A chapter from a novel I am working on.

Started by MurderSheWrote, October 27, 2019, 07:50:38 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


Author note: This is the first thing I have ever written, and I don't *really* know what I am doing, but I have always wanted to be a writer, so I thought I'd give a stab at it. The novel I am working on is about a woman who goes to the end of the earth to protect her son, even if it means framing her husband for murder. Let me know what you think, any feedback is much appreciated!

Let them Eat Cake

Maura - The night

In the third grade Jason broke his leg, going down the slide the wrong way. He wailed in pain, crying out for me to help him. His leg was bent in the most unnatural way, swollen and quickly turning a dark shade of purple stared helplessly at my son, suffering, knowing there was not a single thing I could do to help him. That I needed to call someone. I pulled out my cell phone and called for an ambulance. It took them a total of 32 minutes to arrive, I timed them. 32 minutes of my son in complete agony, calling out to me. When the ambulance arrived on the scene, I attempted to call Sean to inform him of the situation. I went straight to voicemail.  I held Jason's hand as the EMTs grilled me with repetitive, pointless questions, about what had happened, what I was doing when I let this happen, whether Jason was even my son. I smiled, and cooperated, answered all of the irrelevant questions of the incompetent 18 year old across from me.
They brought us to a large, open, sterile room, which was sectioned light blue curtains. As we walked through the room, you could hear the murmurs of concerned patients, the tired but instructive voices of nurses, and the screech of curtains opening and closing. We wheeled Jason into our assigned stall, "room" 32. The curtain closed behind us, and we sat and waited, listening to the uncomfortable bustle of the emergency room, all the while, Jason crying in pain. Finally a nurse entered; "Jason", she declared, as if she was assigning a nickname to "the patient in room 32".  She then went on to ask me the same set of questions, and perform the same set of exams that the EMTs had only minutes ago.
Needless to say the rest of the 6 hours spent in the emergency room was filled with the same level of disinterest and incompetence. By the time Sean had called back, Jason had been put in a cast and we were on our way home, a 2,000 dollar medical bill in hand. I explained to Sean the situation, and he apologized for not answering. He had been in a work meeting.
Looking back, I now wonder if he was really in a meeting or if he had started being unfaithful to me years before. It was 8pm on a Friday after all. It doesn't matter though, that is not the point. The point is that if you need something done, you have to, have to, HAVE to, do it yourself.
Which is why after bringing Jason to bed that night, I went out to the library and got "First Aid Survival Guide" and "Dancing with Broken Bones".
My reading was interrupted by Jason screaming in pain. I grabbed my book, Sean sound asleep next to me and knelt by Jason's bedside to examine his leg. His foot looked very swollen, and Jason could not even wiggle his toes. The doctors had clearly put his cast on too tight, so I did what any mother would. I went downstairs to the garage to retrieve a pair of garden shears, a gauze and an old ski pole. I doused the shears with rubbing alcohol before returning to Jason's bedside. Thankfully he had fallen back asleep, so I began to slowly cut his cast off with the shears.
"Are you insane?" Sean appeared, quickly knocking the shears out of my hands, the force of the blow disrupted Jason's leg, causing Jason to yell out.
Sean grabbed my arm and pulled me outside the room and shut the door.

"What the hell are you doing Maura?"

"The doctors put Jason's cast on completely wrong. He was screaming in pain.  He woke up screaming in pain, you didn't even stir." I hissed.

"Then you call the doctor Maura, you don't take fucking garden shears to an 8 year old".

"Oh bring him back to the very people who gave him Acute Compartment Syndrome. That's a great idea Sean, lets go do that"

Sean started laughing, "Jesus Christ Maura,  you have read one book and now you are diagnosing our son with Acute Apartment Syndrome. You are not a medical professional this is insane. I am bringing him to the doctor."

And it turned out that Jason's cast was on too tight, and that he did have Acute Compartment Syndrome. Just as I had said. But Sean wanted to traumatize our son with another trip to the Emergency room at 1am, and another medical bill to be told what I knew all along.

After that night, I vowed I would never allow myself to be weak again. I would never allow my son's fate to be mishandled by the inadequacy of a stranger. I made a list of all the areas of my son's life where I depend on others, started obsessing over the what ifs, and then how I would handle them. I wanted to homeschool Jason, but Sean refused, stating that it would impair his social development and that he had always wanted to coach his boy's football team. We "compromised" and Jason was not homeschooled. Instead, I became heavily involved with PTA, Jason's boy scout club and  even took a job as the librarian at the Highschool library.  More about Maura being a helicopter mom.
Before you judge me, just know that I am a mother before I am a librarian, I am a wife, I am a murderess, I am a woman.

