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.
A Long Wait for a Short Chapter
Chapter 20 might be the shortest chapter so far.
I went into Thanksgiving week thinking that I would get a lot of writing done. That didn’t happen. The kids had activities, we helped a family member move, and the actual Turkey Day prep didn’t help either. On top of that, we’ve had some family medical issues lately and multiple home appliances dying. It’s been a lot.
As a serial procrastinator, I have a lot of baggage around making plans and then not getting things done. However, I’m getting a little better at looking at it objectively, and it was pretty reasonable to not get much writing done. I try to chalk it up to life intruding, and adjust my plans accordingly.
I’m taking quite a bit of vacation at the end of December and January, and I’m hoping to really reset and have lots of free time for all my writing projects. I think it will also help if I can finish off Act II and get into Act III of Razor Mountain. I’m feeling some of the mid-book doldrums and I usually get a second wind when the end is in sight.
Approaching the Breaking Point
This latest chapter ended up being yet another short one. Part of that is down to the fact that there’s no dialogue or other characters for Christopher to interact with. Part of it is because I don’t want to spend too long on these scenes where it’s just him in an empty room having a bad time—just enough to set up what will be happening in subsequent chapters.
I wanted to get across the visceral awfulness, and the feeling that Christopher really getting close to his breaking point. He has been through a lot, and he is worn down. At some point it’s going to be too much.
But we’re not quite there yet.
Razor Mountain doesn’t have a big, bad, ongoing villain throughout the entire story. In terms of high school English conflict definitions, it’s more “man vs. nature” and “man vs. self.”
What it does have is a series of minor villains that cause problems for the main characters. God-Speaker had to deal with Finds-the-Trail and Strong-Shield. Christopher was kidnapped by Garrett and Harold, and is now imprisoned under the purview of Sergeant Matthews.
It’s challenging to make these villains menacing when most of them are only around for a few chapters. Their main effect on the story is acting as roadblocks that the main characters have to somehow overcome, but they need to feel like an organic part of the story. They need enough character development that their actions make sense and hint that there’s more going on with them than we get to see. They need motivations that put them at odds with the main characters.
A notable effect of chaining villains in this way is that it naturally results in arcs of tension as each conflict ramps up, and then is overcome or superseded by the next conflict. This can be good, because it provides a natural structure of rising and falling action—you need both moments of tension and release to keep the story interesting—but it can also create lulls in the action that I need to make sure aren’t too long or boring.
Chapter 21 might just be the straw that breaks Christopher’s back. We’ll get to know our new friend, Sergeant Matthews, the first Razor Mountain authority figure that Christopher has encountered. Things are going to get worse before they get better. If they get better.