This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.
You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.
As Christopher and God-Speaker spend time traveling, I’m working on building my repertoire of geographical descriptions. This sounds simple, but it can actually be challenging. First, it requires that I get the lay of the land clear in my own head, then I have to describe it succinctly, but still make it clear to the reader. Spend too much time describing the geography, and the story slows to a crawl. Spend too little, and it’s hard to clearly picture the characters’ surroundings.
I recently re-read The Lord of the Rings for the first time in years. Tolkien has a reputation for being meandering and long-winded by modern standards, and it is a reputation that is occasionally deserved. But I was really struck by his mastery of this kind of “landscape painting” through words. I was able to see the sights of Middle Earth as the fellowship traveled.
Over the past few chapters, I’ve been thinking a lot about my characters’ discomfort levels. One of the key ingredients to build suspense is to put characters into uncomfortable, dangerous or difficult situations. On the other hand, it’s important that the tension actually build over time, and not just max out at extreme levels too quickly. I’m trying to measure the larger story arcs and modulate the tension accordingly, so it ramps up into key story beats.
The other challenge is that my main characters are timid. They need to be carefully led into more challenging situations if they’re going to build up a tolerance and overcome them. My characters are frogs that I’m slowly boiling. By the time they fully realize the danger, it’ll be too late.
I debated whether Christopher’s camping trip should be more catastrophic, but this is the first chapter where he’s really purposely going out of his comfort zone. And it’s uncomfortable, but not so bad as to send him running scared. Yet.
Act I Planning
As I mentioned last time, my outline called for sixteen chapters in Act I. Having reached the theoretical halfway point, I wanted to reevaluate the next eight chapter outlines in light of what I’ve written so far. I haven’t deviated wildly from my outline, but there are tons of tiny decisions that happen in the act of writing, and those can add up to unexpected changes in the direction of the plot, or a crystallization of themes and ideas. Pacing is also something I have to get into writing to feel.
My general feeling is that Chapter 8 should be more than halfway through Act I. The next eight chapters look to be shorter, so that checks out. However, because they’re shorter, I could also consider combining a couple of them together. I’ll keep that option in my back pocket and make the decision as I’m writing those chapters. That would also affect the spacing between Christopher POV chapters and God-Speaker POV chapters. That’s not a major concern, but it does affect the pacing a little.
That’s all for this chapter. See you in Chapter 9, where we’ll look at continuing to ramp up the tension on Christopher.