If you’re looking for blogs about writing fiction, you’ve found one! In fact, in this series about how to write books, we’re tackling writing fiction novels. If you’ve always wanted to write a book, be sure to follow along.
Let’s pick up with where we were. Part 1 covers how the first three chapters were handled. In this lesson, we’ll look at chapters 4 through 6. I’ll explain why I did certain things, and why they matter. Hopefully, it helps you on your journey as you learn to write fiction.
It was a slow week. There’d been no news. (quickly shows the passage of time, rather than saying, one week later…)
When Dr. Toma reached out to the Mason Ridge Police Department with her findings, Alex perked up. They’d finally identified their victim.
Dr. Toma was a direct woman with a soft jawline. Her thick, black hair fell past her shoulders when it wasn’t tied up and twisted into a bun. Most of the time, she spent her day scrubbed up and in protective gear. A hair net in place, booties over her shoes, and a thick apron were standard uniform. (character building in one conclusive paragraph)
Alex shook her hand. “Dr. Toma, thanks so much for your time. I heard the initial results. We still haven’t located the remainder of her body, so this was our only shot at identification.”
“I understand how critical it is. Looks like we’ve found our missing person here at the hospital, along with your victim’s identity. It’s such a tragic case,” she said.
Alex shook his head. “I saw the report before heading over. She was an emergency room nurse right here. Did you know Dawn Lewis?”
“On first name basis, but I didn’t know much about her otherwise. I’d see her around the building time to time, but as you know, most of my days are spent downstairs, below the action. I prefer the quieter nature of my work over the hustle of the emergency room.” (not an emotional connection to the woman)
“Wish it didn’t have to end this way. It was a violent death.”
“Yes, and it appears that the portion of her neck that remained, well…” she paused as she tried to find the right wording. “Her windpipe was crushed not only from strangulation, but by a blunt instrument.”
“Somebody wanted to make sure she wasn’t going to be revived.” Alex shoved his hands into his pockets. As long as he’d done this stuff, it never got easier. “Probably the grisliest case I’ve come across in my career. There’s a monster out there.”
“Here’s another copy of the report you requested.” Dr. Toma pulled a file off her desk. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Not at the moment, but I’ll know to come here first if I think of anything. You’ve been most helpful.”
Kateri smiled softly. She was a humble woman, but it still was nice to be appreciated. “Detective Ramsey, I do wish you speed in solving this case. I hope not to see another one like this for a long while.”
“Yeah, me too.”
With the newly released victim’s identity, there were people to talk to and family to notify.
Alex avoided the elevator and took the stairs to the next level. The hum of activity grew as he pulled the stairwell door open. He found a bench and settled to read the report. He’d go over it again and again, memorizing every tiny, obscure detail his brain would allow. (another way to show that the basement is about the dead, the regular level about the living)
Alex leaned backward, stretching his long legs in front of him. His head rested on the cool tiled wall.
As pleasant as Dr. Toma was, and as good as she was at her job, the basement was the one place he couldn’t see spending his career.
He liked open spaces, natural light, and good cross ventilation. He breathed in deeply, almost as if the bleached scent that stuck to the floors and wall were fresh air.
After being in the basement, it felt that way. It’s not that he was claustrophobic, but yeah… Wide open spaces were more his style.
He’d wrap up at the hospital and grab a bite to eat. It would be a long day. He’d been fueled by coffee and little else on too many occasions to know he’d end up crashing hard without a little nutrition. Eating right made a world of difference.
There was a blunt instrument to find, people to interview, and a couple of scenes to check out. They’d need access to her house. Hopefully, there’d be trace evidence to help solve the case. (a quick reminder of the case and what’s going on, without hitting your reader over the head)
Notifying family was always a grim proposition, but it had to be done.
Then there was the wooded area of the park. Could they have missed something? Anything?
They’d brought a search-and-rescue dog to the crime scene. The hound tracked her scent down the trail, but stopped abruptly at the parking lot.
Why didn’t they have video footage of the parking lot in this day and age? They’d check for surveillance footage at nearby businesses and see if any cars were seen going by late at night.