That night I walked in on my son standing over Stacy's body, I'll admit that the stolen life of the dead girl lying in front of me, the pain her death would cause her family, and other matters of conscience cast shadows on my mind. But at my core I was thinking about my son. Emma's life was over, but Jason's didn't have to be.

I walked into Jason's room, only the symphony of crickets on a summer night and Jason's ragged breathing could be heard. Everything about the room appeared as it always had, his dark blue comforter lay neatly over his twin bed, that was neighbor to his maple nightstand. On the nightstand stood a cream colored lamp, which had been turned off by the silver beaded chain. I am unsure whether Jason had turned the light off after he killed Emma, or whether the light had simply never been turned on. Eitherway, Jason now stood in the center of his dark room,
frozen, staring at his hands. He did not notice me, not when I entered, not when my barefoot crossed the squeaky floorboard Sean was supposed to fix 8 years ago, not when I started shouting his name, not when I asked him if he had killed her. I didn't know what to do. My mind started buzzing with so many thoughts that they all blurred into a single monotone ring, blaring out any form of rationality and judgment, and all that was left was instinct; calmy saying "You need to protect Jason

When I finally noticed a flicker of awareness in his eyes, I clung to it, boring my eyes into his.
"Stay with me Jason, stay with me."
An alibi. Jason needs an alibi, he will be the first person the cops will suspect if Emma's murder is discovered.

"Jason, listen to me very carefully, Jason I need you to take your laptop and your cell phone. You need to create as much online presence as possible right now. Log in to your usual social media accounts, make some posts, play some video games, but don't do anything you wouldn't normally do. Call grandma and ask her what she wants for her birthday. Its coming up you know. Do you understand me Jason?"

I stepped over Emma's body to retrieve Jason's laptop and cellphone from off his desk. I walked Jason back to my room, shutting the door quietly behind me, and headed back to Jason's room.  Emma's lifeless body was lying on the floor in the middle of the room, her skin was surprisingly even more pale than it had been when she was alive. Her eyes were open, looking blankly at the ceiling. I wondered if that was the same facial expression she made when my husband was plowing into her, realizing that this wouldn't fill the void of her daddy never loving her. Now I stared back at her corpse, there were bruises around her neck; Jason must have strangled her. My thoughts were disrupted by a phone buzzing.

I froze. Shit, Emma's phone. I reached to power it off quickly, and started to pace. I need time.Can the police track a cell phone if it powered off? Even if they can't I am sure the cell records will show she was last active here, and it will be the first thing police reference if she is reported missing.

If, if she were to be noticed. Maybe Emma ran off, eloped, sent a short apology note to her family. She did have a secret lover after all. My husband.  My blood boiled as I pictured Emma smugly telling her friends about sleeping with my husband  while dating my son. Probably saying something to the effect of  "I never meant for this to happen" as a  sense of scandal and power danced over her eyes. If she had told her friends that she was sleeping with my husband, and then my husband shows up to football practice tomorrow, then the entire story doesn't work. I will not bet my son's life on a teenage girl keeping her mouth shut.
Maybe she just disappears, without a trace. I could hide any evidence of a murder; let the police suspect foul play and point their finger at anyone as long as it's not my son. And even if they do try to blame Jason, it is incredibly hard to prosecute a murder case if there is no body.

I pictured myself standing over a campfire, amongst garbage bags filled with dead leaves and my son's dead girlfriend. The cool crisp autumn air tainted with the stench of rotting flesh. My neighbor Trisha is out walking her dog and comes over to say hi, but quickly turns around in horror when she sees a human arm sticking out of the flames. Trisha has always been such a nosey bitch.

Even if I did succeed in getting rid of the body, the legal system could still get my son on charges second to murder if he were to be implicated in her disappearance. I cannot, will not, allow my son to rot in prison for this.

He had just found out the girl he was molding his future to be with, was sharing a bed with his father. In fact, Sean is more guilty than Jason really. Sean has had countless affairs over the course of our marriage, I like to think I've known about every one of them. The burner phone he uses to text them is hidden in his cigar box, next to his viagra pills.

At first, I fought it, I screamed, stalked, cried, and begged. I believed Sean when he would say "I am so sorry Maura", "I can change", "Let's fix this, I need you." One night, I had found the blue and white ribbon that the cheerleaders use to tie back their hair while cheering at the football games in the back of Sean's truck. That night Jason had unexpectedly came home early from his friend Dan's sleepover birthday party. Dan's mom had dropped him off at the end of the driveway. We didn't notice him at first, he just stood in the doorway, watching his mom in tears, shriek at his dad, who had an empty scotch bottle in hand. He was still dressed in his two piece airplane themed pajamas, his little slippers protecting him from the shattered glass on the floor.
Looking at Jason's innocent expression of confusion that night, I made a decision that night, to put my son before my marriage. By this, I do not mean I filed for a divorce. I did not want Jason to have to cope with custody battles, family therapy, and constantly toting his suit case between Mom and Dad's house. While Sean may be a terrible husband, he was a very good father. He was attentive, he coached Jason's sports teams, he taught Jason lessons only a father could. 

