In the world of fandoms and Internet forums there exists a term called “SHIPPING.” Chances are good you already know this means supporting a relationSHIP between two characters in a book or TV series. Character SHIPs are a thing. Everybody knows this, apparently. I did not. Not until well after my first book was published.
It was then that I stumbled upon* a forum conversation about my novel that went something like this:
Reader: This book was really good! Just a little disappointed in the lack of SHIPs.
Friend: Aw, I was thinking about reading that one. No SHIPs at all?
Reader: Well, there’s a little bit of a SHIP, but it’s really not about that. Still good! I guess I was just hoping for more. I always look for a good SHIP in my books.
Friend: Me too!
This seemed like an oddly specific need. I mean, I did have a ship in my novel, as the reader had observed. It was a passenger carrier which docked in New Fiddleham in the first chapter—but as the reader had also noted, the book was not about that. Aside for bringing my narrator to town, the ship served no significant role in the plot.
Surprised though I was to learn that anyone based their reading preferences on the presence or absence of seaworthy vessels—and more surprised that her friend seemed equally invested in the matter—I chalked it up to the Internet being a strange world. Who am I to judge? To each her own.
A few days later, a blog review popped up**, completely separate from the initial post, confessing a deeply felt hope that the next book would spend more time exploring SHIPS.
How profoundly disappointing my next storyline was going to be, I thought, to the apparently burgeoning community of naval aficionados. The next one had more mystery, more supernatural elements, and even a little more romance, but no ships at all.
I began to realize how devoid of boats my prose had become in the latest manuscript. I was reminded of the 1-star review for “To the Lighthouse” which accused Woolf of being “Not lighthouse-y enough.” I might be able to work in a rowboat or a dinghy somewhere—but no! Artistic integrity forbade pandering… besides, the plot took place completely inland.
It was not until the third mention, weeks later, that I realized something was up.
“I could totally SHIP Jackaby and Rook.”
“Ship them where?” I thought. “That’s a weird way to… OH! Oh. I’m an idiot. Okay. Right. I figured it out, Internet. I get it.”
Sometimes, late at night, I still wonder if book 2 wouldn’t be a better manuscript if I had found somewhere to add a boat.
* “Stumbled upon” is a term authors use to refer to something they discovered while obsessively googling anything and everything being written about their book. This, too, is a thing.
** Things have a habit of “popping up” when you are “stumbling upon” them (see above).