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underthecity
05-12-2010, 05:23 PM
My current WIP is a YA thriller. The MC is a 17 year old high school girl.

Four years ago, before the story takes place, she and a friend accidentallly committed murder and got away with it.

In that scene, she and her friend, a 13 year old boy, were "fooling around" in a remote outdoor area. They had their clothes off down to their underwear and were pretty much "heavy groping." A park ranger arrives and catches them and is about to call it in to HQ when the boy kicks the 2-way radio away and knocks the man to the ground. The man's head smacks against a rock and he passes out.

Believing they've killed him, they get dressed and are about to leave when the man comes to. Fearing jail or worse, the boy takes a rock and smashes the man's head. They then bury the body and leave.

Pretty horrible stuff.

How would this affect the MC? The boy is leaving town the next day, so this was supposed to be their last night together, so he doesn't reappear until now when the present story begins. He's got to be pretty screwed up, but MC doesn't know how screwed up that is.

And the story doesn't follow the events that took place following the murder, but the murder did go undetected (body was never discovered). So, we don't get a feel for what she went through in the days/weeks/months following the event. We only see her now, four years later. Since the event, she has put on weight. Also, she doesn't dwell on the murder--in fact, for story reasons, the murder scene won't be revealed until maybe 2/3 of the way into the story.

(I'm also toying with the idea that all this time, she believed her friend did the final killing. In fact, she's repressed the memory that in fact she picked up the rock and dealt the final blow.)

Thoughts?

OneWriter
05-12-2010, 06:27 PM
I once heard a psychiatrist give a talk, he had been working at a juvi jail. It was a while ago, so I forget the details, but the one thing that I remember vividly is that he talked about this kid who killed both his parents and the one thing that bugged him the most was HOW LONG and DIFFICULT the killing had been. He had it all planned out. He had watched movies, lots and lots of movies and vide ogames, and from all that he had gathered that it would have been dirty and quick to kill his parents. Instead the two folks kept screaming and fighting -- the doc didn't give out gory details, but you can imagine... The kid didn't feel much guilt. He just felt it should've been quicker and easier. So, the psychiatrist's conclusion was that today's generation is completely disconnected from reality because of all the virtual reality (TV, computers, etc) they live in.
I know yours was a brief synopsis, but when I read your murder I actually thought of this because your crime too sounds a little too easy... I mean this guy they kill must have had some training in fighting, and two kids, he would easily subdue them, wouldn't he? I'm not saying it's not possible, but taking into account what I said before I would highlight the struggle more.

underthecity
05-12-2010, 06:40 PM
Onewriter, there's a big difference between the two scenarios.

In your example, the kid was a psychopath and had carefully planned the murders. He was surprised it took so long to do, in spite of his planning.

In my example, the murder was completely spontaneous. The victim was totally taken by surprise, and the actions were fueled by fear and adrenaline.

The kid in your example felt no remorse because it was his intention to kill. The MC in my example never would have done anything like it.

Perks
05-12-2010, 06:48 PM
I would think it's a question with no answer. Whatever reaction you want her to have could be supported by her processing of the event. Written well, I would believe that she's blocked it out almost entirely, that she's depressed or suicidal, or perhaps turned into a manic over-achiever in atonement... She could have become sexually promiscuous or, conversely, extremely virginal, associating sex with the crime. She could have nightmares or anesthetize with drugs and alcohol or have reworked the whole story in her mind to load every bit of responsibility onto her ex-boyfriend, she may have become an excuse-machine.

This sorry world that's been created for her is her oyster. She can do whatever she(you) wants.

Julie Worth
05-12-2010, 07:04 PM
You might look at Martyn Pig, in which the plot gets going when the young protagonist kills his father. It's more of an accident, but with his subsequent behavior, it seems likely that no one would believe him. Is he torn up with guilt? Not exactly.

underthecity
05-12-2010, 07:05 PM
Perks,

Thanks for the comments. I've thought about her having blocked it out to the point where she remembers none of it. But I didn't know if that was possible.

