As the title says, I have just completed the first draft of Ruination! It has been an interesting journey, to write a Psychological Thriller. In this post, I want to go over some of the difficulties I've had with the story and what I feel needs to be done in the subsequent edits.
Ruination follows Felix, Director of a Cancer Research Facility at a university. He believes that his team is on the cusp of finding a cure-all for cancer, but when that news is leaked to the media ahead of time, he begins to suspect a rat in his midst. His paranoia is further compounded by little things in his life going wrong. He begins to suspect corporate espionage is afoot; carried out by a rival pharmaceutical company called LaoCare.
Our protagonist's university and the pharma company have hedged their bets on two different (and real) methods for treating cancer. Felix and his team are studying a method called CAR-T. In layman's terms, this method would find T cells in a person that are shown to destroy cancer cells, train them to attack those cells using a harmless virus, then duplicate many of those T cells before injecting them back into a patient to kill the cancer. In the real world, CAR-T is a viable method for treating cancer, but only for "non-solid" cancers like Leukemia. There have been recent developments, however, which show that it may indeed be the key to ending cancer once and for all. Only time will tell!
LaoCare, on the other hand, have sunk heavy development costs into mRNA. No doubt, you've probably heard about this from the COVID vaccines prevalent today, but did you know that it was originally studied as a potential cure for cancer? It's still being studied for that today, in fact. The idea behind this treatment is that proteins are created by an artificially made strand of RNA injected into a patient. The mRNA then instructs the immune system to create anti-body proteins to fight whatever specific threat that it was designed to recognize. This process is a bit less involved and with potentially less side-effects compared to CAR-T, but unfortunately it still requires chemotherapy in a patient.
Both feel like viable treatments for cancer to me, and that was an element of realism which was important to me in this story. My previous three novels had been heavily leaning into fantasy, while in Ruination my hope is that people can picture the events of the story happening in real-life.
This ties in to the first difficulty of writing the story: Making it feel plausible. It's not just the cancer cures themselves which concern me. I did enough research where after a while I felt comfortable talking about them. It's the process of developing these treatments, how teams work on them, and how they are tested which kept me on-edge while writing. Those nitty gritty details which are not often talked about in articles.
I ended up having to watch some random youtube videos to see what research facilities look like and what kind of equipment they had. Another funny thing I did was look into the staff of some prolific universities in cancer research, just to see what their job titles were and what those jobs entailed.
Something else which wasn't 100% clear to me in the beginning was how clinical trials for a cancer treatment would be handled, and who would handle it. My initial assumption had been that the FDA would handle it, but no, that is not the case. It's more like they view the results of the trial, handled independently most of the time, then give their recommendation based on their own findings.
Due to some of my misconceptions on the above, I'll have to go back and make edits to most things in the story which involve clinical trials. I had even written out a portion of the story where there's supposed to be this big hand-off with 'FDA officials'... pretty funny, looking back!
But the real struggles for me (And what I'll really need to focus on in editing) is how much detail the story goes into in regards to our protagonist's paranoia of everyone in his life. If I give too much information, it'll feel like overload from the perspective of readers; or worse, it will make things obvious and boring. On the other hand, giving too little information will make any twists feel unearned, or readers will just feel confused.
Nearly all characters who Felix interacts with early on in the novel become suspects. Thinking back, I'll probably need to add a few potential motivations of suspicious behaviors for a few of the characters that ended up taking a backseat. I want it to feel like anyone could be the culprit. Or no one at all.
Another concern of mine is how readers will react to new developments later on in the novel. At first, Felix's suspicions are limited to who may have leaked his team's cancer cure to the press. Without spoiling anything, though, more suspicions are layered on top of this from about the halfway point of the story and on. I don't want readers to feel like they're being jerked around all over the place, but it is supposed to reflect our protagonist's state of mind. Whether what is happening to him is due to someone else, bad luck, or his own doing, it's meant to feel like a wild ride. One where it's difficult to tell exactly what is going on.
To summarize, the balance of clarity and vagueness is going to be important in this edit. I can already think of a few times where I was too direct with how something was described. There were also a few times where I focused too much on one piece of evidence or a character acting suspicious.
On top of all of this, I want to shorten the final word tally. I'm currently at about 93,000 words. My original goal was 70,000-80,000. Part of the reason I overshot that total is because I got a bit carried away with the ending. Again, finding that balance of vague and clearness is tough, so the last couple of chapters ended up being long. Wrapping a paranoia-driven story up is difficult for me. I want there to be just enough where people draw their own conclusions.
Shortening the story by at least 13,000 words while adding some important pieces of information is going to be difficult. My hope is that re-reading the manuscript will help clear things up for me; help me understand what's truly important to the story and what can be taken away. I guess we'll see. If worse comes to worse, I don't mind overshooting my word total goal. As long as the final product is good!
In the meantime, I've been thinking a lot more about the Dark Savior Series. As much as I'd like to get back to it, though, I think what I'll do is work on the sequel to Ruination, which is already six chapters in. I also have another fun project in mind that I'm hoping will materialize by next Spring/Summer, but we'll see. With that said, I would like to sneak a few Dark Savior short stories in between all of that. I'll go into more detail at a later time, but the idea would be to help fill in some blanks of the series.
But either way, stay tuned. There's a lot of exciting releases on the horizon!