It was a slow process, and often times footage was looped over and erased after twenty-four hours. Or cameras were for show, a deterrent system not actually attached to a surveillance system.
Amanda tripped over Alex’s outstretched legs. He jumped to catch her before she fell.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I was distracted.”
“It’s all good. Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, fine.” She picked up the granola bar she’d been eating from the floor, and dropped it into the trashcan beside the bench. “So much for that.”
“My fault. I shouldn’t have sprawled out like I did. Let me replace that for you.”
“Not necessary. I have another in my locker. It wasn’t your fault. I wasn’t paying attention. I know better. I was thinking about one of my patients.”
“Lucky patient,” he said with a grin. (first indication of his interest)
Amanda’s cheeks flushed rosy pink. “Detective Ramsey, are you flirting with me?”
Alex gave her a schoolboy grin. “Guilty as charged.”
She smirked, then grew tongue-tied. Finally, she forced words out. “What brings you back to the hospital?”
“We found the identity of our victim from the other day. I was here to speak with Dr. Toma.” He couldn’t tell her who it was. Not yet. She’d find out soon enough.
“I heard about it. I hope they figure out who did it,” she said, oblivious to the fact that the victim was none other than her coworker.
“Yeah, a real monster. It takes a loathsome creature to do something so obscene,” he answered. Change the topic. Change the topic. “How are things in the ER today? It was busy the other night — chaotic.”
“Thankfully, quieter. It comes in spurts… A mad rush, and then nothing. With flu season approaching, we’ll see a lot of people clogging up the hallways, especially if it’s a bad year for it. Did you get your flu shot? They’re giving them out at the hospital pharmacy if you need one.”
“Thanks. Yes, I’ve had one.”
“Great. I hear it’s supposed to be a rough year and a bad cycle.” She gazed into his deep brown eyes.
Alex sucked in his gut out of habit, even if he was in good shape. His straightened his posture as she lingered in his presence. He took care of himself. Did she notice? (little things we do, without even thinking…makes it easy to relate to which makes us connect to the character more)
“You must be a saint to work around all these sick people. I couldn’t handle it. How do you not get sick?”
“I wash my hands about five hundred times a day,” she said with a wink. “Anyway, I’d best get going. My break is almost over.”
“It’s nice to see you,” he said. She was always a bright spot when he had to stop in at the hospital. St. Mercy Mead was rarely a stop for good news in his line of work.
He should have asked her out, but now wasn’t the time. He watched her ramble down the hallway and head back toward the emergency department.
Her hips swayed gently as she turned the corner. He lingered for a moment, then got back to the case at hand.
He’d need to talk to the administrators and some of Dawn’s coworkers. Had she talked about anybody or anything out of the ordinary recently? Was she afraid? Had she met someone new?
Even the smallest detail could lead them in the right direction.
A staff meeting was called in two groups. One covered the floor while the others were brought into the back to discuss the news.
“Detective Ramsey has something to say,” Lee announced. His gaze fell to the floor. It would be a shock to all of them. When Alex showed up with the latest findings… Heartbreaking.
He gasped on hearing the news. “No! She’d been missing from work, but I never suspected foul play.”
“Yeah, tragic news. I’ll need to gather her coworkers and ask a few questions. The sooner we handle this, the sooner I’ll be able to find answers.”
“Of course, anything you need.” Lee’s hand rested on his stomach, as if trying to settle the unrest. Few things made his stomach turn these days. Having worked the emergency ward couldn’t prepare him for something of this nature.
As news got out, details were filled in.
(this section is about transitioning to the next step, but you can’t simply jump over it, or it will feel like something is missing…when you want to learn how to write a long novel, it’s often in the details, descriptors, and subplots where you’ll add layers for both depth and to build length)
Alex stood before them. “I’ll need to speak with each one of you at some point. Lee has offered me the use of his office. He’ll arrange for each of you to come see me, one by one. Until we know more, we’re asking that you keep things as quiet as possible.”
