Dissecting Mira Grant's Into the Drowning Deep
This is going to be a little bit clinical and a lotta bit technical, but that's how dissections go – so deal with it.
(If it goes well, I'm turning it into a class. BE FOREWARNED.)
It may also take me more than a single session to write everything up, so you're going to have to deal with that too.
Luckily, books take a lot longer to rot than corpses.
Opening with the threat.
Both Into the Drowning Deep and The Poseidon Adventure – which I'm pairing first because they are maritime disaster stories and second because they have similar narrative structures – begin by announcing the threat.
Poseidon puts it in the very first sentence:
At seven o’clock, the morning of the 26th day of December, the S.S. Poseidon, 81,000 tons, homeward bound for Lisbon after a month-long Christmas cruise to African and South American ports, suddenly found herself in the midst of an unaccountable swell, 400 miles south-west of the Azores, and began to roll like a pig.
Into the Drowning Deep puts it at the end of the first page:
Then came 2015. The filming of Lovely Ladies of the Sea: The True Story of the Mariana Mermaids should have been routine. Imagine filled a ship with scientists, actors, and camera crews, and sent it out into the Pacific Ocean.
Communications were lost on May 17. The ship was found six weeks later, adrift and abandoned.
No bodies have ever been recovered.
What does this do?
By announcing the threat at the very beginning, the reader knows not only that SOMETHING VERY BAD is going to happen, but EXACTLY WHAT THAT BAD THING IS GOING TO BE and HOW BAD IT IS LIKELY TO GET.
The characters in Poseidon are unaware of the threat, which makes things interesting.
More interestingly, the characters in Into the Drowning Deep have had the opportunity to make themselves aware of the threat. They know what happened to the ship that went out in 2015 ("no bodies have ever been recovered"), but only one of them believes the same thing will happen on this voyage.
Why does this work?
Giving the reader more information than the characters works because it allows the reader to evaluate every character's decision based on WHETHER IT WILL HELP THEM DURING THE UPCOMING DISASTER or WHETHER IT WILL HURT THEM.
It also allows the reader to start rooting for THE CHARACTERS THEY WANT TO SURVIVE and THE CHARACTERS THEY HOPE WILL GET EATEN BY MERMAIDS.
It may even allow the reader to imagine themselves among the research team. Would they be the person who boards the ship believing that they'll prove the existence of an apex predator, send video footage to the mainland, and then get eaten alive? Or would they be the person who packs sophisticated weaponry and uses neuro-linguistic programming to ensure the crew will follow her lead when disaster strikes?
Can I steal it?
Sadly, no. This technique will not work for THE LARKIN DAY MYSTERIES because I've chosen a third person limited point of view. We only see what Larkin sees, and we only know what Larkin knows. This means that I cannot begin MURDER ON THE NERD CRUISE by writing:
This would be the cruise's thirteenth voyage. While most nerds would argue that maintaining any actual belief in superstition (as opposed to retaining various practices in order to sustain a connection with an irrational culture [and there are plenty of rational reasons to walk around ladders and open umbrellas outdoors]) is simply a failure to understand the relationship between correlation and causation, the trip would prove to be a very unlucky sailing – especially for the passenger who would end the trip without her head.
She would also die, of course – as generally happens when one's head is severed – but for most nerds, the disconnection from one's own mind is the greater fear.
It would be a very different book, if I could begin it that way (and if I literally began it that way [with the nested parentheticals] it would be much harder to read) but I've already established that we only know as much as Larkin does, so I can't.
Can I steal something like it?
Yes. I can have Larkin notice things, in the very first chapter, that DO NOT BODE WELL. This will make NERD CRUISE different from the previous Larkin books, because I tend to spend the first few chapters HAVING FUN TIMES WITH THE CHARACTERS WE KNOW AND LOVE.
But we want NERD CRUISE to be better than the previous Larkin books.
We also want Larkin to be a better amateur detective.
All of which leads me to believe that SHE SHOULD SEE THE THREAT FIRST.
That way, you get to see it first too.
(This is going to be an extremely useful exercise.)
(I will continue.)