I mentioned above that I thought about placing this scene 2/3 of the way through. I've been thinking about opening the book with it instead. Think that might work better?

OneWriter
05-12-2010, 07:10 PM
Onewriter, there's a big difference between the two scenarios.

In your example, the kid was a psychopath and had carefully planned the murders. He was surprised it took so long to do, in spite of his planning.

In my example, the murder was completely spontaneous. The victim was totally taken by surprise, and the actions were fueled by fear and adrenaline.

The kid in your example felt no remorse because it was his intention to kill. The MC in my example never would have done anything like it.

I still think there's no such thing as a "spontaneous murder": the minute the guy wakes up and the boy picks up the rock, he has made his decision. A park ranger is a usually a fit person, trained to deal with bears and cougars, so no fight in this contest doesn't ring true to me. And also, the decision of the boy to pick up a rock and kill the guy like that reminds me of video games and action movies, which fits, because that's the reality these kids live. So, yes, you're right, the juvi kid was a psychopath, but it is true that kids now a days are more exposed to violence, and that such exposure is misleading because there is no consequences attached (in action movies people die fast and without suffering much and you never see the emotional consequences). So, in response to your original question, I think one of the things they would be facing would be exactly that: how killing in real life is truly different from anything they had seen in the movies or playing video games. That's what I meant to say. In real life, even when you are not caught, you pay the consequences of what you've done. Relationships break apart when you're sharing such a burdening secret. Every word that is told to you has a different weight, the boy might start interpreting a harsh word from an adult as a hint that they may know something even though they don't, things like that... certainly the two teens would no longer trust one another and live in fear tat one has potentially betrayed the other or might one day...

Perks
05-12-2010, 07:11 PM
If you're going to have her block it out, I would suggest you ring up a local shrink to get a little insight on repression. Of all your choices, that one seems to be falling out of pop-psychology fashion somewhat. Some mental health professionals have spoken out against the idea of convincingly repressed memories. And do keep in mind that any of those other reactions I listed could be screening behaviors, outlets for the stress of trying to lockdown something as important as this.

As far as where to start, this scene sounds like it has "hook" potential, but I don't know what you have there now, so it's hard to say if it's better.

DavidZahir
05-12-2010, 07:26 PM
Seems to me the range of how a character might respond to this situation is nearly as broad as humanity itself!

A lot would depend upon the specific details. Were they truthfully enjoying the experience up until the Ranger showed up? How exactly did the Ranger react? The spot where it happened--did it have any meaning to them before that day? How was the body found and what was the aftermath? What kinds of families did these kids come from?

As for repressing the memory--I don't know for certain, but I am skeptical of those who say this never happens. At the very least it seems possible that a child might make herself not think about those events, or might well tell herself it never happened often enough she might come to believe it (some folks are quite suggestible that way). Either way, this is bound to prove a huge distraction during the teenage years as this person begins to turn into an adult.

At the very least, I might expect someone in this situation to have very strong reactions to privacy and/or any hint of sexual touching. Exactly what those reactions might be are, again, varied. It could be anything from becoming a recluse to hating to be alone anywhere. Likewise this person might become frigid or develop some kind of fetish or might come to re-define themselves in some startling way. The central character in Elizabeth Moon's Once a Hero endured a childhood trauma, something that wasn't supposed to happen to "good girls" in her culture. In the wake of events, some part of her mind decided she wasn't a girl and her interests focused on a military career, because among her people this was a decidedly masculine profession. She also developed a few dislikes and phobias based on the visceral reaction to sensory details--the smell of straw for example, that left her disliking horses.

All kinds of questions come to mind. Might other of these children on some level desire some kind of punishment? Have they projected something onto their victim to "justify" what happened emotionally, which has in turn shaped their world view? Methinks it likely one or both might find being surprised by someone in uniform especially upsetting. How have they been brought up to view law enforcement? Sex? Their own bodies? Death?