The whispering started before they even left the room. When one group finished hearing the news, they switched to the other. Gossip bubbled in spurts at the nursing station. It was laced full of shocked and hushed tones.
Alex made his way to Lee Brock’s office to start the interview process. He should have grabbed a bite to eat while he had the chance. He’d talked to Amanda, got sidetracked, then found himself up in the administrator’s office. His stomach grumbled, reminding him he’d skipped lunch. Again.
“What can you tell me about Dawn Lewis?” Alex sat with the first of many he’d interview.
(Looking for novel writing help? Breaking down these scenes gives a good look behind the story. Keep reading to find out why certain things are added into longer stories.)
“She pretty much kept to herself,” the woman offered. “I didn’t talk to her that much. After all, it’s sort of like a caste system here. Doctors, nurses, aids, custodial, you know…”
“Do you resent that?” he asked.
The woman shrugged. “I do my job, I go home. I have kids to feed. I don’t get involved.”
“Was Dawn ever rude or short with you?”
She arched her brow. “You insinuating something? Look, Officer, I didn’t go getting mixed up in nothing nasty like killing someone. I’m here to do a job and I do it.”
“Do you know of anyone that might have had an issue with Ms. Lewis? Somebody that might have taken offense or wanted to do her harm?”
“I keep to myself. I don’t know nothing about anything. I push my broom, I clean up after these slobs, and I clock out.”
“Thank you for your time. If you think of anything that might provide useful, please contact me or one of my fellow detectives.” He handed her a card and had the next person come in.
(this shows there are multiple people who keep the emergency room running, not simply the doctors and nurses, and also shows that there were different perceived levels among them)
A solid man with a stocky build sauntered in. He wore scrubs much like the ones Amanda was wearing earlier. There was a color coding system in place so patients knew who was who based on the color of their uniform.
Surgeons wore teal scrubs or a white lab jacket when visiting patients, senior nurses and RNs wore navy blue, LPNs wore purple, and maternity staff wore pink. Therapists wore gray, and everybody else wore the standard, issued light blue with an imprinted logo of the hospital.
“Greg Stevens,” the nurse answered, then sat in the chair across from the detective.
“I’m with the Mason Ridge Police. As you heard earlier, there was a homicide. One of your coworkers was killed. I’m looking for any information you can offer. Who might have wanted to do her harm… Or if you knew of anything that came across as suspicious.”
Greg rolled his gaze upward. “Who didn’t have an issue with Dawn is more like the question. Queen Bee liked to let it be known that she was near the top of the chain, if you know what I mean.” (this is an “emotion” character, somebody who is a big reactor…with different types of characters, the play into roles that help move the story along…you’ll see this again later)
“Top of the chain?” Alex asked.
“She had seniority, knew more people, and had connections. All I know is that she got the shifts she wanted and the overtime she put in for. Only some of the chosen few are taken care of if you get my drift.”
“Sounds like you resented her position.” He watched Greg’s reaction with precision.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m shocked that she’s dead. I mean, the girl doesn’t show up for work for days at a time? Kind of out of character. She lived for the job. She always pushed for the adrenaline rush, wanting the biggest, most traumatic cases that came through the door. Fine by me, I’ll take the mundane little old ladies who complain and cough too much. Low drama suits me.” (interesting that he likes low drama, and yet, he’s the emotion character…good contrast)
“What else can you tell me about Ms. Lewis?”
“So, this is the case that made the papers, huh? I can’t even fathom what it must have been like. Do you think she was tortured, or more like she was already dead when they decapitated her?”
Alex measured his response. He was still angry that the paper let out more details than the police department wanted or even agreed to.
At least they didn’t mention the necklace. They liked to hold back a couple of details. It made catching suspects lying or witnesses enhancing bits and pieces of information easier to read. “How long have you worked with Ms. Lewis?”
“Couple of years at best. I transferred in from another hospital when I relocated with my wife. That must have been something to see, huh? I mean, I’ve seen a lot come in and out of this emergency room, but wow, that must have been something else.”
