The Discovery Channel Program that Inspired My First Novel that Was SUPPOSED to Be About Mermaids
Suppose someone told you to think about the title of a book, a movie, or even a play that you’ve seen, then simply tell them what the plot was. Chances are, after giving it some thought, you’d realize that there really wasn’t just one simple plot. It’s not unusual for even the most definitive plots that are easy to recognize, to have several little subplots. There’s rarely just one plot, but somehow, all the little intricacies of the subplots must all come together and all be resolved. They should also never overshadow the primary plot. But knowing this in theory, and accomplishing this as a writer, are two different things.
When I started writing my first novel, the inspiration to write about mermaids came to me after viewing a highly popular docu-fiction one year. It caused me to start formulating a plot for the novel I always wanted to write. But I soon learned that writing things out the way I saw the story in my mind wouldn’t be as easy as I thought. Before I knew what was happening, I ended up with a runaway plot. The following is a brief summary of events about how the plot for my book got away from me. Hopefully, reading my experience might help other writers avoid similar mistakes.
The airing of a television program called Mermaids: The Body Found was the primary inspiration for the initial plot being created in my head. Controversy surrounding the topic of mermaids at the time was only a small part of why millions of people were said to have tuned in on the night it aired. Many who watched were mermaid skeptics who resented the topic even being considered on a reputable science channel like Discovery.
Based on one related article on the Discovery website, the network did very little to back down, although the show did more than make inferences. Not only did it seem to give credibility to the possibility of the existence of mermaids, but they even pushed the idea that it was more like a probability. As far as Discovery.com is concerned, Mermaids: The Body Found can be described as:
“…a critically acclaimed science-fiction special that blends real-life events and phenomena with the story of two scientists who testify they found the remains of a never-before-identified sea creature.”
For a writer and mermaid lover with a highly creative imagination like mine, watching Mermaids: The Body Found was like having an epiphany. That night, the primary plot inspiration for my future mermaid book was born. I loved the idea of combining the topic of mermaids with some kind of scientific experimentation. I felt it would make for an awesome sci-fi, fantasy novel.
Later on, I tried to reflect this in my title and book cover when I called my novel “Experimenting with Murder.”
As you can see on the cover, the word “murder” is like an overlay over the word “mermaids”. The mermaids made the fantasy believable and being on an island automatically brings to mind an adventure. The sci-fi element of the story was the experimenting on the mermaids, and even the use of the word murder in the title was fitting. Not only were the experiments murderous to the mermaids, but an actual homicide also takes place on the island.
“Experimenting with Murder.” is currently unavailable to the public until I make new revisions, but you can get more background details about it when you read my book profile story.
Mermaids and Beached Whales
Once I convinced myself that I was finally ready to embark on such a challenging writing journey, I didn’t waste any time getting started on my novel. Not only was I inspired by the mermaids in the Discovery Channel show, but I was also motivated to take advantage of the timing. Thanks to the show, for one reason or another, mermaids were on the minds of millions of people. But so was another topic, also courtesy of the Discovery broadcast.
The subject of beached whales came up during one portion of the show. These events were a regular occurrence that researchers attribute to underwater sonar testing. The negative effects to the whales was mentioned during the speculation about unknown creatures from the deep being disturbed and driven to the surface by man. What was happening to the whales in certain areas was already all over the news, so the mention of it in connection to the mermaids brought even more awareness. I first published my mermaid book in 2014, and to this day (2019), the whale beachings are still a problem, particularly in the New Zealand area (like seen in the photo).
While doing a little preliminary research about the problem before I actually started writing the book, I learned facts that drew me to my own conclusions on the matter. Discussions that insist on the major role that human beings play in the whale beachings are more than mere speculation. That is why my initial vision for the plot of my book included a rather lofty goal. Even though I was writing a work of fiction, I wanted the book to bring more awareness to the problem of whale beachings.
Plot Development Issues
According to a conservation group called Project Jonah, as many as “…300 dolphins and whales end up stranded in New Zealand.” When I found out that so many of these incidents occur in an area called Farewell Spit, I really became intrigued. I was determined to figure out a way to use this information in the plot development of my story. I learned a little more about the location and injected those facts into the story.
Sad to say, the problem persisted, long after my book was eventually published. Three years later, a story in one of Medium’s publications called @StrandedNoMore shared some insightful details on this very topic. The number 13 item listed in Top 2017 Cetacean Stories is all about additional New Zealand whale beachings.
During the course of my writing, once I actually sunk my teeth into it, different challenges came up as I worked on developing my plot even further. It was hard enough trying to write and complete my first real work of fiction, after writing non-fiction for so long. Making and perfecting that kind of transition can be really hard for a writer. But on top of that issue, I had to deal with another challenge. If I wanted to add an element of scientific fact, I couldn’t just wing it. I either had to commit to lots more (and tedious) research on the sci-fi elements, or abandon that aspect altogether. I didn’t particularly like either of those options.
Lost Book Inspiration
Looking back on things; after I’ve had years to contemplate the mistakes I made as a first-time novelist, I realize that I unknowingly lost my original book inspiration. Once that happened, as I continued to write, my characters took the logical courses of action, based on the new direction the book was going in. The various character traits consisting of instances of jealousy, adultery and homicide, were never part of the original story plot in my head.
My new runaway plot ended up being responsible for a whole new series of problems, challenges, and first book issues. Most of those issues were never resolved, thus the reason for my future plans to do a total rewrite. But one thing I was able to do was to keep my mad billionaire scientist character. I don’t know how I pulled it off without actually getting into any real science or scientific theory. Oddly enough, I think I did a pretty good job of handling the generalities. Unless a diehard sci-fi fan is reading the book, the story will fly. The same holds true about the element of fantasy. Readers who regularly read and enjoy fantasy might call me out on the book, due to the lack of certain elements. Now that I understand this crucial point, I stand a good chance of being able to correct it.
That about concludes what I wanted to share on the subject of plot and maintaining your plot development. This is not to say that it is necessarily wrong to change your plot and take a completely new direction. If that is what you have a mind to do, and your creative juices are directing you in that way, I say go for it. But be aware of what is happening, and don’t just allow the direction your book takes to be dictated by a runaway plot.
If that starts to happen and you don’t realize it, pretty soon, everything is out of your control. You may or may not end up with a fairly good book, and maybe even a really good book that turns into a best-seller (I wish). But for sure, you won’t end up with the book you were first inspired to write. If you can live with that fact, then it’s all okay.
Would you like to know what was the end result of my first novel when I finally completed it? Well, the book does contain mermaids and also the mention of beached whales on Farrell Spits; but I later realized that it was not enough mention of either topic. So one of the first things I plan to do when I finally start rewriting this story is to decide on a plot that I can and will stick to, and not lose focus, no matter what.