of that type, and as I understand, the males have no capability. They possess the plumbing, but when you are a vampire, it is unnecessary and not usable for that purpose.” She stopped to take a few bites and came to the bottom of the box. Heidi gazed longingly at the empty box, then she looked up, “That was delightful. Veilislaw would buy me parfaits once a week on Saturday.”
George pushed his half finished parfait to her, “I’ve had enough. You might as well eat the rest.” This is a type of tension development—it is compassion. Valeska seems to miss the point of it—that makes it stronger.
She glanced up at him, “You have already been too kind to me—are you certain?”
“Yes, please. I’m going to make coffee.”
Heidi carefully moved the empty box to the side and pulled the half full one in front of her. She sighed and took a bite. Her face lit up, “I doesn’t make any sense that this should please me so much. Veilislaw fed me only to please himself and to make the others jealous.”
George pulled out the coffee and the maker, “Perhaps he fed you parfaits because of the pleasure it gave you.” This is tension building. Not all of the tension in the scene is just about the characters. The point isn’t to make them feel tension, but the reader. The reader is the reason for the tension.
She raised her spoon and her face took on a thoughtful look, “That could be true. He was not cruel to me, but very cruel to the others. I lived an idyllic existence for a long time…then one day, my master did not return. He travelled extensively, but he didn’t return from one trip. I felt the effects during the next full moon. It was terrible, I, who had never hunted, was forced to hunt or die. On that first night, I barely made it back to the house before the sun came up. It burned me and that took a while to heal.” The idea of her being burned builds tension.
George set the coffee to make, “What do you mean by that?”
“I must seek the dark and the earth before the sun rises. If I don’t, I will burn to death.”
“You will burn. How is that, and why don’t you show in any videos.”
Heidi grinned, “I don’t show in any mirror or mirrored surface.”
“Really! Stay right there.” George ran to the hall from the kitchen and went to the bathroom. He brought back a hand mirror and tried to see Heidi’s reflection in it. He saw nothing. Perhaps he could make out a shadowy shape, but that could have been his imagination. George slowly sat back down across from her, “How can this be?” Tension in the proof that she is a vampire. George and the reader are still only half believing.
Heidi frowned, “I am a corporal spirit.” More building through curiosity. The reader and George are waiting for the answer.
George stared numbly at her.
Heidi’s frown deepened, “You are a mortal being who has a physical body, a mind, and an eternal spirit. My body is dead, but I am cursed to continue to live. My mind is the same—I think. My body has been subsumed by my spirit. What you see is real, but I live a tenuous existence. Since my true body is gone, I can’t show any reflection and a photograph will not show me. My spirit lives for blood and the dark. If the sun catches me, I will burn up all at once. I am as real as anything else that has spirit on this earth, but this is my curse. I freely admit I brought it on myself.”
“If you know this, why can’t God forgive you?” An interesting question and a tension building question.
She pressed her lips firmly together then slowly loosed them, “I have thought very long and hard on this. You can guess that vampires are thoughtful and philosophical creatures. We believe we have been cursed so others will be saved.” This is a partial release. With all the bad, there comes some slight light.
“Why do I exist? This is a question I asked myself over and over. Why can I only hunt and dine from those who don’t bear the cross? Why does that Guy allow this to be—why does He allow me to exist? The only reason we…I could ever discover—I exist to bring the fear of the spiritual world to those who don’t believe.”
George returned to the coffee maker. He poured himself a mug, “Would you like coffee?”
She glanced up, “Yes, very much.”
He poured a mug for her, “Don’t tell me. You want cream and sugar.”
He could feel her smile behind his head, “Yes, very much please.”
George brought cream and sugar and a mug for her to the table. He served her. Heidi put a lot of cream and a couple of spoons of sugar in her coffee. She took a sip, and her face filled with pleasure, “This is the best food and drink I have eaten in a long time.”
George sat, “How long have you been…displaced.”
Heidi glanced at him to see if he was making fun of her. She nodded and counted on her fingers, “It has been more than five years.” This is tension development.
George looked over his mug at her, “Do you believe in God?”
She did look at him in the eyes this time, “How can I not believe in that Guy. Just because I can’t say His name doesn’t mean I don’t know He exists.” This is the scene kicker and the release. There is some release in the information that was shared, but that is very small. This is the breath before the next chapter. There is a release, but only a slight one.
What else can I write about this? The big point is that the scene details the history of Valeska. George and the reader are interested. The conflict is the anxiety and the curiosity developed in the scene. At each point, I give the reader more to chew on and then answer the question through the words of Valeska.
Now, notice how much I gave you from the mind of the vampire, all without any introspection. All the introspective words were spoken out loud to a sympathetic ear. This makes the scene a thousand times more poignant than if I just told you about the history of Valeska.
The power of using dialog is to produce this wonderful tension development and at the same time express the revelation of the protagonist. Just telling would not have produced the same power or tension. The entertainment of the scene would be significantly less, and entertainment is what we are all about.
For more information, you can visit my author site http://www.ldalford.com/, and my individual novel websites:
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