GeorgeK
05-12-2010, 10:50 PM
If somebody kills out of the spontaneity of the moment, it's probably something that they have in some fashion rehearsed previously. Yes, we are ultimately at least recently descended from predators, but, most "normal" people would run instead of attack, (probably because our ancestors were more prey than predator).

Basically what I'm saying is that your dude is warped and sooner or later your MC is going to see it. (well she should at least unless she's a total moron and those generally don't make for compelling characters)

underthecity
05-13-2010, 04:33 PM
I appreciate the feedback, and have decided that I'm really overcomplicating all of this, especially for the characters' sakes.

So, I've made a few alterations, but the basic scenario is the same. Just no outright killing this time.

The two characters go to their remote spot (which is on the side of a mountain, BTW. It's like a big outcropping, park-like setting).

They're near the edge, by a bush and big rock, doing their thing.

The park ranger arrives flashlight in hand, comes up to bush as her boyfriend is trying to get her clothes back on. But that's not what it looks like. The ranger, a man in his 60s, starts to call on his 2-way radio when the boyfriend kicks out at the radio, hitting the man, too. The man loses balance, falls, smacks his head on the big rock.

The two hastily get dressed, but the MC doesn't just want to leave. The man might still be alive. But neither has a phone on them, and they must find a payphone. They leave, find a phone, call 911.

The boyfriend leaves the next day, the MC is racked with guilt. The man is in a coma, eventually he dies.

So, this changes things somewhat. Instead of outright killing the man, the death is accidental. And technically, they got away with murder.

So, this scene should work dramatically, especially as the prologue to the book. Then in chapter 1, when the boyfriend returns, they can discuss it when they meet.

jclarkdawe
05-13-2010, 05:32 PM
First off I had no problem with your original scenario. People die hard sometimes and people die easily sometimes. Being knocked to the ground and hitting a rock can kill someone. And if the ranger isn't paying attention, then a teen boy, especially someone with a background in physical sports like football or hockey, could easily knock someone down.

I've met people who have committed murder and saying that there is any sort of predictable response isn't reasonable. And saying that from the facts presented above about the boy who killed his parents that he is a psychopath/sociopath isn't warranted. He may be, but there are several other diagnoses out there, all of which play out subtly differently.

The response to murder isn't different from the response to other events in a person's life. If you have to justify to yourself why you slap a bug, then you'll have problems with a murder. If killing bugs is a sport to you, you're probably not going to have as much problem in killing a human. And if you can't kill a bug, you probably won't be able to kill a human. (For those who want to get picky, this example has some serious limitations, but I'm trying to keep this simple.)

Decide what is the basic psychology of your characters. Then think how various acts (including murder) would affect them. Some questions to ask yourself about them are:


Would they help a little old lady across the street?
Would they return $10,000 that they found?
How do they approach a dog that they don't know?
How fast do they drive when they are worried about the cops versus how fast do they drive when they know no cops are around?
If they could cheat at a game of cards, would they?
How would their friends describe their honesty? Absolutely honest, fundamentally honest, honest, honest most of the time?

Work on developing even more. As you develop the answers, you'll start to see how your characters will act. Realize that the range for murderers can be from guilt, with some PTSD, to bragging about it. Complete denial, from several different psychological reasons is possible. Justification can play a part in this.

What does your plot need and who are your characters is the answer to your question.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

underthecity
05-13-2010, 06:06 PM
First off I had no problem with your original scenario. People die hard sometimes and people die easily sometimes.
. . .
What does your plot need and who are your characters is the answer to your question.

After reading the responses in this thread, and considering the kind of book I wanted to write (and am in the process of writing), I decided the original scenario was setting things up for a different kind of book.

Having the characters actually intentionally kill the man would have drastically changed characterization in the long run. Now, the man is knocked out because the characters were engaged in doing something naughty. When they leave, they're pretty sure he isn't dead, so he should be okay. But that's not how it turns out.

This sets up the notion that the MC gains weight and is afraid of developing relationships. Meanwhile, the boyfriend returns to town and wants to rekindle the relationship they used to have, and becomes jealous when someone else shows interest.

