A Christmas Murder

Chapter 1

I believed I was going to have the hottest Christmas party of the season I thought my party was going to be a success.

Until 11: 30 P.M when I found something something more sinister under my Christmas tree. I saw someone else’s feet sticking out under the branches. I turned to my seventeen year old brother Alexander, standing a few feet from me. “Something doesn’t look right. What the hell is that?”

“I don’t know. Why is it here?” Alexander wanted to know.

“Whatever you do, don’t let Mom see this” I told him. I looked around the living room. I was hoping that Mom wouldn’t walk into the living room.

“We can’t leave the body here!” Alexander said, pointing his finger at the feet.

“We’re not!,” I told Alex. “Let me think.” The truth was, I really don’t know what to do with a dead body. I never seen a dead body in my life. But, I have to hide the body quick before Mom and the rest of the party guests go into the living room to open the gifts.

Mom and the rest of the party guests walked into the living room. Mom gave me

a puzzled look. “Amanda, Alexander, what’s going on?”

“Nothing” I said simply.

“What present do you want to open first?” Alexander wanted to know, walking over to the Christmas tree.

Mom smiled. “You got a surprise for me? Aww, that’s so sweet.”

“Not now” I said, blocking the gifts from Mom.

“Why not?” Mom asked.

Alexander and I exchanged glances. I didn’t know what else to say to my mother. I looked down at my red high heel shoes for a second before looking up at her again.

“You two are acting really weird. I want to know what is going on right now?” Mom

demanded.

Jeez.

“I’m going to open my gift” my fifteen year old Jennifer Easton said, walking over to the Christmas tree. I turned around to see Jennifer picking up a red gift with a white ribbon around it. She screamed, dropping the gift on the floor.

Jennifer’s eyes popped wide. “Oh my god! There’s a dead body under the Christmas tree!”

“Oh god! Whose body is it?” Mom wanted to know, moving the Christmas tree around.

I stood behind behind my mother. “Mom, stop! I don’t want you to see this.” i didn’t want my mother to see the body right away, at least until the party is over. It was disturbing to me to see the dead body the first time.

There it was. The body was no stranger. It was a lifeless body of my senator father. He wore a black jacket, matching black tie, gray hair, brown eyes, tall about six foot . My mother sobbed on my right shoulder. I began to sob too. I can’t believe my father’s lifeless body was under the Christmas tree. “Dad’s dead.” I said.

“Who shot him?” Alexander asked.

“I don’t know. Someone who was in the living room around the time of Dad’s murder” I quickly wrote the clue down onto my notepad. This could help me solve my father’s murder. Who would kill my father and hide his body under the tree? I put my hand on my stomach I feel I was going to be sick.

“Jeez” Alexander said.

“All I know is that every party goer is a suspect” I said, looking around the room to see the faces of the partygoers. Some of my friends could be suspects. I didn’t want to believe it. They are my friends. They have no reason to kill my father. Do they?

“What are we going to question everyone?” Alexander asked. “Including my girlfriend

Diane Green?”

“We have to,” I pointed out. “We can’t let Dad ‘s killer get away with murder!” I don’t want my father’s killer get away with murder! The killer took away the one person I cared about.

“This is dangerous! This is not like finding a cheater who cheated on the math final exam!” Alexander reminded me.

“I understand. There’s one person I may have to question firstI said, kept on sobbing.

“Who?” Alexander asked.

My ex- boyfriend Jason” I said.

Chapter 2

“There’s Jason Wagner” my cousin Jennifer said as we walked to the swimming pool at The Los Angeles Country Club two weeks later.

I watched Jason getting out of the pool, drying his blondish- brown hair with

a towel, wearing a yellow swimsuit. I couldn’t stop staring at him. It was weird. I haven’t thought

about him since we broke up two weeks before Thanksgiving. Tall ,about six foot one, thin. blue eyes. How could a boy be so handsome and lethal at the same time? What if he was the one who shot

my father?

“So, are you going to question him?” Jennifer wanted to know.

