How To Write a Novel — Dead Body

Day 40 of writing my novel in public

Photo by jessica rigollot 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 40 — Dead Body

I’m starting my writing early today, which is my best time because I’m a lark, the early bird hoping to catch the worm.

In the story, Charlie, Sandy and Woofy have just arrived at The Smell Tower and are being installed in their rooms on floor 97. Miasmus makes time to come and greet them, down from his penthouse level on 101, and Charlie sees he smells like a dead body.

This scene sets up the next couple of sequences. First, there is Charlie trying to bake 10,000 cupcakes for Miasmus for next week, and how Staghorn will help him with that. Then there is the investigation into why Miasmus smells like a dead body.

These are the story threads I need to include.

  • Charlie ‘sees’ the smell of a dead body on Miasmus. He recognises it from one case his dad worked on.
  • Charlie asks Sandy, “Do you smell that?” but she can only smell his aftershave.
  • Miasmus has Boo, but Kay is resting because she ate something that disagreed with her delicate stomach — a cactus.
  • Miasmus needs ten thousand cupcakes making for the next week. Charlie questions Miasmus about why he wants the cupcakes, but he says to wait and see.
  • Sandy wants to see the zoo, but doesn’t have time to ask.
  • Charlie tells Sandy he thinks Miasmus is up to something. She offers to help, but he tells her it is not safe and to stay out of his way.

Against the clock

To keep my fingers moving on the keyboard, and prevent me from getting distracted, I’m writing against the clock. In order to write 750 words, I’m going to work in three fifteen-minute bursts.

Staghorn led them out onto the ninety-seventh level, and a long corridor. Doors led off it at regular intervals, and she stopped outside one of them and pressed an electronic key against a keypad. It clicked open.

“This is yours, Sandy. The key will open the door, but if you forget it you can also type in the password which is written on the key.”

Sandy took the key from Staghorn and ran into the room, followed by Woofy and Charlie. The first thing that struck Charlie was the size of the window. The entire wall in front of them looked out onto the city laid out below. They were high enough up that they could see out to their own suburb, though it was too far away to pick out their own house.

The room had a large bed with pale blue silky sheets and a giant television fixed to the wall opposite. Charlie went through a door into the bathroom which had a huge bath in the centre with a rose-headed shower above it.

“Where’s Woofy going to sleep?” asked Sandy.

“That’s why you’re in this one,” said Staghorn, “It’s the pet suite.”

She opened what Charlie had thought was a wardrobe to reveal a separate doggy-cubicle. A round bed with a soft blanket lay on the floor. There was a separate area with a water trough and feeding bowl. In the opposite wall was a push-up door that was just the right size for Woofy to go through.

“Where’s this go?,” said Sandy, getting down on her knees and pushing the door up. Charlie could see green grass through the gap.

“There is a small garden out there for Woofy to get some exercise and do his business, though I suggest you take him to the doggy-gym on floor 59 for a proper workout.”

Woofy lay down on the bed and shut his eyes.

“Maybe later,” said Sandy.

Next, Staghorn showed them next door, which was Charlie’s room. It was similar to Sandy’s except instead of the pet suite there was a small kitchen.

“Miasmus thought you might want to experiment,” said Staghorn. “Tomorrow I’ll show you the kitchen level where you’ll be working.”

Charlie’s stomach gave a little jolt. He’d never baked anywhere except the kitchen at home with his own bowl, whisk, and other equipment. Would he be able to get the same results in a new kitchen?

“Where do we eat?” said Sandy.

“There’s a restaurant on floor 7 that is open for meal times, but you can also grab snacks along here.”

She led them back along the corridor to the end where it opened out into a large space. On one side a collection of chairs sat in a rough circle — bean bags, tall high-backed seats, a hammock and what looked like a church pew. On the other side was a computer screen and a small hatch.

“You can order what you would like from the screen, and it comes up in the hatch. Just don’t open the door until the green light shows, it’s as fast as the lift and you may lose your fingers.”

Sandy jumped onto the hammock and set it swinging just as someone else entered the room. Miasmus was wearing the same white suit as always, but Charlie saw a different smell to him. It rose like dirty yellow fingers crawling up and over his body. A memory of something similar stirred at the back of Charlie’s mind.

“Welcome, welcome, honoured guests of The Smell Tower. I’m glad to see you’re making yourselves at home already,” he said.

Sandy turned to see him and flipped the hammock, landing with a bump on the floor.

Miasmus held Boo in his arms, stroking him behind the pink floppy ears.

“Where’s Kay?” said Sandy, sitting up.

“She’s resting. Unfortunately she ate something that disagreed with her delicate stomach, didn’t she Boo.”

Boo squealed in agreement.

“What did she eat?” asked Sandy, just as Charlie was thinking the same thing. He thought that pig could eat anything.

“A cactus,” said Miasmus, coming properly into the room and handing Boo to Staghorn.

Charlie took the moment to whisper to Sandy, “Do you smell that? He smells kinda funny.”

“He always smells funny,” Sandy whispered back.

Charlie moved closer to Miasmus, trying to get a better sniff of those yellow crawling fingers.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here to greet you personally, but I’m rather busy preparing something special. I’m not at liberty to tell you exactly what, not yet, but Charlie, you are going to be an important part of it.”

“Me?” said Charlie, taking a deep breath in.

“Well, your cupcakes at least. I need you to make enough, and that’s not a small request. Staghorn, how many do I need?”

“Ten thousand, four hundred and sixty two,” she answered, “That’s to give a 3.2% margin.”

“Ten thousand?” said Charlie, his brain swirling.

“Yes. So you can see, you are going to be very busy, starting tomorrow. But for today, I just want you to settle in, so I’ll leave you to it. Staghorn, can you please go check on Kay for me, I don’t like her not eating for so long.”

Staghorn set off back down the corridor and Miasmus followed her.

“I’m going to feed Woofy too,” said Sandy.

“One minute,” said Charlie, “You didn’t think Miasmus smelt weird?”

“He always smells. I don’t like his aftershave. I try not to breathe through my nose,” she said.

Charlie shut his eyes and searched his memory for when he’d seen those strange yellow curling fingers. An image came to him and he went cold. It had been the case when his dad had been investigating the dead body. The smell was almost the same, yellowing fingers crawling upwards. In that case it had turned out to be a dead possum under the house, its body rotting away unnoticed.

Maybe that’s what this was too. A dead animal. Charlie wanted to believe that’s what it was, but his instinct told him that it wasn’t the same. That maybe this time it was a person.

He grabbed his sister’s arm as she was leaving.

“Hey,” she said, trying to shake him off.

“I think Miasmus is up to something,” he said, “Something bad.”

“What makes you think that?” she said.

“I just smell trouble, that’s all.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“Let me worry about that. You just stay away from him, okay?”

“But I can help you,” she said.

“No. It’s not safe. I don’t know what he’s up to but I need you to keep your distance until I do. Promise you’ll stay away from him.”

Charlie’s fingers dug into his sister’s arm, trying to make her see he was serious.

“You’re hurting me,” she said.


“Alright, I promise,” she said. He let go and she walked away, rubbing where he’d held her.


Today’s scene went longer than I was expecting at 1,152 words, but that is fine. It is important to set up some tension in the story and I want the reader to fear what might happen to Charlie and Sandy.

Total words so far 13,230.

Tomorrow I write the scene where Charlie tries to make his cupcakes.

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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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