So I chose to let my husband drink, and fuck all he wanted, as long as it did not effect our son. Whether Sean was aware of this agreement or if his head was too far up some underaged girl's ass to know, is beyond me. But now, he has broken the one rule, the only thing I ever asked of him. And that cannot be forgiven. If he had been able to keep his dick in his pants, Emma may still be breathing right now. But she is not, and someone has to go down for this. And it will not be my son. Sean has made his bed, and invited a dead 18 year old girl into it. Now he must lie in it.
I contemplated calling the cops, putting on a show flavored with hysteria and a broken heart, but behind the theatrics tell the story of Emma and Sean's affair. That I had walked in on Sean strangling Emma, and when he saw me he fled..What if they don't believe me though? What if they find Emma's body, and open a murder investigation on Jason despite me. Or even blame me? Whether the detective land on a crime of a secret lover's jealousy or an enraged boyfriend's betrayal is no better than a coin toss. I could manipulate the evidence to tell the same story of Sean's guilt. No, I will make the evidence scream Sean's guilt so loud that the judge and jury will be deaf to any reasonable doubt. The detectives will eat up the evidence I spoon feed them when they arrive at a crime scene that is not catered by DNA or video footage. And Sean will go to prison. Not Jason. Just as I had finally started to contrive a decent plan, the doorbell rang.

I ran to the bathroom, convinced that my reflection would be dripping with guilt. I looked in the mirror, and the woman staring back at me was not bloodied, maddened, delirious or sobbing. The woman that staring back at me looked exactly the same as the woman who I saw brushing her teeth in the morning, or getting ready to take a shower.  Nothing about her indicated that she was in the midst of covering up the murder of an 18 year old girl. I straightened my nightgown, pulled up my hair and went downstairs to greet the unexpected guests.


Hi MurderSheWrote

Thanks for posting your first foray into writing fiction - it can be quite daunting, I realise.

I read the whole thing through, which is a good sign. As your first story, I was expecting it to be overwritten (as all writers love words and it takes a while to get to grips with them) - but I was pleasantly surprised to find you hadn't over-written anything. In fact, you are quite economical with your writing, and that instantly makes it easier to read.

Also - the broken leg preamble was hyper-realistic. I had the feeling you had actually gone through that experience.

There are loads of little things you are doing wrong which I'm sure will be pointed out and are really just little quibbles. It's worth knowing what they are though (for example, how to punctuate dialogue, how to watch out for inconsistent tense, etc) as you'll need to know all those rules if you ever want to start competing or aim at getting published. Also - make sure you spell check before posting, and read it through word-for-word (I noticed you left a reminder in there for yourself which said 'More about Maura being a helicopter mom'.

For now, my feeling is that one of the key things that would improve your writing is something (pretentiously) referred to as 'psychic distance' by John Gardner. It's simple stuff really. Just think of it as 'zooming in and out'. At the moment, your narration is very static - almost like the narrator is reading an essay to someone. Here's the classic example of zooming in the psychic distance:

  • It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
  • Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
  • Henry hated snowstorms.
  • God how he hated these damn snowstorms.
  • Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul.

See how the narrator gets closer to the character with each sentence? It's easy to do with internal dialogue, or Free Indirect Style (see the link below). Zooming in like that helps to pick up the pace or increase the intensity,  while zooming out will slow the story down and give the reader a breather. If your psychic distance is static, it makes the story feel like it's being told (instead of the reader actually living it).

The only other thing I'd say is to think about the journey your reader is taking. You had an exciting bit where the mum found the dead girl's body - that would have made a great end to a chapter (or even just the first part of a chapter) - just to tempt the reader into continuing on to the next one. Or, you could have left hints before it happened, foreshadowed something horrible was on its way, ramping up the reader's anxiety a bit (which is your main objective). And then when she does find the body, you zoom in that psychic distance, make it all very immediate and personal.

Having said all that, your writing shows a lot of potential. You should definitely stick at it.


Free Indirect Style

p.s What exactly is a helicopter mom?


Hi Short-Cross
Thank you for taking the time to read through my chapter, I really appreciate it. It is my first time, and it always shocks me when I see someone has read what I wrote never mind responded to it.

My little sister broke her leg when she was young at a playground and the doctors put the cast on too tight.  So the introduction was inspired by that event haha (my mom did not try to treat the injury herself though).

