Monday, December 22, 2014

Writing Prompt For The Holiday: Non-Festive Version

You get tired of family after too much time together, but if you closet yourself away for an hour or so to escape, you'll get squirrelly without something to keep your mind occupied. It's escape you're looking for, so how about finding that escape in the making of a story?

This prompt is for the mystery writer looking for an historical setting. Which means you'd better bring some kind of computer-related device with Internet access along when you claim you're just running out to find a liquor store that's open late on Christmas Day. If there's a full supply of alcohol, then make an excuse about some bargain you have to take advantage of at some local emporium that's running a sale for the last of the last minute shoppers.
The unmarked grave in the desolate woods of Wisconsin

The setting for this story you are about to write is Wisconsin, in the 1920s. And it's winter. There's nothing like winter in Wisconsin to set a mood for action that is cold and callous. Cold-hearted murder fits with a snowy scene, a little showing that helps to keep you from too much telling.

A pregnant girl leaves her family home in the dead of night. Her family does not know that she is pregnant, but she's six months gone and the baby bump is going to be impossible to disguise before long. She writes her family a little letter so they don't worry, but then they never hear from her again.

There is a boyfriend in the picture, of course, a boy from a wealthy clan who has been seeing this girl whose own background is one of hardscrabble farming. He's a suspect from the start, but he says he knows nothing. In fact, he claims he was at a dance the night that his girl went missing. As if it is all just a sad mystery, the boy returns to college and gets on with his life, for a few months at any rate.

Start your research here. This is a real case, with a real mystery that has yet to be solved.

Clara Olson was murdered but the killer has never been found.

Was it a murder-for-hire case, in which the boyfriend feared that his life would be ruined if he was forced to marry the girl he impregnated? Did his family help him escape from what they saw as a scheme concocted by a gold-digger?

Erdman Olson went underground after charges were filed against him for murder. Back in the 20's it was not all that difficult to disappear, to start up again with a new identity. His parents had the means to give him a fresh start.

There's all sorts of narrative arcs that a writer could create. Tell the story from Clara's point of view, perhaps as if she is speaking posthumously. Explore Erdman's emotions of fear, a la AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, but with bootlegging thrown in to add that element of tension as he runs from the law and falls in with hoodlums.

You have far more than an hour's worth of writing to keep you busy while the rest of your extended clan go about whatever it is they like to do on Christmas.

Just don't forget to come back with something to solidify that lame excuse you used to get out of the party in the first place.

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