Writing Prompt #9: Death

[Disclaimer: The story that is about to unfold is completely fictional – any resemblance to actual or existing fictional people, places and/or events is purely coincidental.]

Writing Prompt #9: Death

“Doctor, what have we got?”

“At first glance it looks to be a straightforward case of asphyxiation,” Doctor Malcolm Van Hestlin glanced up to acknowledge the arriving inspector. “No signs of a struggle, although given the state of the room, I wouldn’t be surprised.” Wine bottles and beer cans littered the tiny apartment where the deceased was found sprawled face down upon the sofa. “The contusions sustained are consistent with the sort of clumsiness gained from excessive drinking, but…”

Inspector John Reinhardt surveyed the room and its contents before viewing the body – despite his years in the Force, he still felt queasy around the recently deceased. The room was cluttered with musty old books and newspapers, dust accumulating upon the shelves. He counted seven bottles of (expensive) wine, six bottles of (cheap) vodka and a dozen cans of (imported) beer, all strewn in close proximity of the deceased. “Is there something amiss, Mal?” he inquired, fixing his gaze at the zigzag crack in the wall directly above the sofa.

With an inelegant groan, Malcolm rose to his full height. “The victim’s skin is abnormally pale – I won’t be able to ascertain my suspicions without the post-mortem, but it looks like most of the victim’s blood has been drained. While there are several indications of bruising around on the left arm and the right shin…” the medical examiner heaved an exaggerated sigh at John’s reluctance to follow directions. “You know you’ll never become a great detective if you’re not willing to look into the eyes of the dead. You’ll be stuck behind a desk, doing paperwork and other boring tasks that are unbecoming of your natural talents. So just get over whatever it is that is preventing you from doing your job and do your damn job.”

“Spare me the lecture, Mal. I know how to do my job.” With much reluctance, John finally looked upon the dead man. “The deceased was a young man, probably with a low tolerance for alcohol, passed out face first after excessive drinking, which impaired to the point where he suffocated upon the sofa cushion. He probably stumbled about the apartment before landing on the sofa, which explains the bruising but there’s nothing to suggest…” John tilted his head as he examined the victim’s right arm dangling over the side of the sofa. “The skin is remarkably pale and tiny punctures on the forearm. Odd how the right arm is turned upward and not downward – no one falls on their stomach with their arms flailing that way, which suggests…”

“Which suggests that the body was arranged in this position post-mortem,” concluded Malcolm, accustomed to the detective’s rambling deductions. “As I was saying, there should be some discoloration around the bruises, yet the skin remains pale. The fact that the remaining visible skin is equally pale leads me to tentatively conclude that the victim’s blood has been siphoned off.”

John raised his eyebrows, “Siphoned off? Aside from the tiny punctures, no doubt from extensive drug use, I don’t see how…”

“As I said, I can’t be more precise until the post-mortem, but those are my initial findings,” Malcolm interjected pointedly. “Before you ask, body temperature is ice-cold, rigor mortis complete. Time of death estimated to have occurred sometime between midnight and three AM.”

“Who found the body?” John turned away from the body, glancing over the cluttered desk. No doubt he’d need to sort through the papers for anything substantial.

“Eva Russell, the landlady, found the body,” replied Sergeant Kevin Hunter, entering the room. “However, she is unable to identify the body, as she claims the victim is not her tenant. Her reason for entering the room was to demand the rent – seems he owed three months’ worth, and her patience ran out.”

Perplexed, John turned to face his colleague. “In that case, if this isn’t…” John flipped through the pile of unopened mail to find a credit card invoice. “Alexander Fenshaw, then whose body is this and how it did end up here?”

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Back to the Writing Prompts

Well this week’s weekly blog post is a (very) short one, as I’ve returned (briefly) to working on the Writing Prompt project, of which I have really, really fallen behind in posting, though a few weeks ago (I think) I abandoned posting something using those prompts as themes on a daily basis and extended the project to be fulfilled throughout the calendar year, so at least that will buy me some time to think of fictional (or not) snippets using those themes.

*Looks at what has just been written* OK, that was a rambling, quasi run-on sentence, but one that the grammar check has not flagged as a run-on sentence, so that’s a small victory, right?

Anyway.