Yes, I was expecting that this would be loaded with grammar/syntax/spelling errors. I haven't written anything formally since high school (5+ years ago) or taken any writing classes so everything you are saying is incredibly useful. I definitely need to revise my work, I just get so excited when I finally finish something.

I like the idea of psychic distance, while I was writing this, I struggled to find a way to describe the events that were happening and this concept definitely opens a lot of doors to propel the story forward without trying to awkwardly have Maura explain it in her own head. I plan on perspective being incredibly important in this novel, so I think that while I was writing this, I tried to make it very clear this was all Maura. But I think I overdid it. This is central to the plot, because this chapter is actually in the second part of the novel. The first part is a series of journal entries that Maura writes. These journal entries will initially be Maura coping with the fact that her son went to prison for killing his girlfriend, then slowly build to be Maura suspecting her husband having an affair and collecting physical evidence of those affairs, to finally starting to believe that her husband is a serial killer. The second part is supposed to communicate what actually happened, and how far Maura goes to get her son out of prison by making her husband look guilty.

That being said, foreshadowing the murder of Emma may be ineffective because I think the reader will be anticipating what is there through the context of the first part. But I do agree, the build up to Emma's body being discovered could be more pronounced. I do want to reveal that Maura is way more of a psychopath then the journal had led the reader to believe, so I think its a matter of balancing Maura's apathetic tone to the murder with a very anxious and provocative description of the scene.

PS. a helicopter mom is someone who hovers and overly involves herself with her child's life :)


Your opening still needs some work to encourage the reader to keep reading.

Some of the sentences in the first two paragraphs appear to have missing words.
You also repeat certain words and phrases.
'to help him' - 'call/called/calling' - 'curtain(s)' - 'room'

My main problem was I found little here to grab my attention, I'm afraid. The broken leg incident was rather melodramatic without any sense of drama. And I began to dislike the narrator very early in the piece because of her over-emotional reactions and strange obsession with the response time of the ambulance rather than her son's injuries.
You mention she has psychopathic tendencies - but unless you introduce an element of genuine humanity to begin with we'll find it difficult to empathise with her so we won't really be bothered about what happens later - Will she manage to cover up her son's crime? Do we really care?.

It becomes particularly difficult to take your MC's behaviour seriously once we get to the crux of the plot.
The long-winded preamble is simply there to portray the mother as a complete control freak. The problem is, the reader has been obliged to navigate their way through so much irrelevant build-up to reach the point where the 'real story' is about to start. There are certainly better ways to establish her motivation and her overbearing maternal instinct than this. You can have so much fun misleading your reader with skilful foreshadowing instead of laying things on so thickly. At the moment she's a bit of a stereotype and hardly leaps to life from the page.

Your story starts here - although again you almost blow it:

Before you judge me, just know that I am a mother before I am a librarian, I am a wife , I am and a murderess. , I am a woman.

It's obvious she's a woman even to the dimmest reader. The fact that she's a librarian is hardly relevant.
However, the twist that she's a murderess is hardly a surprise by now because you've spent so long hammering home the point that this woman is an unhinged control freak.

I'll not comment further, other than to suggest you reconsider your MC's behaviour once she discovers her blue-eyed boy has probably committed murder. Would any normal mother facing a similar situation be preoccupied with the sound of the crickets, the lay-out of the bedroom's soft-furnishings and the mystery of whether or not a cream coloured lamp had been turned off before or after the killing? No matter how mentally unhinged she may or may not be, your reader has to believe the events could unfold the way you describe them. I couldn't.

The discovery of Emma's body was the point at which your story stopped making sense to me. I skimmed the rest and for all the hyped-up drama, it didn't leave me caring very much whether your MC got away with it or not..

There's a great story buried here somewhere - but at the moment it's not character-driven because your characters are paper-thin participants. Sean and Jason are instantly forgettable and interchangeable. And the plot development and momentum become seriously compromised in the second half. The reveal that Emma was sleeping with Sean is glossed over in a single sentence and the action stalls then goes into reverse while your narrator begins to consider her options and contemplate the outcome.

You cover way too much ground if this is really intended to remain a single chapter.


Lin Treadgold

There could be a great story here but as this is your first crack at writing, then you still have a way to go to make it sharp and interesting. However, do keep going, we all had to start somewhere to make this happen.

One sentence made me stop. His leg was bent in the most unnatural way, swollen and quickly turning a dark shade of purple stared helplessly at my son, suffering, knowing there was not a single thing I could do to help him.

Is the leg staring helplessly at your son or is it you?

Try this:   His leg, bent in a most unnatural way, became swollen.  I stared helplessly at my son, his suffering was mine too. 

Often it's best to keep drama short sharp and simple for effect.

Good luck and enjoy your writing.