I looked down at my feet for a second before looking up at Jennifer again. “I don’t know if I could question him. I don’t know if I could question him. I mean it’s kinda awkward.” I don’t know how to question Jason, there’s a million things I wanted to ask him.

“Want me to go with you?” Jennifer asked.

“So.

Instructor Response

Susan–

Good work.  I’ll give you thoughts in two categories: the writing, and the storytelling.  Take to heart only what makes sense for what you want to achieve.  I’ll make comments in the manuscript and summary comments at the end.  And thanks for your submission.

A Christmas Murder

Chapter 1

I believed I was going to have the hottest Christmas party of the season I thought my party was going to be a success.

I wouldn’t tread water in an opening sentence.  Only two important words in this sentence: Christmas" and "party."  The rest is "author nervousness" about getting the story going, and what you believed and thought has no direct impact on story beginning.  This also is a flag to stylistic changes to come where you might consider working on succinctness, which would bring the reader into the story more.

Until 11: 30 P.M when I found something something more sinister under my Christmas tree. I saw someone else’s feet sticking out under the branches. I turned to my seventeen year old brother Alexander, standing a few feet from me. "Something doesn’t look right. What the hell is that?"

I’m not clear as to what is happening here.  It should be absolutely clear.  Are there two sinister things, or just the feet?

"I don’t know. Why is it here?" Alexander wanted to know.

"Whatever you do, don’t let Mom see this" I told him. I looked around the living room. I was hoping that Mom wouldn’t walk into the living room. 

I do not now what "this" is in this paragraph (or thr "thtat" in the paragraph above.  Be sure to keep your reader oriented and one way to do that is to be sure aver pronoun used has a clear and unquestionable antecdent.

"We can’t leave the body here!" Alexander said, pointing his finger at the feet.

"We’re not!," I told Alex. "Let me think." The truth was, I really don’t know what to do with a dead body. I never seen a dead body in my life. But, I have to hide the body quick before Mom and the rest of the party guests go into the living room to open the gifts.

Mom and the rest of the party guests walked into the living room. Mom gave me

a puzzled look. "Amanda, Alexander, what’s going on?"

"Nothing" I said simply.

"What present do you want to open first?" Alexander wanted to know, asked walking over to the Christmas tree.  [This is an example of wordiness, more words used than needed.  "Asked" is the most efficient and reader-pleasing attribution since the reader knows Alexander wanted to know because he asked it.  This may seem picky, but I’m eager to get you working on getting crisp prose into your style so your story shines.] 

Mom smiled. "You got a surprise for me? Aww, that’s so sweet."

"Not now" I said, blocking the gifts from Mom.

"Why not?" Mom asked.

Alexander and I exchanged glances. I didn’t know what else to say to my mother. I looked down at my red high heel shoes for a second before looking up at her again.

"You two are acting really weird. I want to know what is going on right now?" Mom

demanded.

Jeez.

"I’m going to open my gift" my fifteen year old Jennifer Easton said, walking over to the Christmas tree. I turned around to see Jennifer picking up a red gift with a white ribbon around it. She screamed, dropping the gift on the floor.

Jennifer’s eyes popped wide. "Oh my god! There’s a dead body under the Christmas tree!"

"Oh god! Whose body is it?" Mom wanted to know, moving the Christmas tree around.

I stood behind behind my mother. "Mom, stop! I don’t want you to see this." i didn’t want my mother to see the body right away, at least until the party is over. It was disturbing to me to see the dead body the first time.  [Are these credible reactions by these characters?]

There it was. The body was no stranger. It was a lifeless body of my senator father. He wore a black jacket, matching black tie, gray hair, brown eyes, tall about six foot . My mother sobbed on my right shoulder. I began to sob too. I can’t believe my father’s lifeless body was under the Christmas tree. "Dad’s dead." I said.