“Do you know of anybody who would want to harm Ms. Lewis?” Alex asked, steering the conversation back on track.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, obviously somebody wanted to harm her. Look, I don’t know what to tell you. You don’t think it was somebody she knew, do you? Somebody she worked with? Wow, I didn’t even think of that angle.”
“We’re looking at all options and potential leads at this point, but I’m not at liberty to speak about this in any more detail.”
“Sure, sure. Dear God, I hope they get the person. I mean, it’s not like we need some whack-job out there cutting peoples’ heads off.” (emphasizes again that he’s a reactor, we’re repeating this process so your readers associate him in this way)
“Mr. Stevens, if you think of anything that may be useful, please give us a call. Here’s my card. You can reach me anytime. I check my voicemail multiple times through the day if I don’t pick up. If you’d be able to send the next person in, I’d greatly appreciate it.”
He nodded, then stood. “Dirty, little secrets get people killed. I bet she had a dirty secret.”
Alex cocked his head. It was an odd thing to say before leaving.
When Amanda walked through the door, Alex smiled, pleasantly surprised. “We meet again.”
“I can’t believe what happened.” Her eyes were red and tear-stained. “I can’t stop crying. I’m trying to stay professional in front of my patients, but this is such big news.”
“I can imagine it was shocking to hear the news. I’m sorry it had to be the case, but sadly…” He let his smile fold. It might appear uncaring given the circumstances. (more aware of his actions, because he likes her)
“Is there anything you can tell me about your coworker that stands out? Had she had a falling out with anyone recently? Talked about a problem at home? Anything at all? Anybody you know that would want to hurt her?”
Amanda sat quietly before speaking. “It’s been a couple of days since she was last here, but I do recall her and Greg getting into an argument over a scheduling conflict last week. Normally, she blows things off easily, but he kept nipping at her and wouldn’t let it go. She finally had enough and laid into him. He was angry that she lost her cool with patients nearby. She’s usually professional and would have stepped aside, but it was another one of those busy nights.” (sets up Greg as a possible suspect)
“Okay, good information. Anything else?” He jotted a note on his pad. He couldn’t see somebody decapitating a coworker over a scheduling conflict, but if there was an ongoing issue of resentment that continued to build, the question became how long would it take for them to snap?
“I wish I could tell you more, but I really can’t think of anything. And the comment about Greg… He’s a nice guy. I can’t see him killing her. It was just a spat, you know?”
Alex nodded. “I understand. Did Ms. Lewis talk about her home life? A husband, a partner, or anything of that nature? Was there anything that she might have said that concerned you? Maybe an abundance of stress or money troubles?”
Amanda shrugged. “Not that I can think of. We talked pretty regularly, but…”
Alex pushed a box of tissues closer.
“Thank you,” she said, pulling one out, then another. The tears wouldn’t stop. “I’ve known Dawn for a long time, and just like that she’s gone. It’s such a shock. Whoever, whatever monster did that to her deserves to rot in Hell.”
It was an inappropriate time to notice, but the tears made Amanda’s blue eyes shine even brighter. Alex shook off the thought. Now was not the time to be noticing.
After they finished, he continued his line of questioning with the rest of the staff.
At the end of the evening, and between every interview, his mind went back to Amanda. Her dark brown hair had been pulled off her face and drawn behind her in a neat ponytail. He wanted to pull out the elastic band and watch her hair frame her face, then pull her in closer… (his attraction continues to grow)
Not now, old boy. She’s just lost a friend and coworker. Another time, another day.
Alex thanked Lee for lending him his office. “What about you? Is there anything you can tell me about Ms. Lewis? Anything that stands out?”
“I wish I could help more than I can. She was a great employee, warm and kind, and always at the top of her game. She was good about continuing her education, and her patients adored her. She always had a nice word and made them a priority.” He stopped, rubbed the back of his neck, then continued. He wiped a lone tear away. “I can’t believe she’s gone. I’m going to miss her.”
“Were there any odd relationships between the staff? Resentment, animosity over seniority or special treatment?” Alex asked.
