Matthew Graybosch
a cynical idealist, sf author, and full-stack developer

Mistakes I Made While Writing My First Novel: Without Bloodshed

Looking back, I made a bunch of mistakes while writing Without Bloodshed. I’m not saying my own novel sucks, but it could have been better. I think I made mistakes both at a structural level, and within many of the novel’s chapters and scenes.

Everything after this point is going to contain spoilers.

Alex Kingston as River Song in Doctor Who
Alex Kingston as River Song in Doctor Who (a BBC production)

Seriously, people. This is your last chance to hit the back button.


Table of Contents


Ready? Good. You see…

A promise to those who solve the Lament Configuration, from Hellraiser

Structural Mistakes in Without Bloodshed

I think the main source of this novel’s problems lie in my attempt to weave together too many parallel plot threads into one 100,000 word novel. For those not familiar with the book, here are the plots I’m talking about:

  • the disappearance of Crowley’s Thoth founder and violinist Christabel Crowley, and attempts by a local police inspector to frame vocalist Naomi Bradleigh for the presumed murder
  • industrial espionage concerning devil-killer rifles implemented by Nakajima Chihiro and her refusal to mass-produce these weapons
  • Alexander Liebenthal’s takeover of the city of Boston and his public charges against the Phoenix Society in general and Morgan Stormrider (one of the Society’s agents) in particular
  • Morgan Stormrider’s desire to get out from under the Phoenix Society’s control due to his realization that by serving them he is betraying his own ideals
  • the end of Morgan’s romance with Christabel Crowley and the beginning of a new romance between him and Naomi Bradleigh
  • attempts by Isaac Magnin and other members of the Phoenix Society’s founding cabal to test Morgan and his friends to determine if they can be used to destroy a Sealed Evil in a Can
  • attempts by an Sealed Evil in a Can to get out of the can
  • fallout from a duel between Morgan and an old friend and rival returned from the dead and apparently gone over to the enemy

Any one of these would have made a good novel. I might have been able to justify combining two or three into one novel. Instead, what did I in my hubris do? I decided to cram them all into a single novel, and to try to keep that novel’s length as close to 100,000 words as possible. I managed it, but only by giving some of these plotlines short shrift.

That, and I wrote Christabel Crowley’s disappearance so that it looked like a fridging. Careful readers will figure out in Chapter 1 that her death had been faked, and it should be obvious by the end of the novel, but that doesn’t excuse or justify my choice. I knew better, but I thought it was necessary, so I did it anyway.

Furthermore, I provide the reader no rationale for why a character like Isaac Magnin, who is capable of manipulating weather systems and creating artificial bodies convincing enough to use to fake a murder, would have anything at all to do with a rock violinist like Christabel Crowley. Are they related? Are they lovers? Does she have dirt on him? The reader has no way of knowing, and that’s my failure. It would have been better to save her disappearance for a subsequent novel that shifts from the political (Morgan struggling to generate good propaganda for his bosses so they don’t throw him under a bus) to the personal (Morgan’s relationships with Christabel Crowley and Naomi Bradleigh).

In addition, many of Without Bloodshed’s problems are problems of characterization and plotting that did not become apparent to me until after I had written and published Silent Clarion. Since the latter was a prequel, many of the problems I’ll list below are what I’ve come to call “continuity breakage”.

Let’s get into more detail as we go chapter by chapter.

Mistakes in Without Bloodshed by Chapter

This is going to get a little complicated. I want to provide a comprehensive examination of the flaws in each chapter of Without Bloodshed without belaboring each point. If I went into exhaustive detail, nobody would want to read this. I’ll list the high points first, and then provide additional detail.

Chapter 1: The Unforgivable

  1. This isn’t the right first chapter.
  2. Naomi should not be so polite to Imaginos.
  3. Imaginos is not as smart as he thinks he is.

This isn’t the right first chapter.