No much to add to the quasi-meta story started two weeks ago – I’m still at the Character Development Inn in the Land of Exposition, pondering over the various scenarios for the back story of my detective protagonist, and deciding on how much emotional angst to inflict – thus far the options are minor to Moffat-level devastation, and could possibly be a game changer in the later stories. With all the focus on the (male) detective protagonist, I have yet to fully develop the exposition for my (female) narrator/associate, and whether or not to drop an emotional angst bomb in her history, which could have a ripple effect on subsequent stories (and perhaps the entire series saga as a whole).

Yeah, I plan that far ahead. Hence my lengthy stay at the Land of Exposition – I might relocate here for the time being to sort out plot points, character relationships and possible (spoilers!) plot twists.

Heck, given the recent weather patterns, I might even throw in a blizzard or two (or three), introduce a mad serial killer trapped along with a group of unsuspecting (yet suspicious) hotel guests gathered for a sci-fi convention.

Crap – I just made all that up, and now I want to write the story.

I probably should stop all this pondering and musing and get back to writing before I have another multiple book, series saga on my hands.

One is more than enough.

Snowed in at the Character Development Inn

While in the Land of Exposition, I’ve spent most of my time wander about, chatting with the local Muses, and though it wasn’t my intention to stay for so long (as I do have several stories to write), it’s been a pleasant journey thus far.  I’ve seen other writers pass through, some just visit the tourist attractions, take photos and maybe buy a t-shirt or magnet while others take their time to look around and take copious notes about everything they see. The general atmosphere has been genial and laid back in the past few days, but then things changed as a fast-moving snowstorm consisting of plot bunnies. As the amount of plot bunnies and other random ideas started to pile up, obscuring many of the mains roads out of the Land of Exposition, I eventually sought shelter at the Character Development Inn, which is where I’ve been for the past few days. While there was every effort to clear the roads, the storm proved relentless as another storm blanketed the roads after the roads were nearly clear. Anyway, as I find myself stuck here (with ample foodstuffs and free internet access) I might as well focus on character development and relationships, since I’m not sure when I’ll be able to leave…

Or, in other words, I’m taking some (more) time to fully develop the main detective, the narrator (as I’m still determined to write in first person perspective) and the handful of recurring characters that are to appear in the first series of the three-part epic series saga. Up until now I’ve written general overviews of each of these characters – personality traits, appearance, and so forth – just enough to sketch out a brief summation of the narrative. As I delve more and more into crafting sequence of events and dropping clues (and perhaps a red herring or two) I’ve discovered that I do need to flesh out my main characters a bit more in order to decide upon if something in their past could (or should) have a bearing on the overall plot. As the genre I have chosen to set my novels is primarily mystery, these facts may (or may not) be important – hence the “burden” of the author of holding all the cards, but only showing his/her hand one  card at a  time.

So, in developing these characters, I need to start and the beginning which, in some cases, will start before the character is born – family history and relationships that occur throughout one’s life play a major part in the development of a character and shapes how he or she views the world and the events in which they find themselves. Of course in this investigation into a character’s psyche and attitudes, there are several possible avenues down which one can go – the trick is to figure out which one will serve best to create a well-rounded character that is (hopefully) not cliché or a stereotype. As mentioned in previous blogs relationships do matter  – whether it be familial, romantic or platonic, and could be the turning point or watershed element that determines a character’s motivations and outlook.

Thus far, my (private) detective is a middle-aged man, has two younger brothers and is a widower with a son in his late teens, early 20’s (haven’t quite figured out the exact age yet – as surprisingly, in all this character development and family tree building, there’s a good amount of math to do). The circumstances surrounding  the death of his wife are shrouded in mystery, meaning I haven’t yet decided between the half-dozen possibilities I’ve sketched out (any of which will have repercussions on my detective’s life and perspective on things).

Similarly thus far, my narrator is a young woman with a mysterious past and (possibly) questionable motives – I haven’t quite worked out all the details yet, though there are several possibilities I could use. Moreover, it is my intention to ensure that the narrator does not become a Mary Sue character (i.e. a character that is essentially masquerading as an idealized version of the author ) or cliché. To that end, I have determined that the detective and the narrator have a strictly platonic relationship, with no possibility of it changing to a romantic one, as there is a potential love interest for the detective later on in the series (though whether or not that comes to fruition remains to be seen).

Then there are the supporting, recurring characters – many of whom have a (very) general paragraph summation and little else. How frequent they appear and what impact they may have on the narrative is yet to be determined; some may end up as the catalyst for the mystery, while others may turn out to be vital to the investigation (or to a later mystery).

