Down with the ship… A breakdown of the 5 biggest mistakes I made in my third manuscript~! (~Part 2~)

Hiya~!! Great to start another week with you!

Before our usual post though, I just wanna promote here my latest release—a song that’s kind of a mix of soothing, cocktail piano with the backing of a Chinese percussion ensemble-! (=^▽^)σ

It will 100% not fit, but who knows—it might be a great accompanying track as you read this! Though it’s definitely not that relaxing…

Heh- enough promotion—If you’ve clicked here, then you’re probably here for…

“Always wrong to the light…”

If you missed my previous writing post, then here it is~! I discussed my third ever manuscript here, some of its plot, characters, and setting, and also what I feel I did right-!

But as with anything… There’s always another side, isn’t there?

Now to be honest, a lot of the mistakes I committed here are similar to my errs from my first two manuscripts—so I’ll try to speed past those, and go over some more-interesting problems I think we could have fun looking at, yeah-?

So—Of all my problems with this manuscript, here are the five I feel really dragged my work down!

1. Punctuation…

So- I forgot which post it was, but I remember saying once that English education here is… a bit questionable (^^;;

It works well enough, but especially given what I know now, I feel like there’s a lot that rigid curriculums and repetitive lessons can’t exactly teach—and when it comes to writing fiction, this kind of misstep becomes a lot more obvious…

My punctuation nowadays is basically this—more for tone, emotion, and impact than really getting it right!

But that wasn’t something I knew too well back then…

Take this short chat for example:

…yeah this is kind of a goldmine of amateur mistakes (*´∀`*)

For dialogue ending with question marks and exclamation marks, I really did think writing a comma after the quotation mark was right—I don’t like the notion of language having an absolute “correct version” of course, but writing it like that doesn’t:

  • have any stylistic effect.
  • have any emotional effect.
  • showcase any kind of character.
  • make any kind of statement.
  • even look good…

And that’s my problem here—I love breaking rules, and I thoroughly believe you can break anything as long as there’s a good reason! But when there isn’t a point, then for me, it goes from a creative decision to… welp, a mistake (-.-)y-., o O

Same point with the way I used quotation marks inside the quotation marks—I heard the conventions for this actually differ between American and British English?

Although what I did was neither of those, so again—my bad ( i _ i )

2. Nonsense plot!

So there’s a concept in literary criticism called the Idiot Plot—a plot which, basically, only happens because everyone involved is an idiot~

I share my view with a lot of people’s in that: this isn’t necessarily bad, because a plot doesn’t have to be complex and cohesive to be entertaining, yeah?

But at the same time, it’s like the wasabi served with sushi—when you commit too much to an idiot plot, things get really dumb really fast…

I briefly talked about my book’s plot last time, so here’s a more specific rundown of what exactly happens!

Everything on the first hours of the cruise goes alright for our protagonists, Gideon and Lucia, but things take a quick turn when a brawl breaks out, with a drunken passenger assaulting Harlan Milford, another person our protagonists briefly encountered.

Hours pass, until an alert goes out across the ship: the drunken passenger, Mr. Hammond, was found dead after being detained!

yes I broke tense again in that first paragraph… I promise I’m better at this now~!

So… would that twist interest you-? Because personally, I still think it’s a pretty-effective, if expected, way of progressing this kind of thriller!

And from here, more and more strange things begin occurring:

  • A random passenger is arrested and detained for the murder without any clear evidence or closure as to what actually happened.
  • On the second day of the voyage, several passengers fall ill after consuming a specially-brewed alcohol, with performing pianist Terry Hartley suddenly accused of and detained for allegedly tampering the batch.
  • Early morning on the third day, Thomas McClellan, a struggling alcoholic befriended by the protagonists, disappears from his cabin, only to be found bloodied and unconscious in a bathroom. Though the doctors describe his condition as non-serious, they refuse to let him leave the sickbay for the remainder of the voyage.
  • Animosity begins growing amongst the crew, with some paranoid over the situation, but others seemingly calm, as more and more passengers get unwittingly involved in the plot.
  • The protagonists begin discovering ammunition hidden around the ship, eventually followed by reports of a break-in at the armoury, where several firearms were taken.

And all of this eventually escalates into the plot twist of the book!

Three of the security staff, alongside the Captain, are sympathisers of a recently-disavowed Nationalist extremist group, and they’re planning to stage a massacre on the ship to send the government a message.

…yep it’s- kind of ridiculous…

First of all, I’m not particularly familiar with militaries in general, but aren’t there vetting systems and background checks and what not that keep these extremists out of their ranks-?

Not to mention a funny inaccuracy—British cruise ships don’t even have armed security! At least that’s what I was told by one of the three forum users who helped me out~

So already, this idea of a terrorist mass shooting on a British cruise ship is not just a bit tone deaf, but also… basically implausible, which in all honesty is great news!(^∇^)

Now okay, maybe I could’ve gotten away with this through suspension of disbelief, but I didn’t do a particularly good job either tying all these sudden events together—For me, reading it now, it really does feel like everything just came one moment after another after another after another after another-

T-There wasn’t any cohesion or structure… and that brings me to our next major problem:

3. Structure

Normally, this is the part where we rant against discovery writers / pantsers—but personally?

I find a lot of the fun in writing to come out of my plots just unravelling before me, and I’ve had many, many examples of happy accidents just occurring!