This chapter begins the “Disappearance of Christabel Crowley” plotline that, as I explained above, doesn’t work as part of Without Bloodshed because it takes the focus away from the consequences of Morgan Stormrider’s actions and depends too much on characterization I haven’t provided.

The reader doesn’t really know Christabel Crowley well enough to care about her, nor does the reader have any idea why Imaginos would want to kill her or fake her death. Apparently this is to push Stormrider into action, but Ashtoreth isn’t buying it.

This is nothing but a fridging right now. It would work better as a sequel to Without Bloodshed once we’ve set up more character relationships and given readers a reason to care about why Christabel would want to disapear and be desperate enough to trust a wizard like Imaginos.

Naomi should not be so polite to Imaginos.

This is an issue that didn’t become apparent until after I had written Silent Clarion. Naomi recognizes Imaginos as “Isaac Magnin” and greets him with courtesy, but her courtesy is too warm and open. This could perhaps be blamed on her not being fully awake, and perhaps on holiday-season generosity since this chapter is set on the night of the Winter Solstice, but any reasonably intelligent woman should be at least a little wary of a man who shows up at her door bearing an unconscious woman in this arms and saying that somebody had slipped her a mickey.

However, as of Silent Clarion, this characterization is nonsensical. Naomi knows Imaginos. She knows he’s a demon, and used to know him under his previous alias as “Ian Malkin”. Imaginos bought her silence by promising her that she would get the opportunities she needed to support herself as a performing musician, but the stick matching that carrot is that she would die with her name blackened if she ever tried to expose Imaginos and his involvement in the Phoenix Society.

This being the case, there is no reason Naomi should be kind to Imaginos, let alone courteous. Her response toward him should be fear, suspicion, and perhaps even long-simmering and barely restrained hatred. At the very least, she should have come to the door armed – perhaps with the sword Imaginos had given her during the events of Silent Clarion, a sword that might be the true Starbreaker.

Imaginos is not as smart as he thinks he is.

You’d think that for a mastermind capable of orchestrating the collapse of human society and then rebuilding it in the backstory, he wouldn’t be such a schmuck once I get him on stage.

Mistake 1: Magic affecting Naomi Bradleigh’s short-term memory isn’t going to stop her from remembering how he fucked her over almost twenty years ago. At most it might cloud her memories this encounter so that she thinks she’s had a nightmare. Imaginos should know this. He should also know that Naomi has no reason to be kindly disposed toward him.

Mistake 2: He doesn’t know Morgan Stormrider as well as he thinks he does, even though his plans hinge upon his understanding of the guy’s psychology. First, he thinks framing Naomi Bradleigh for the Christabel Crowley murder might get Morgan to come after him. Why? I didn’t explain that to the reader.

Mistake 3: His actions have resulted in the deaths of billions, and he’s going to balk at faking one person’s death? Why? Just because he knows her personally? Did I show this? Of course not. That’s shitty characterizaton on my part.

Mistake 4: Why would Ashtoreth show up now, and risk compromising Imaginos’ operation? All of her concerns about whether this is the best way should have been resolved already. This is just an excuse for Imaginos to infodump about how he’s got Morgan on strings, dancing to his tune.

Long story short, this entire chapter was a mistake.

Chapter 2: No Refuge Even In Audacity

  1. The protagonist is still offstage.
  2. Too much worldbuilding and infodumping.
  3. I think I used to work for Karen Del Rio
  4. Shouldn’t Morgan’s bosses know about Alexander Liebenthal already?

Chapter 3: No God Stands Defenseless

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22


Thanks for sticking around this far. I don’t know how many authors bother to go over their own work like this, let alone publish the results, but I did this because I thought it would help me do a better job of writing new Starbreaker stories.

If not, maybe posting this will at least help other writers avoid my mistakes. Please feel free to share it. Don’t forget to “like, follow, and obey.”


Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or constructive comments, please email me. I may reply directly to you, or if I think your message might be of interest to other readers I will answer with a new blog post.