Another aspect of character development (at least the kind I am attempting) is that it is generational: the entire series saga – each series taking place in  a specific time period over the course of the past three centuries – is dependent upon the relationships within each family and between different families of which will recur throughout the series saga. Events that occur within the first series (and even those that happen before the start of the first series) will impact the shaping of the subsequent series and the events that occur within.

So there’s a lot to sort through, map out and decide upon; seeing that there’s a whole lot of snow outside (and plot bunnies inside), I have quite a monumental task ahead of me. I can deal with the internal quest to sort out my characters and decide how much angst to inflict on them – I can deal with shoveling all the snow outside in the morning (though I am hoping for warmer weather so that the bulk of it will just melt).

Onward and upward!

Stranded in the Land of Exposition

The road to writing a novel is a lot like planning and going on a long journey.

[I’m sure this metaphor has been used before (probably will be more eloquent that what I’m about to put forth); nevertheless, here’s my spin on it.]

It can be plotted and planned with a set itinerary with little to no room for deviation, or it could be a spur-of-the-moment decision with open parameters.

It can be a solitary endeavor or a collaborative effort.

The destination can be somewhere familiar and comforting, or somewhere foreign and intriguing.

Sometimes there are delays in the departure for a myriad of reasons, leading to frustration while waiting for whatever setback causing the delay to be cleared.

Though once the journey has been established, the real adventure begins. More times than not, it is long and laden with meandering paths leading to all sorts of terrain. Sure, for while the road might be on a clear day down amid a bustling city with activity and wondrous sights  around every corner. Every now and then a side street will appear that leads to somewhere unexpected, somewhere interesting, or maybe even somewhere dangerous. Whether or not to take that path, to stay on the main road, or to choose another path will have an impact on the overall experience.

Meteorological conditions can also play a role in shaping the course of the journey,  and alter the final destination – droughts and deluges will undoubtedly hamper and change the direction of a pre-determined trip, resulting (sometimes) in digressions to someplace else. 

OK. That’s about as far as I can go with this metaphor.

The rationale behind the parallels between travelling and writing came about quite randomly and seemed a good idea, as the title of this blog entry states, once again I find myself “stuck” plotting and pondering character development and how their relationships might/will/can impact the overall narrative arc. Then again, considering the quasi-insane large scope I’ve set up for myself [three-part series spanning several centuries with multiple generations of a handful of families set more or less in the same location] it’s not too surprising that there needs to be a whole lot of plotting and planning to ensure that (almost) everything makes sense.

Of course to add to the already difficult task of creating a series saga on this epic scale, I’ve plunked these tales  predominantly in the mystery genre, with allusions to fantasy, Steampunk, suspense, science fiction and (maybe) horror (at least in the  traditional literary sense, not necessarily in the slasher movie sense). As stated (many times) before (in other blog entries), it is my duty (job?) as the creator of this intricate web of mystery and suspense (and all the other aforementioned genres) I should be the one who holds all the cards and knows the hand that’s being dealt. Therefore  I am tasked to determine who should know what and when and how and why: should the reader know some things about the narrative that the characters don’t, or vice versa? Is there enough being revealed? Is there too much? Have I dropped enough red herrings, or are some of them too obvious? When (and how) is the right time/place to drop a shocking twist? Will it be shocking or anticlimactic?

Again (probably reiterating from a previous blog entry) I have the utmost respect and admiration for writers of all genres and media who can successfully craft a story with a central (or supplementary) mystery with a denouement that is both shocking and almost unbelievable, but upon reviewing everything that had taken place before the final reveal, makes perfect sense and makes me smack myself (figuratively) for not seeing it before the revelation. Steven Moffat – show-runner and co-writer for both Sherlock and Doctor Who – is one of those writers who has (with his collaborators) created story arcs that span over many episodes, dropping subtle hints or non sequitur  that comes across as being innocuous or unimportant, but in the end becomes very relevant. Agatha Christie’s mystery novels also have this quality (at least when I first read her novels), as to many other mystery writers (of which there are too many to name).

Anyway.

Point is, with the constant inundation of ideas, plot twists and other random musings from my writing Muses, plot bunnies and such, I find myself attracted to the meandering paths and exploring different outcomes to quasi-established plot scenarios and character relationships, almost to the point of following down those paths and finding where the story could end up. Essentially if I commit to exploring all these paths and possibilities, I may have essentially doubled, tripled (or some other exponential number) the number of stories I will need to write.

