How To Write a Novel — Bully

Day 49 of writing my novel in public

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.

If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.

Day 49 — Bully

I have been thinking recently about stakes. One thing that is difficult when writing a novel is to make sure that the stakes are high enough for the characters, but the stakes are low enough for you to write.

Let me explain. Often when I help people with their books, the stakes for the characters are too low. If the reader is going to care about the characters, then they need to understand the motivation for the characters and what is at stake if they don’t achieve their goal. The stakes in the story need to build as the story progresses to keep the reader’s interest.

I’m at the point in my story where the evidence has convinced Charlie that Miasmus is behind the smelly thefts and has a grudge against his dad. But he cannot persuade Dad he needs to investigate. The stakes have risen as Charlie thinks Miasmus has a plan to harm his dad, and he will need to find out what that plan is before it is too late.

In contrast, I need to make sure when I sit down to write each day that I don’t make the stakes too high for my writing. I need to convince myself that I am only working on the first draft, and that I should not be too concerned with getting everything right. There is plenty of time to improve things after I’ve completed this draft.

So higher stakes for the characters in the story, but lower stakes for me when I’m writing.

Here are the story threads to include in today’s scene.

  • Sandy tells dad that misses him and will he feed the birds and tell them she’ll be home soon.
  • Dad asks about how Staghorn is treating them. Charlie says she helped him.
  • Charlie tells his dad that Miasmus is behind the thefts. He found the stinking corpse lily. Dad feeds it into the app but it comes back negative. Miasmus was always weird. The evidence is circumstantial.
  • Charlie tells his dad about the photo. His dad says he was part of a group that bullied Eric.

Against the clock

In order to complete my words for the day as efficiently as possible, I’m writing them against the clock. For the 750 words today, I’m going to set a timer for fifteen minutes and write until it goes off, repeating that three times.

Back on their own floor again, Charlie wasted no time in phoning his dad. He caught him about to eat an extra piece of toast for supper.

“I think we’ve solved your case,” blurted Charlie as soon as he answered the phone.

“Charlie, lovely to hear from you again. I was just thinking about you. How is that Staghorn treating you?”

“Great. She’s helped me with the cupcakes. And Sandy helped too.”

“Is she there? Put her on.”

Sandy had sat down next to Charlie and was scratching Woofy, who had just woken up, behind the ears. Charlie really wanted to stay on the phone but his sister hadn’t spoken to their dad since he dropped them off. He passed his phone to her.

“Hi Dad,” she said.

There was a pause whilst Sandy talked to Dad which Charlie used to try and think through what he would say when he got the phone back. He knew that his dad would need convincing that Miasmus was behind the crimes. He also wanted to know what had happened between Miasmus and his dad when they were kids to make Miasmus cover his face on the photograph. Why was that the photo on the bedside?

“I miss you too Dad. Please will you feed the birds while I’m away? Tell them I’ll be home soon?” Sandy passed his phone back to him.

“Dad, look I know who the smelly thief is,” said Charlie.

“There’s not been any progress I’m afraid. No more crimes, but I haven’t worked anything more out,” said his dad.

“I’ve made progress. That’s what I’m telling you. I know who’s behind them?” Charlie heard his voice rising.



“Look Charlie, I told you already, Eric is not a murderer.”

“I know. That’s not what I’m saying.”

“But you said there was a dead body?”

“That’s just it. It wasn’t a dead body at all, it was a plant. Miasmus has it in his bedroom. It’s a stinking corpse lily. The one that Professor Palmer told us was taken from the botanic gardens. It smells real bad, just like a rotting corpse.”

“So you think Miasmus is the thief just because he has the same plant as was taken?” His dad sounded sceptical.

“It’s not like it’s a common plant is it? It stinks so bad that no-one would want it in their garden.”

“I told you, Miasmus is weird. He’s the sort that would.”

“But it would be a huge coincidence if it just happened to turn up when one had been stolen wouldn’t it? It takes years to flower and then it is only last for a few days.”

His dad went quiet for a while, and Charlie heard the faint tip-tapping of him typing.

“I’ve fed what you’ve told me into MyPI and it’s come back inconclusive, evidence circumstantial.”

“But you could investigate at least?”

“Look, I think you’re getting too caught up with Eric. He’s just a nobody.”

“What happened between you at school?” said Charlie.

“What do you mean?”

“He has a photo on his bedside. A school photo of your class. There’s Miasmus, sorry Eric, and Mr Needem, and you.”


“He’s covered over your head with a sticker of an explosion.”

“Really? I told you he was weird.”

“He obviously doesn’t like you. You said you called him Stink Kerr.”

“Not just me, everyone.”

“But he didn’t put a sticker over anyone else.”

“We had a laugh, Eric and me. I teased him about his smelly sandwiches and his crazy hair. That’s all.”

Charlie took a deep breath. “You bullied him.”

“No. I didn’t. It was funny. Everyone laughed. Even Eric. And besides, it was years ago now. He’s probably forgotten all about me.”

“No, he distinctly remembered you when I first met him. I think he might still hold a grudge.”

“Rubbish. I think you’re reading too much into things. Just let it go. What does it matter now? Just work on your cakes and I’ll pick you up in a couple of days.”

After Dad hung up, Charlie sat and thought about everything. He still had a while until he needed to make that day’s cupcakes. Despite his dad protesting, he was pretty sure that Miasmus felt he had been bullied at school, and that his dad was to blame. That’s why he’d put that sticker over his dad’s face. An explosion. Was he planning something?

Also Charlie was convinced that the stinking plant in the penthouse was the same one that was stolen from the botanic gardens. Was Miasmus behind the other thefts as well? What did he want with all these smelly things? None of them would make great perfume, unless he was selling it to people with wanted to be given a wide berth.

He only had a couple of days until the cupcakes would be finished and he and Sandy would be picked up by their dad. But in that couple of days, maybe he could get enough evidence to convince his dad that Miasmus was up to no good.


Yesterday I reached the middle of the story and a turning point for Charlie. He went from having suspicions about Miasmus to being convinced that he holds a grudge against his dad and is planning something with all the smelly stuff he has stolen. This raises the stakes.

Total words so far 21,249.

Tomorrow I write the scene where Miasmus suspects Charlie has been in the penthouse.

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If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.

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