Razor Mountain Development Journal #42

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.

Last Time

I finished the first draft of Chapter One, and started writing the first draft of Chapter Two. I had to adjust my writing expectations to match my current schedule.

Chapter Two, and Reining in Research

I was better at time-management this week. I slept more, I focused more, and I was able to get Chapter Two finished. Once again, this felt like a lot of work because I had to set up a new viewpoint character and a whole new setting. Time will tell whether it feels easier going forward, but it at least feels like I have a starting point to work from for the rest of the book.

I continued to get bogged down in research, but I purposely limited my research time this week. Writing characters in pre-history is interesting, because we don’t have much information about how people lived that far back. Trying to research this is an infinite rabbit hole. My approach so far has been to look at archaeological evidence (around Alaska and elsewhere), and to extrapolate from the traditions of Alaskan native peoples. One of the nice things I’ve discovered is that there seems to be some concerted effort to keep these traditions alive. I’ve been able to find a variety of information, including school lesson plans that outline specific aspects of these cultures. The challenge, however, is that I know I’m barely scratching the surface.

I’ll probably write more about this at some point, but there are strategies for effective research that doesn’t stop the writing in its tracks, especially for a first draft where you just want to get some words out.

  1. Try to describe the shape of the thing you don’t know — and thus want to research. (E.g. burial traditions among Alaskan native peoples.)
  2. Determine if that thing is plot critical. (For example, the plot requires that someone digs up an old artifact while preparing to bury a dead character.)
  3. If it is plot-critical, research enough that you know the plot will work, or how you will change it to work.
  4. If it is not plot-critical, limit your research and finish writing, making notes where you need to go back and research more.

It’s easy to feel like research is important — and it often is very important! But actually writing the story is pretty important too, and you have to strike a balance if the work is going to actually get done.

Interestingly, I think I spent as much research time on Chapter One as I did on Chapter Two, even though the research for Chapter One was relatively unimportant stuff, like the layout of small passenger aircraft. In Chapter Two I am, in a lot of ways, building a fantasy world loosely based on real cultures. While having a setting tens of thousands of years in the past gives me some leeway, I want to craft something respectful, interesting, and believable. However, I was much better at keeping my desire to research in check while I wrote Chapter Two. I asked myself what was plot-critical, and I made more notes that I will have to come back to. As a result, I have a rough first draft to build on.

This chapter was also a little shorter, at about 3,500 words. That puts the first two chapters at a total of about 8,700 words. Assuming that average holds for the whole book, it would come out to about 180,000 words, which is unreasonable for most genres. Even for genres where giant tomes are more commonplace, like Fantasy (and to a lesser extent, Sci-Fi), that’s on the big side.

These are still first draft, unedited numbers. My goal for editing will be to say more while cutting word count.

Reading Clan of The Cave Bear

I have to admit something slightly embarrassing. I think of myself as a fairly fast reader, but I started this book about two months ago, and at the beginning of the week I was about 40% through. The book has been a slog for me. I’ve started and finished at least two other books in the time that I’ve been reading this one.

If I wasn’t curious about the parallels with Razor Mountain, I think I probably would have stopped reading somewhere in there. However, I set aside time this week, and I was able to hit 80% on the ol’ e-reader. I do feel like the story pulled me along more in the latter half, and I’ll probably be done in another day or two.

Since I was reading this as a sort of comp title, I was going to just discuss the book in one of these development journals, but I think there’s enough to talk about (both related and unrelated to Razor Mountain) that I’m going to put it in its own, separate post.

Next Steps

In the upcoming week, I’m going to try the experiment I talked about previously: writing the last chapter at the start of the project. I’ll probably leave it as a rough draft, and see how much needs to change by the time I’m done with the book.

After that, I need to revise and polish those first two chapters. Those are my sample for prospective critique partners/beta readers.

Finally, I have one last non-writing task: some sort of cover art. At this point, I’ve considered doing it myself (expecting mediocre results), commissioning an artist in my family, and paying real money to professionals (ugh). If you have any experience with or thoughts about the right way — or most cost-effective way — to get good cover art, let me know in the comments.


I finished writing the first draft of Chapter Two and read most of Clan of the Cave Bear.

Author: Samuel Johnston

Professional software developer, unprofessional writer, and generally interested in almost everything.

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