Welcome to the Chapter One development journal. For these journals I’m going to talk about what I worked on in a given chapter of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. These journals will be spoiler-free, as long as you’re caught up with the latest chapter.
If you want to check out my pre-production journals (which are definitely not spoiler-free) or the book itself, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.
So Much Prep
Sometimes I envy exploratory writers. They just jump right into writing the story, feeling it out as they go along. But then, I remember my days as an exploratory writer, and the pain of half-done books that just didn’t seem to go anywhere, or the sudden realization that I needed to throw away and rewrite a whole slew of chapters, and once again I accept my fate as an outliner and planner.
I spent a lot of time in pre-production on Razor Mountain. Close to a year. Part of that was figuring out things like how to write a book description or create a book cover, since I’ve never self-published before. Most of it, however, was extensive outlining.
I knew that this was going to be a serial, and I was going to be writing chapters and publishing them without waiting for the whole book to be done first. That means no opportunity for big rewrites or even adjustments that span multiple chapters. I already outline to try to avoid that sort of thing, and the scariness of publishing as I wrote drove me to outline in even more detail than I typically would.
I have also never documented my process in nearly as much detail as I have in these development journals. A side-effect has been that I am much more aware of what I’m doing every step of the way, and just how long I’m spending on it. It’s easy to let things slide when I’m just typing in my little corner of the basement, with nobody watching.
Now I’m aware that I have an audience (however small). I try to be as honest as possible in these journals, but I do sometimes think about whether I’m going to be boring my readers when I’m really slow to make progress. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t affect me a little.
So, of course it’s exciting to be releasing the new thing. Even if it is a little nerve-wracking too.
Starting the New Thing
Anyone who outlines knows that weird feeling of finally starting to write the book after spending ages just outlining. It’s a very different set of skills. I’m always mildly irritated by my own writing in the first draft, and doubly so in this first chapter.
It’s almost a trope at this point, but the best way to deal with a first draft, at least for me, is to just power through. I have my outline and I know what happens. I just need to write it. I can come back later and worry about finding the right words.
While I was writing the first draft of this chapter, I got bogged down in research several times. It made me wonder if I should have spent yet more time in pre-production on research. But again, at some point you have to stop preparing and start doing, if you want to actually get something done.
Researching Planes and Falling to Your Death
Christopher is flying in rural Alaska, where towns and villages range from tens to a few hundred people. Most of them are inaccessible by road, and since traffic is so light, these flights run small aircraft.
I researched a variety of small aircraft that are used commercially. The Beechcraft King Air seemed like a great example. It’s been in production for decades and is often used for this kind of smaller flight. There are a variety of different models, with capacities around 5-16 people. I give myself some room to be vague here by not specifying exactly where Christopher is flying to, and since he doesn’t know anything about aircraft, it’s reasonable that he doesn’t know exactly what kind of plane he’s flying in. I use this leeway to fudge a few details, taking attributes from several different small aircraft.
I searched for images of the interior, the exterior, the cockpit, and diagrams of the layout. I wanted an idea of how much space you’d have, sitting inside one of these. Where would you put your luggage? Where are the interior lights? What do the controls look like? Where are the doors? The bathroom? That sort of thing. One of the best resources I found were actually websites that list small plane sales, because they post galleries of interior and exterior pictures to show off the planes for sale.
Some details that caught me by surprise, having never ridden in a plane like this, is that they often have pairs of seats back-to-back, so one faces forward and one faces backward. They also may have no bathroom, or a “bathroom” that amounts to a toilet with a privacy curtain.
Action and Feeling
One of the challenges in this first chapter was to perform a little bit of build-up and introduce the situation as Christopher realizes how wrong everything is. Once I get to the point where Christopher has realized the trouble he is in, and he’s flying the plane, getting frantic, and preparing to jump, it all gets more exciting to me. I tried to focus on Christopher’s emotion and what he was feeling.
I was worried about researching the plane layout and how it flies, as well as the mechanics of falling a long ways into water without dying. Ultimately, this is all set dressing. What is really going to make or break the chapter is getting across what it feels like to be Christopher in this crazy situation.
The first draft of the chapter ended up being longer than I expected: just over 5000 words. (Usually my chapters skew on the shorter side.) I felt a lot better about it as I wrapped it up than I did when I was in the first 1-2000 words. I felt like I had a much better idea of what I wanted this chapter to be.
This is the introduction to Christopher. I work in hints of his back-story and bits of personality, although the focus is on action and feeling. By getting inside his head during these dramatic events, I can start to build a bond between the reader and Christopher. Hopefully. It’s always hard to tell if you’re pulling off the magic trick until you see how the audience reacts.
Because this is the start of the book, I spent a lot of time working on the first page and the hook in particular. I think it’s wise to make the first page the most polished part of any book.
It’s a little unfortunate that I’m starting with the trope of the main character waking up, but I do think it makes sense in this context (and as the book goes on). The opening ties into several events that will happen later on, so I wanted to set up everything I needed to make those links.
Using Multiple Services
At this point, I’ve been blogging long enough to be fairly comfortable with WordPress. It has its irritations and inconsistencies, but for the most part, it stays out of your way.
When I started uploading the first chapter to Wattpad and Tapas, I immediately felt ill-prepared. It turns out to be slightly annoying.
Firstly, I had to deal with formatting. I’ve been using something close to standard manuscript format in Scrivener, but for publishing online I needed to convert to no tabs, and space between paragraphs.
Secondly, Wattpad doesn’t let me schedule an episode for release. I can save a draft, but I have to manually push a button to send it out into the world. As a software developer who has spent years automating repetitive processes like this, it’s an affront. Every post I’ve published on this blog for the past year has been written in advance and scheduled. Tapas and WordPress let me schedule posts. Why doesn’t Wattpad?
Tapas has its own oddities, however. It only lets you schedule posts in PST. Why? It’s not complicated to shift the time zone a few hours in my head, but still, I’m confident I’ll screw this up at least once over the course of publishing the whole book.
While it felt like a lot of work to do the initial setup, I got it all up and running. Now I just need a few chapters to get used to the process of publishing across multiple platforms each week, and do it efficiently.
See you next week, for Chapter Two.