A few weeks back, I released Ruination on Amazon. If you enjoy thrillers with mystery and psychological elements, check it out!
As I had mentioned previously, there were some aspects of the first draft which didn't sit right with me, but I couldn't figure out what. To help me out, I hired four beta readers. To say the least, they were a huge help! From logical flaws in the plot line to issues with my writing style, it felt like I came out of that experience a much better writer.
One of the most important lessons I learned from this novel is the importance of payoff. My original plan was to not spell out anything for the reader at the end of Ruination. The answers would be there in the story, but only as subtext. This was not a popular decision with the beta readers, and after some time to let criticisms digest, it made sense to me. See, even in an open-ended conclusion, there are at least some answers given to the reader/viewer/player etc.
In previous blog entries, I've gone into detail on one of my favorite horror movies, The Thing. At the end of that movie, we are left to wonder if one of the two remaining characters, MacReady and Childs, have been assimilated by the thing. This sort of paranoia-driven movie lends itself well to an ending like that. It leaves the viewer wondering. But now imagine if the movie never revealed any of the characters who had been assimilated by the monster. That would make the ending annoying because the movie never told us anything!
This was the mistake that I made. The most common feedback was not giving readers enough answers. I still didn't want to give everything definitive away, but did compromise by revealing about half of the mysteries which had previously been secrets in the first draft.
Ruination was also a turning point for my writing abilities. While I was happy with the previous three books and their incremental improvements in my writing style, I feel that this was the biggest step up. What was holding me back, you might ask? For one, confusing perspective shifts. There are some parts of novels which I really don't think about while reading them. One of those aspects are breaks. These are usually lines to separate bodies of text within the same chapter. They exist to indicate that some time has passed or that the perspective has shifted from one character to another. My previous books struggled with the latter; it's part of the reason why I've been thinking about re-working/re-writing them, but I'm still on the fence. With so many character perspectives and constant switches, I think that scared away some readers.
My other issue was with an overuse of elegant variation. This is when authors try and use synonyms for words that they already use often. When done an excessive amount, however, there's another name for it: Inelegant variation. I was doing this for descriptors of my characters. I'd come up with several "nicknames" for each of these characters and sprinkle them in so I wasn't just saying their name all the time. I didn't often see this in other novels I had read, but chalked that up to a stylistic choice. The thing is, though, that introducing a bunch of nicknames for one character is asking the reader to remember far too much.
I ended up settling on one alternate descriptor for most characters and instead using pronouns more often. My fear with having something like "he said" to end a piece of dialogue had been that the reader might not realize who the narrator is referring to. But over time, I realized that it was usually obvious, and even in times where it wasn't, I could pick my spots on using pronouns.
The above issues might seem small, but they made a world of difference with the quality of Ruination in my opinion. I feel confident in how it's written. The question is whether the story holds up. I have to admit that the original intention was for there to be far more of a psychological aspect to the story. Lots of self-doubt and confusion were to be in store for our main character. But as I wrote, it seemed logical to me that there would be a mystery element, too. If Felix believes that someone is messing with his potential cancer cure, surely he'd want to know who it is. I couldn't just skip over that part.
And so there are three genres at play here: thriller, mystery, and psychological. The question is whether they were mixed well enough, and did I give enough answers to satisfy readers? Part of the reason I switched to working on this novel was to take a break from the Dark Savior Series. That way I could come back feeling fresh. But at the same time, I'm hoping Ruination has a bit more mainstream appeal and catches on with more readers. I've loved working on the Dark Savior Series, but I know that tackling 500 page dark/epic fantasies can be a tough sell for the common person. A 350 page thriller, though? And the plot is based on real-life science? I feel I could get new readers this way.
So then, what's next? My first thought was to try advertising on amazon and potentially facebook, but I feel that it's too soon. I would like the follow-up novel to this story, Decimation, to come out first. I am unsure how much overlap there would be between thriller readers and those who enjoy dark fantasy, and what I've learned is that advertising only makes money when you've got a reader interested in all of your work, not just the book you're advertising. So, something more closely related to Ruination should be released before I take advertising seriously.
I call it a follow-up and not a sequel because Decimation is not about Felix or the cure for cancer. It instead focuses on a company that is introduced late in Ruination called Deo-Tec Solutions. Our main characters try to figure out who these people are and what interest they might have in the cancer cure, but they're in a time-sensitive situation and never figure it out.
Decimation, then, will go into detail on Deo-Tec Solutions and the inner workings of the company. It's still a thriller with mystery elements, but without the psychological aspect. The reason? This novel aims to answer many of the unsolved mysteries in Ruination. I don't plan on specifically pointing these answers out, but rather, events will happen in this book and my hope is that it'll give readers an "Aha!" moment where they can understand certain events that had occurred in the first story.
Interestingly enough, reading Ruination will not be required to understand what's going on in Decimation. For that reason, I hesitate to call it a sequel. I think my plan at the moment is for the whole thing to be an unofficial trilogy. Ruination is about the cure for cancer, Decimation is about a mysterious company called Deo-Tec, and then the last book would bring it all together.
But I suppose I could go into more detail on Decimation and its developments in a different blog post. For now, I should get back to writing it.
Overall, I'm satisfied with how Ruination came out. Time will tell if it holds up, but for the moment, I'm happy with the strides I've made!