This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.
I worked out details of Reed’s second attack on Christopher. Then I outlined all of the Act III chapters. I have a full outline of the book!
This session, I want to go through the outline and look at where I need to make adjustments and improvements.
Outlining in Greater Detail
I want to make this outline much more detailed than I typically would for a novel. Normally I leave some wiggle-room to figure things out and make changes as I write chapters. After all, I can always fix things and do necessary cleanup when the chapters are all written.
Because this is a serial project, I want to make each chapter as solid as possible when it is posted. I can’t do a lot of adjustments in the writing process without running the risk of tying myself to choices that can cause problems later on. It’s still an open question whether lots of up-front planning can really solve that. I may still have blind-spots in my outline. I may still discover critical plot holes or other problems when I’m writing. Maybe I’ll still decide to do some serious revisions after I’m done writing the serial parts. I’m going to try the detailed outline and see how it goes.
Setups, Payoffs, and Cliffhangers
There are a few specific things that I’m looking for as I go through the outline.
One of the things I want to note in the outline is where the reader is going to need particular knowledge, and how I’m going to impart that. In a similar way, I want to make a note of all the mysteries that I’m setting up, and the resolutions of those mysteries. If anything is left unresolved, I want it to be on purpose.
Because this will be released serially, I want to treat each chapter as an episode. The “perfect chapter” will present some sort of mystery to draw the reader on, while resolving or answering something presented in an earlier chapter. It will end with a cliff-hanger. It will have some sort of arc, with a beginning, middle and end.
As I go through each chapter outline, I need to note the mysteries that are set up in that chapter, the payoffs for mysteries carried over from other chapters, and look for cliffhanger opportunities. I also need to add some detail on these character mini-arcs.
Looking at the large-scale structure of the book from this outline, a few things stand out to me. First, Act I has the most chapters, followed very closely by Act II. Act III has about half as many. Assuming all the chapters are the same length, that’s a bit of an odd shape. I’d typically want Act II to be the longest. However, the number of chapters isn’t necessarily a good indicator of the actual length. If I can keep the Act I chapters shorter, I think it will work out well. Quick pacing up-front can help engage the reader until they can get invested in the story.
As is usual for me, I have a lot of chapters. If these chapters average around 2,000 words, I’ll be in a pretty comfortable novel length. This feels pretty good for me. I think too many chapters shorter than this tend to feel very jarring. On the other hand, I personally have a hard time with very long chapters.
Finally, I need to keep POV character in mind as I am modifying chapters. Right now, I have a very straightforward 2:1 ratio of Christopher and God-Speaker chapters, evenly spaced out. If I need to add or remove a chapter, it’s going to throw off that perfect pattern. I suspect even if many readers don’t necessarily notice, it will feel subtly wrong to break that flow.
Now that I have outlines for every chapter, I took some time to consider what my high-level goals are as I revise those outlines. I’m looking to keep chapters shorter in Act I, and I’m willing to let them run longer in Act II. In each chapter, I’m going to track mysteries and resolutions. I’ll look for opportunities to end on a cliffhanger. I’ll treat each chapter as an episode, with its own mini-arc for character and plot.
I suspect that revising the chapter outlines will result in a lot of small and somewhat tedious changes, so I’m still figuring out exactly how I want to present that in these development journals. I may do a bit more summarizing than I have done so far.