Writing – part x226, Novel Form, Building Emotional Tension and Release

13 November 2017, Writing – part x226, Novel Form, Building Emotional Tension and Release

Announcement:  Ancient Light is delayed due to the economy.  You can read more about it at http://www.ancientlight.com.  Ancient Light includes the second edition of Aegypt plus Sister of Light and Sister of Darkness.  I’ll keep you updated.

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.
  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)
    1. Research as required
    2. Develop the initial setting
    3. Develop the characters
    4. 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. I’ll be providing information on the marketing materials and editing.

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)
    1. Research as required
    2. Develop the initial setting
    3. Develop the characters (protagonist, antagonist, and optionally the protagonist’s helper)
    4. 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

I’m writing from Suda Bay, Crete.

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 emotional tension and release in a scene. This example is from Shadow of Darkness an Ancient Light novel. In this scene, Sveta has just begun to have flashback dreams of her incarceration under the NAZIs. She was held as a prisoner of Germany for almost three years. She lived in a dark hole in the ground under the Nues Museum and allowed only occasionally out.

At the moment of her escape, Sveta was captured by the Russians and is now in Moscow. Vasily Grossman took her back to live with his family until Klava, a woman in the fifth shock army can come retrieve her.

The point of this scene is to show first an emotional based scene that produces emotion in your readers. I consider yesterday’s example to be a nonemotional scene that produces emotion in your readers.

In this example the characters show various emotion, but I want you to note where the reader’s emotions are drawn and tested. I also want you to note how much is unsaid in the example. Here it is. In this example, Sveta has had one of her horrible flashback dreams. The result is that she can’t wake up, but she is responding without apparent voluntary control

Katya woke to Sveta’s screams. They were horrible and pathetic. Sveta spoke in a strange language. Strange words punctuated her screams. Katya shook her, “Wake up Sveta. Wake up. It’s only a dream.” Sveta would not awake. Katya yelled, “Papa, Papa, come quickly.”

Vasily ran to the small room. He was tying on his robe, “What’s wrong, Katya.”

“Sveta is dreaming, and I can’t wake her.”

Olga yawned and peeked in through the door. She was dressed in her heavy nightgown, “Tell the child to be quiet. The whole house will be on us in a moment.”

Katya cried, “I can’t make her stop. Help her father.”

Vasily tried to shake Sveta, that only seemed to make it worse. He tried to speak gently and softly to her. She continued to scream, a hoarse strange cry that was punctuated by words, strange words like nothing he had ever heard before, “She is having a fit. What has come on you child. Please stop.”

Sveta’s cries continued. The strange words continued.

A knock came at the door. Olga smirked at Vasily, “There I told you. You’d better talk to them.”

Vasily yelled over Sveta’s cries, “What will I tell them?”

Olga rolled her eyes, “Let me handle the girl. You get the door.”

Vasily looked at the thrashing and screaming Sveta, then at Katya, finally at Olga, “Don’t hurt her.”

“I won’t hurt her. Get the door Vasily Semyonovich Grossman.”

Vasily left and ran to the front room. Olga stepped into the room and sat on the bed.

Katya stood with tears flowing down her cheeks. Her hands were clasped as though she wanted to pray, but didn’t know what words to say, “Please Olga, don’t hurt her.”

Olga only gave a sad smile and grasped Sveta around her arms. She held her close like a baby with one arm and pulled her legs together with the other. Olga pulled Sveta into her lap. Sveta stopped trashing around, and Katya gave a quick sob. Still the horrible sounds and words flowed from between Sveta’s lips. Olga pressed Sveta’s face against her and clearly, but softly spoke, “Stop Sveta. You are safe. Don’t cry. Don’t be afraid.” She crooned on and on. Slowly Sveta’s cries lessened. She seemed to be listening. She whimpered and her face screwed up in a sad semblance of her usual features. Olga held her tightly and spoke reassuringly to her, “Stop, sweet Sveta. No one will hurt you. I’m here.”

Sveta’s eyes abruptly opened wide. She stared at the woman holding her and stiffened, “Olga? Olga, I’m so sorry.” She began to cry, “Please, Olga, don’t make me go away. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Olga held her even closer, “Hush! Sveta, no one will make you go away.” She stroked her hair, “I know what you are dreaming. I know what you are feeling. Hush now.”