“We treat our staff equally here, whether people choose to believe so or not. Some are more vocal about their complaints, but often they are perceived as being treated unfairly when they most certainly are not.”
“Had Ms. Lewis mentioned any concerns? Was she fearful of anyone, or have any patients that might have been upset with her? Or maybe stalked her? Had she said anything to you?”
“I wish she had. Then I’d be able to help you find who did this to her,” he said. “Honestly, I’m not sure what else to offer. If I think of anything, I’ll let you know.”
Alex handed him his card. “I appreciate your time, and I’m sorry for your loss.”
Lee nodded. As much as he wanted to take time off and let the staff mourn, life kept moving. The emergency room didn’t shut down, and more patients poured in. He’d need to deal with the shock of it all later. (important to note that this job moves 24/7, even with bad news….little time to mourn)
Cam Parker studied the latest report while waiting on Alex. He’d been talking with Bryce about the case, but was curious about the new information that might have surfaced during the hospital interviews. (we’re creating more bonding between the team of detectives and showing more of the solving process)
Alex walked into the room and tossed a paper bag onto his desk. His shoulders sagged as he dropped into his office chair. “I’m starving.”
“What’s for dinner?” Cam asked.
“Hoagie.” Alex tore into the sack and unrolled the sandwich from its wrapper. The Italian hoagie filled the room with a scent reminiscent of a deli. It was stacked thick with a mix of salami, ham, cheese, raw onion, vinegar, and other assorted goodies.
He pulled chips and a bottle of soda out of the bag, ready to chow down. Alex popped the top of his drink, drew a big swig, then slammed the bottle down. “I was going to eat before I started, then got off track. My stomach’s been growling at me for hours.”
“I looked at the report that came in,” Cam started. “I wonder where the suspect disposed of the victim’s body parts?”
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking on that. Would make it easier. When a body is intact, it can clue you into the suspects feelings or attachment to the crime or victim. Sometimes the killer disassociates themselves. Others want to leave a mark or a signature behind.” (important to do some research, so your story rings true. I read a great book on profiling by a former FBI agent which helped with the research)
“Ah, the modus operandi,” Cam said, remembering what he’d learned previously.
“The modus operandi is the special way they carry out the murder. His signature is something that matters to him. It might not be necessary for the murder, but it’s how he or she gets satisfaction from the act.” (shows I did the research, which is important for those who read a lot of books like this, shows I can be trusted to tell a story that’s not pulled out of thin air)
“Oh, right, you mentioned while they were similar, they were actually two different things.”
Alex took another bite of his hoagie. The monster in his belly took solace in his offering.
He wanted to transcribe his notes while they were still fresh in his mind. It was a long day, but he’d gotten something out of it. And for certain he’d go back and talk to Greg Stevens again. Was there more to their argument than was admitted? Had he let it go too far? Or was he seeking to punish her?
As he ate, Cam and Alex discussed what he’d learned, what different people had noted, and that only one person felt like a potential suspect. With not much to go on, he’d need to follow whatever lead he could.
“Do me a favor and see if you can find any information on a Gregory Stevens. See what we have on file. He works as a nurse over at St. Mercy Mead. Said he moved into the area after working somewhere else. Let’s get as much history as we can.” (Greg as a possible suspect, let’s look up info on him…confirms that the detective thinks he’s suspicious)
Cam nodded. “Will do.”
“I’m going to see about a search warrant. We need to go through the victim’s home and scrape together whatever other information we can pull from it. I’m hoping there’s something that lands us another lead. Now that we know who the victim is, we can put the wheels in motion.” (having a victim identity changes the investigation)
He wolfed down another bite of his hoagie, then chased it with his drink. After swallowing, he snapped his fingers. “Now that we have an ID, we need notify her next of kin.”
“Do you want me to make the call? Finish eating. I’ll handle it.”
“You don’t mind?” Alex asked. “Thanks, man.”
When all was said and done, Cam got the information and made the call to her parents. They were in Florida and hadn’t expected the news. Alex hated making the call. Nothing good came out of them, and hearing the pain coming from the other side was heart-wrenching.