My personal favourite comes from my 5th book—which I’d love to talk about in the future—where a character named Kara Calienne joined the main ensemble cast of six initially as a guest for one area.

Then I ran into a problem…

None of the main characters knew how to sail a boat, and the guy who’d done that for them previously had just been assassinated—only Kara could fill that role.

So, she not just tagged along for the rest of the book, but basically became the main protagonist of the second and third instalments!

And among all my characters, she’s still one of my favourites—so hopefully, hopefully I’ll get the chance to talk about this series next time!

Now what differs here is that, for that book, I had an idea on the overall structure: the protagonists travel across six islands in the hopes of uniting them against a looming threat, so each arc was basically one whole journey across each island!

But for this book…?

There wasn’t really any arc or structure—things just happened, the protagonists went along with everything, until the very end when the climax happened and they were finally forced to act.

This is how I ended Chapter 4, and I think it shows this lack-of-structure problem well: events keep happening, and happening, and… yeah they just happen—there wasn’t even an escalation: it started with an assault, then a murder, then multiple attempted murders, then… well it just dipped until the massacre began.

Speaking with Jennings didn’t go anywhere by the way—he just updated them on even more things that happened-!

It’s less like my protagonists were causing events to happen and more like I was just throwing challenge after challenge at them that they simply resigned to, which can work, but when every challenge is like a roll of a dice… well, how can I really expect my readers to feel any tension-?

Personally, I do think that the shooting section wasn’t all that bad—but that only came about after… 200 or so pages-?

Like if anyone read to that point, they may as well just use that level of patience to become a monk… m(_ _)m

4. Character Agency…

So I’m sure all of us writers are familiar with the difference between passive and active characters!

Among those who definitely didn’t know that difference though was my past self…

My plot’s cycle was basically this: something happens, my protagonists try to investigate, something else happens that cuts them off, they get distracted, and repeat…

They were trying to investigate the situation, but the mystery never unravelled itself until they were being shot at by four guys—so the entire 200 pages worth of set-up could’ve happened without the protagonists ever being involved!

a scene from the attack…

When I was editing this after I finished it first, I was really confused as to why my protagonists felt so uninteresting and uninvolved while others like Thomas or Harlan or Atwood or the guards all felt like actual people in my universe…

Looking back?

I really feel like this is why I felt that way—They weren’t doing anything to advance the plot, so I felt like I was watching things through the eyes of bystanders instead of actors (^^;;

Now like I said… Passive characters can definitely work—like they’re everywhere in older works—so why did mine turn out so poorly?

5. Genre Research

So this whole time, I’ve described my work as a thriller…

Heehee~ Wow did I not know what a good thriller was…

Did I love the genre? YES! 100%

But that didn’t necessarily translate to me being able to write it well—and a lot of that was just down to the fact I didn’t know what made the genre so good!

~the moment right before Townsend and Lång go movie-villain mode~

My point about the active protagonist is one such example—generally we have pretty-active characters with intuition and motivations in this genre, but mine didn’t really have either of these…

Their only real interest was survival, which again can work, but in this context… well, it basically means they contributed nothing to my plot…

This was a comment I got a lot when I asked for feedback for this book—it really didn’t feel like a thriller because, not only was there very minimal tension for like the first 80 pages, but my protagonists also didn’t take much initiative to find out what was going on…

I really didn’t know how to build up tension until something bad was already happening… and if I’d actually analysed how thrillers did this before writing, I probably could’ve written this so much better…

“Whatever it was lay there at the bottom…”

So~ my titles for these sections are all lines from one of my personal favourite English poems: For Once, Then, Something, written by Robert Frost.

For me, his poem’s always gave me the image of someone unable to break out a cycle to see some hidden truth, instead only seeing something under the ripples—something they miss seeing every opportunity they get…

I thought this was a pretty good metaphor for the conflict in this book, so I opened the story with the last four lines of Frost’s poem!

Ironically enough, this poem now reflects me too, doesn’t it~?

I was too caught up in writing this action-packed crime-filled “thriller” that I completely forgot what made thrillers so fun in the first place…

My largest mistake, to put it simply, was thinking I could write a book without knowing what made one good.

I didn’t know why us today prefer reading active characters, I didn’t know why structure was so important, I didn’t know why setting up tension was so important…

You know, in the end, I still had a lot of fun writing this!

I’m still emotionally-fond of this book, and I have no regrets about writing it, but realistically?

I think very few people would enjoy this, and even I don’t like the finished product, because all of those mistakes added up into a manuscript that had spirit but not skill ♪( ´▽`)

It’s not until now that I can confidently break down my old work like this, but back then, I did feel like something was off… so much so that I actually gave up editing because I couldn’t stand the book anymore ☆*:.。. o(≧▽≦)o .。.:*☆

I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be a better use of my time to try and read something new to refresh my mind on what makes a good novel?

I ran through a lot for April and May of 2020 as I just searched books for inspiration, both old and new, but there’s one novel among them all that left quite an impact on me…

And hopefully, some time soon, we can just relax a bit and reflect on that~

For us writers out here, I’d love to hear how your early novels went, and whether they succeeded or not!

I remember one advice I read often which was to never expect our first novels to ever be published, and I didn’t listen to it at the time, but nowadays… yep, I see where that comes from ψ(`∇´)ψ

See ‘ya tomorrow, and all the love to you~!

2 thoughts on “Down with the ship… A breakdown of the 5 biggest mistakes I made in my third manuscript~! (~Part 2~)

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