Then again, that’s what parallel universes and alternate timelines are for.

Here’s hoping I find my way back on the road to actually writing  these stories (most of which are quasi-written in my head – it seems the journey from my head and onto paper/computer is a tangled one).

Of course in all this meandering, pondering and plotting, the writing prompt project is temporarily on hold, though some of the fictional snippets already posted were among the catalysts that landed (and stranded) me in the Land of Exposition, and if I can sort through the Jungle of Possibilities I can find my way out of the Writer’s Roundabout and back on the Road to Writing.

Feedback and Criticism

Strange how the very thing that worried me about starting this particular blog  – sharing my quasi-random musings and (more recently) some snippets of my writing  – has  not really come to pass, bringing forth a different kind of anxiety, causing me to rethink the purpose of this blog’s existence. Or, to paraphrase from one of my all time favorite film sagas:

“I find the lack of feedback disturbing.”

As mentioned frequently in the previous blogs, I’ve spent a good portion of my existence on this mortal plane writing fictional stories and creating interesting characters, having started out writing short stories in English class in junior high school. Though it started out as a necessary task, it has since grown to become an avocation (and one I hope to upgrade into becoming a full-time occupation someday…) Yet this blog is a few months’ shy of being a year old  – my other blog, dedicated to writing about my experiences and memories of my attendance of musicals, plays and events related to the aforementioned… actually, the same “affliction” (if one exists) is also an issue with the theatre blog as well (albeit to a lesser degree).

Anyway.

While the theater blog entries are more or less creative nonfiction, coupled with my own observations and opinions, and the majority of this writing blog have been weekly essays/musings  on quasi-random themes, I was somewhat all right in sharing these thoughts publicly – in fact the first pieces of writing I’ve ever publicly shared  – after all, these were factual (to a certain degree) and ultimately my opinions and viewpoints on the various topics discussed.

That changed in 2014, when I made a resolution  on New Year’s Eve to commit to using a 100 writing prompt list and post something every day using the themes – of course, the post-something-every-day-using-the-prompts thing lasted five days (as resolutions go, that one lasted longer than most of my previous ones). I’ve since thought of expanding the time limit of using the 100 writing prompts to the entire year – so hopefully by New Year’s Eve 2014, I will have written and posted something  (fictional or factual)  correlating to that 100 writing prompt list.

Still I was hesitant to post any fictional works for the reason I rarely ever share my writing with friends (let alone perfect strangers) – I was worried about the feedback and criticism that would follow. I’m an introvert by nature and have issues with self-esteem [I won’t go into the reasons behind that], but suffice it to say, writing is probably the one thing  in which I pride myself, and losing that would be… well not good. I take [negative] feedback and criticism very seriously and personally, which perhaps is the source of my innate shyness and reticence.

Yet there has not been any negative  feedback and/or criticism, but on the other hand there hasn’t been too much positive (or even indifferent) feedback on either of my blogs. The statistics page that WordPress has is very robust and helpful in that it lets me know who has “liked” my posts and who is following my blogs, as well as keeping track of how many visitors and views my blogs and its entries have had, and so forth. I’ve noticed that many of my posts from both blogs are “liked”, each blog has a good number of followers, and every so often (though not often enough) someone will post a comment (usually someone I know in real life, or someone I’ve “met” via commenting on their blog posts).

While I don’t overtly ask after each blog post for feedback, I presumed there would be some – positive, negative or indifferent – but then again, I’ve taken to reading and “liking” other bloggers’ posts and commenting when I have something constructive to say/write, so maybe that’s how things are. After publishing each blog post (for both blogs), I always send a link to my Facebook profile (and, in the case of this blog, to my nascent Facebook author page), and the same thing (more or less) happens there – I get many “likes” for the posts and rarely any comments.

Maybe I shouldn’t be making a big deal about the lack of feedback or criticism, but without it (regardless of it is positive, negative or indifferent), I won’t really know how “good” or “bad” my writing is – whether I really should commit to writing on a full-time basis or give it up altogether.

I’m not even sure if this post makes any semblance of sense, but it’s something that I (apparently) needed to get out of my head before heading back into the land of writing fiction (both for my series saga and the pieces for the 100 writing prompt project.)

Maybe it’s better not knowing.

But somehow I don’t think so.