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Dissecting Mira Grant's Into the Drowning Deep, Part 2

Making every character fully human (even the mermaids).
Dissecting Mira Grant's Into the Drowning Deep, Part 2

We started dissecting this book last week; let's continue.

Building realistic, sympathetic characters.

Into the Drowning Deep works because of the scientific research that anchors the narrative – a story that floats just above reality, let's say, and a predator that swims just below – but you don't turn the pages to see what's going to happen to science.

You turn the pages to see what's going to happen to the characters.

(I'd say "the people," but a few of the characters in this story are distinctly not human.)

There are a couple of different ways that Mira Grant, aka Seanan McGuire, could have navigated her cast of researchers, doctors, bounty hunters, and dolphins. The more typical way might have been to divide them into Good and Bad, spend as much time as possible with the Good, and view the Bad from a distance.

We've read these kinds of stories before. "How bad they are," think the Good Characters, as they observe what the Bad Characters are doing without asking themselves why they are doing it. "If I do not think, loud enough for the reader to hear me, that they are bad, a Goodreads reviewer is going to accuse me of not calling out their behavior."

Grant takes the less typical – and more interesting – path of spending time with everybody. We learn each character's motivations, as well as enough of their backstory to understand how they developed the systems and patterns that drive their interactions with the world.

Then we watch them act in accordance with those patterns.

Then we see the results.

What does this do?

By developing each character equally, Grant avoids dividing the cast into Good and Bad. Instead, we are allowed to see each character as a Rational Actor. We understand why a person does something that might be considered Bad. We also see why the person might not believe their actions are Bad – or, if the person does understand that what they are doing is likely to hurt someone else (and/or the larger goals of the voyage), why they might believe their actions are justified.

Why does this work?

By developing each character equally, Grant allows us to form our own opinions of their behavior. More specifically, she allows us to draw our own conclusions between their motivations, their actions, and the results of their actions. This makes her book both more thoughtful and more interesting. It makes her readers more thoughtful as well.

Can I steal it?

Absolutely. I've already started.

When I wrote the first LARKIN DAY MYSTERY, I ended it with one of those classic-but-cliché scenes where the amateur detective and the murderer confront each other. Larkin, the detective, is clearly on the side of Good – and the murderer is so clearly on the side of Bad that I might as well have him twirl a moustache and say "Nyah ha ha! I thought I'd never get caught!"

(This would be Cozy Bad, by the way. Hardboiled Bad would have fewer moustaches and more guns, and Thriller Bad would actually use the guns as intended.)

By the third LARKIN DAY MYSTERY, I had figured out that these kinds of stories were more interesting if the cast wasn't so neatly divided into Heroes and Villains. There's a scene, in SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK WITH MURDER, where a character that you might consider reprehensible explains why they did their reprehensible thing – and then, if you are reading as carefully as I tried to write it, the character's actions become comprehensible. Not forgivable, but understandable.

Which makes the character less Bad, overall – and more human.

It also makes the character more dangerous to the reader – because if they are human, and we are human, then we could make the same comprehensible-but-reprehensible decision someday.

I'm taking the reader even closer to this kind of danger – the unexpected self-reflection, you might say – as I draft MURDER ON THE NERD CRUISE, the fourth LARKIN DAY MYSTERY.

Larry has already said "Wow, this book is darker than the first three."

He's also said "That's exactly where this story needs to go."