In storytelling, especially in murders and mysteries, it is helpful to think of two techniques to bring tension to your reader (there are others).  You can withhold information from the reader, information the narrator (and the author) knows but the reader does not.  And if you use this, the character usually should not know more than the reader can get from the page.  It’s got to be credible and it’s got to have excellent writing.  Another way is to keep the reader informed about all important story information that is needed to keep the story moving (there always things to be found out and information delivered should be sequential to discovery, usually by the character and reader together, not the narrator) and since everything the character knows and discovers the reader knows, the tension then comes from: What will happen to a character the reader knows and cares about?   Your story withholds a body and the body is the father.  Question if this is credible–I mean, wouldn’t most people be screaming and telling the world?–and whether withholding this information might be manipulating the reader for tension but fails because of credibility and the logic of the protagonist’s and Alexander’s strange, almost apathetic reactions expressed through actions and dialogue.

"Who shot him?" Alexander asked.

"I don’t know. Someone who was in the living room around the time of Dad’s murder" I quickly wrote the clue down onto my notepad. This could help me solve my father’s murder. Who would kill my father and hide his body under the tree? I put my hand on my stomach I feel I was going to be sick.

"Jeez" Alexander said.

Your dialogue tends to be flat, and doesn’t contribute to story in the ways a reader craves.  Here is a reference for dialogue.  Also see story example.

"All I know is that every party goer is a suspect" I said, looking around the room to see the faces of the partygoers. Some of my friends could be suspects. I didn’t want to believe it. They are my friends. They have no reason to kill my father. Do they?

"What are we going to question everyone?" Alexander asked. "Including my girlfriend

Diane Green?"

"We have to," I pointed out. "We can’t let Dad ‘s killer get away with murder!" I don’t want my father’s killer get away with murder! The killer took away the one person I cared about.

"This is dangerous! This is not like finding a cheater who cheated on the math final exam!" Alexander reminded me.  {Metaphors are difficult in prose.  They have to be fine tuned.  This isn’t working.  The tone isn’t right.  And the idea is strange for the situation at hand.  On site, search metaphor in The Fiction Well.  I believe you’ll find some valuable ideas.]

"I understand. There’s one person I may have to question firstI said, kept on sobbing.

"Who?" Alexander asked.

My ex- boyfriend Jason" I said.

The structure, syntax, motivations, don’t work well for you in this section. (It’s all fixable, be assured.)  It is essential to get your suspects up and suspected, but you  need to do it in a way that engages the reader.  I suggest you take your three most-loved murder mysteries, study and analyze them for how the authors’ introduce murder and suspects (with suspense), and then structure your opening using what you discovered.

Chapter 2

"There’s Jason Wagner" my cousin Jennifer said as we walked to the swimming pool at The Los Angeles Country Club two weeks later.

I watched Jason getting out of the pool, drying his blondish- brown hair with

a towel, wearing a yellow swimsuit.  [Who’s wearing yellow?  Clarity is essential.  Is the participle phrase modifying the subject or the object of the sentence?   You can work on these sort of problems by studying revision.]   I couldn’t stop staring at him. It was weird.  I haven’t thought about him since we broke up two weeks before Thanksgiving. Tall ,about six foot one, thin. blue eyes. How could a boybe so handsome and lethal at the same time? What if he was the one who shot my father?

"So, are you going to question him?" Jennifer wanted to know.

I looked down at my feet for a second before looking up at Jennifer again. "I don’t know if I could question him. I don’t know if I could question him. I mean it’s kinda awkward." I don’t know how to question Jason, there’s a million things I wanted to ask him.

"Want me to go with you?" Jennifer asked.

"So.

Don’t give up!  Ever!  You’ve got too much potential to let the fear of hard work deter you.  Work on your prose clarity and brevity and be sure that ever idea that goes on the page has a definite story purpose.  Don’t let ideas go onto the page that are ineffective just because you can’t think of the right thing to keep the story moving and keep the reader interested.  Sometimes it takes hours or days of thinking to find the right word, phrase or sentence–or idea.  When telling a story, continuously question action, dialogue, and motivations of your characters.  (Although I’m not an expert in murder mysteries, I also believe it’s important to consider reliability of characters, and identify at least one character that you’ll set up as a reliable source of story truth for the reader.)  

Think about the comments and try again.  I will be pleased to give you my thoughts, if you desire.  But also seek out thoughts of others whose writing skills you trust to be able to give constructive comments.

All the best in your writing.

WHC

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