“We’ve got a body, but missing body parts. We’ve got a pendant and chain. I’d like to try to track down where the piece was made and see if the jeweler recognizes the symbol that’s been engraved. It looks like a custom piece. Let’s put it under a magnifier and see if we can get a maker’s mark. We’re also looking for a blunt instrument of an unknown origin. Dr. Toma, the forensic pathologist, noted that the victim’s windpipe had been crushed by a blunt instrument. Then, we’re still scanning for video surveillance that might have seen a car near the park during the night her body was dumped. I didn’t see any shoe prints. I’d like to go back and try again, see if we can find something we might have missed.” (this reiterates what we know so far as a gentle reminder)
Cam nodded. “There’s so much to remember. Glad I have you and Bryce on my side.”
Bryce made his way back to the office. “Sorry I had to run out. Promised the wife I’d pick up the dry cleaning and I almost forgot. She’s got a meeting tomorrow. She would have been pissed if I didn’t bring her suit home. What have we got? Anything new?”
“Hen-pecked,” Alex teased. “Mustn’t make the wife angry.”
Bryce mocked a laugh, then deadpanned, “You’re a riot.”
“You saw the news about the windpipe? Blunt instrument. Something else to locate. I’m going to sweep her house tomorrow. I’ll put the paperwork in for a warrant before heading out. We desperately need another lead. I’ll be here late tonight. Any new information come in on the tip line?”
“Nah, nothing of use. People are afraid to talk if they know something. Wouldn’t you be? The killer decapitated the woman. I mean, what kind of savage beast does something like that? What were they trying to prove?” He shook his head, disgusted with the details.
“Yeah, haven’t seen something this bad around here for a while. Well, not this bad at all.”
“Oh! I do have something of interest for you, now that I think of it. I was going back through previous cases in and around the area, checking nearby counties as well. There was a suspect that Belmont was looking at. His name was Mark Abbott. Says he was a primary suspect from an unsolved case. While he looked to be their best lead, he was never charged. Not enough evidence. We might want to see what he’s been up to. Now, there was a different signature, but it wasn’t too far from here, and he could be back to kill again if he’s convinced he got away with murder before.” (another name pops up on their radar, but needed a reason…this makes sense)
“Good job. Yeah, we’ll look him up and give him a shout tomorrow. See if he’s been in the area recently, or if he has any connection to our victim,” Alex said. He turned toward Cam and pointed to Bryce. “That man taught me everything I know.”
Bryce smacked Alex on the shoulder. “And you didn’t let me down, at least not yet.”
Alex laughed. “Go home to your wife before she gives you a curfew for being late.”
Bryce gave a quick, one-finger salute, then turned to leave.
“You need help with those notes?” Cam asked.
“Nah, I’m good. Get some rest. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow.”
Alex spent the night going through the interview details and documenting what he could.
He stood to stretch his legs and made his way to the evidence room. (shows he’s a dedicated workaholic who will skip meals and work all night, character building)
He pulled the bin for their case and looked at the pendant they’d found. There was a P-shaped symbol on it with two lines going horizontally through the bottom of the P. What did it stand for? It was the only thing engraved on it. It wasn’t the maker’s mark. This was added after the piece was made and looked to be more of a personal thing. (we’re learning that the pendant will become an important piece of the puzzle)
Would it tell them more about their victim? More about the suspect? Or was it irrelevant, just a bauble that ended up at the scene of the crime but meant nothing?
Okay, so what do we have so far? While the first three chapters were about setting up the story and introducing the characters, these needed to bring the story forward.
If you move too quickly, it’s jarring to the reader. And leaving out too many details is frustrating. When you’re want to learn to write a novel, you need to slow your pace. You may need to add details after the first draft is complete to fill in areas you may have skimped over.
Find part 3 in the “How to Write Books” series here.
Looking for more help with character building? You may be interested in this article about how to create characters.
If you’re having trouble with your villain, here’s an article about tackling antagonist characters.