The "murder" is important because of a supernatural element that happens later in the story. Another character will try to do some black magic on or around the spot where the man was knocked down. What he's trying to do requires a blood sacrifice, and that was the ideal spot for him to do it, and best of all, he doesn't have to sacrifice anyone himself.

DavidZahir
05-13-2010, 09:48 PM
Nice twist!

And I do find it believable that someone might develop a bit of weight problem after the events you've described (hardly the only response, but quite reasonable). I find myself curious about the boy and how he has reacted.

underthecity
05-13-2010, 11:35 PM
David,

Thanks for saying so! This was character backstory I had to nail down as soon as possible because that experience will affect their actions and dialogue for the rest of the story. If I had added it later, say a hundred or more pages from now, it would have required massive change throughout.

Regarding the how the boy was affected, I'll be figuring that out soon.

RJK
05-14-2010, 12:08 AM
I appreciate the feedback, and have decided that I'm really overcomplicating all of this, especially for the characters' sakes.

So, I've made a few alterations, but the basic scenario is the same. Just no outright killing this time.

The two characters go to their remote spot (which is on the side of a mountain, BTW. It's like a big outcropping, park-like setting).

They're near the edge, by a bush and big rock, doing their thing.

The park ranger arrives flashlight in hand, comes up to bush as her boyfriend is trying to get her clothes back on. But that's not what it looks like. The ranger, a man in his 60s, starts to call on his 2-way radio when the boyfriend kicks out at the radio, hitting the man, too. The man loses balance, falls, smacks his head on the big rock.

The two hastily get dressed, but the MC doesn't just want to leave. The man might still be alive. But neither has a phone on them, and they must find a payphone. They leave, find a phone, call 911.

The boyfriend leaves the next day, the MC is racked with guilt. The man is in a coma, eventually he dies.

So, this changes things somewhat. Instead of outright killing the man, the death is accidental. And technically, they got away with murder.

So, this scene should work dramatically, especially as the prologue to the book. Then in chapter 1, when the boyfriend returns, they can discuss it when they meet.

Why didn't they use the Ranger's radio to call for help?

underthecity
05-14-2010, 01:47 AM
It got broken when it was kicked.

OR when it was kicked, it tumbled off the cliff.

JulieHowe
05-14-2010, 04:03 AM
You might want to read a book called Little Girl Lost, written by Joan Merriam. The book is a true story about two teenage girls who commit a heinous murder. At the time, under California law, a defendant had to be sixteen years old at the time of the crime to be charged as an adult, so these two little darlings, fourteen and fifteen years old, really did get away with murder. The scenario is different from the one you want to write about, but this book offers great insight into murders.

Ann Rule's If You Really Loved Me offers a more sympathetic portrayal of another teenage female murderer. I recommend both books.

Captcha
05-14-2010, 05:16 AM
Depending on the intended audience, you may need to be a little more careful about your use of the word 'murder'. It has legal significance - in most jurisdictions, as far as I know, it means that there was intent or at least serious carelessness. In this case, I guess you could say it was felony murder, if that exists in the jurisdiction, and if the assault on the ranger was deliberate. But if it's truly an accident, it's not murder.

underthecity
05-14-2010, 06:35 AM
In my original scenario, it was murder.

Now it's been changed to an accident.

Captcha
05-14-2010, 02:14 PM
In my original scenario, it was murder.

Now it's been changed to an accident.

Yeah, but you were still saying "technically, they got away with murder" - if it's an accident, then technically they didn't get away with murder. And in the first description, you were calling it an accident, even though the character bashed the guy's head in with a rock.

I know it's not the main point of your post, but, you know...words matter!

ElsaM
05-15-2010, 08:08 AM
It got broken when it was kicked.

OR when it was kicked, it tumbled off the cliff.

Or they panicked and never thought of using it. That would add to the guilt, if having to find a phone box meant there was a delay in him being found and treated.

I like your new scenario. I know other people have different preferences, but I think it would easier for me as a reader to have some sympathy for the mc if she hasn't deliberately killed the park ranger.