Sveta relaxed in Olga’s arms, “You won’t send me away, please.”

Olga shook her head, “I won’t send you away. I know what you are dreaming. I know what frightens you.”

“How…how could you…know?”

Olga kissed Sveta’s hair and her cheeks. She did not loosen her grip, “The NKVD put me in their prison until Vasily could convince them to let me out. I spent only a little time there, but I recognize your cries. I had no one to soothe my fears then either. I know what it is to be kept in a cell. I won’t let that happen to you.” She clucked and shook her head.

Vasily came back in the room, “Thank Adoni you could quiet her. The neighbors were…understanding.”

Olga continued to hold Sveta, “Go back to bed, Vasily. I’ll be there in a moment.”

Vasily left them, and Olga motioned to Katya, “Come here Katya. You heard?”

“Yes, Olga. I heard.”

“Your father saved me.”

Sveta gave a shuddering breath, “I thought you hated me, Olga Mikhailovna.”

“Perhaps at one time I did. Perhaps I still do. The NKVD put a black mark on my soul, Sveta. That makes it hard for me to love or trust anyone. But I can’t hate you when you cry out just as I once did. There was no one to hold me then, but I am here to hold you.”

Sveta began to speak. Olga put her fingers over her lips, “No, Svetlana. Don’t begin to tell me or anyone what you might have experienced. That will only bring it back worse than it was before. Trust me. I know. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. You don’t owe anyone a reason. You don’t have to tell anyone about anything that makes you fear or that once brought you fear. Don’t become like me, but don’t let anyone know your pain or suffering. It is over now. It is enough that I know. You may not want me as your sister, but we are sisters in this terrible thing. I understand.” She held Sveta tightly for a long time and slowly she let the girl down on the bed, “Try to sleep now. I know it is hard. You may dream again, but I will be here for you. I promise.”

“Thank you, Olga Mikhailovna.”

Olga motioned for Katya to get into bed. She did and Olga pulled the covers over them and tucked them both in, “Now sleep and do not dream.” She kissed Katya and Sveta on the cheek, “Go to sleep.”

Olga was right, Sveta could not sleep. She prayed her rosary over and over until the morning came and finally gave a little relief to her darkness.

If you notice, the emotive moments for the reader are the least emotive moments for the characters. In the beginning, Katya and Vasily try what they can, but they don’t have the experience to help Sveta. Olga recognizes Sveta’s problem right away—she has experienced similar problems in the past. She was once held in Stalin’s prisons. This is true, by the way. Olga was in Stalin’s prisons and somehow Vasily got her out. This is all historically true.

We would likely call Sveta and Olga’s problem PTSD today. However, there is much more to this type of PTSD. In this case, they were both subjected to torture, imprisonment, and suffering. The readers and the characters know this about Sveta. Olga resented the fact that Vasily brought Sveta back to Moscow with him—she is jealous. This is why Vasily and Katya both plead that Olga not hurt Sveta. Do you see how this is emblematic of the emotional development in this scene? The exact same type of emotional development goes on when Olga confesses to similar feelings and fears. The reader is not touched by the emotion Katya shows when she pleads with Olga to not hurt Sveta. They are not touched by the lack of emotion Olga displays. They are touched by the pity (reflection of the perceived suffering and misery) of Sveta and Olga.

This is a powerful scene, not because of the emotion of the characters, but because of the circumstances of the characters. They have both shared in torture and incarceration. They have both faced foes without control or power. This is what we call the creation of pity. There is some fear development, but I’ll give an example of that next.

More tomorrow.

For more information, you can visit my author site http://www.ldalford.com/, 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


About L.D. Alford

L. D. Alford is a novelist whose writing explores with originality those cultures and societies we think we already know. His writing distinctively develops the connections between present events and history—he combines them with threads of reality that bring the past alive. L. D. Alford is familiar with technology and cultures—he is widely traveled and earned a B.S. in Chemistry from Pacific Lutheran University, an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Boston University, a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from The University of Dayton, and is a graduate of Air War College, Air Command and Staff College, and the USAF Test Pilot School. L. D. Alford is an author who combines intimate scientific and cultural knowledge into fiction worlds that breathe reality. He is the author of three historical fiction novels: Centurion, Aegypt, and The Second Mission, and three science fiction novels: The End of Honor, The Fox’s Honor, and A Season of Honor.
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