Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 5

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.

God-Speaker’s Goals

After two chapters starring Christopher and a holiday hiatus, it feels like it has been a long time since we got to hang out with God-Speaker. His tribe is on the road now, and we get to see a glimpse of what life is like for him in the wake of his mentor’s death.

It took a long time and quite a few drafts to write this chapter. Much longer than the previous chapters. Part of that was real life, but a lot of it was the story itself. It’s an important lesson that’s easy to forget: if writing something seems especially hard, you may not be writing the right thing.

My initial outline for this chapter mostly just had the tribe moving from point A to point B. My primary beta reader (the wife) confirmed that the chapter felt like filler, or “waiting for something important to happen.” I was thinking and writing about story threads and character goals at that time, it became pretty obvious that God-Speaker needed better-defined goals and clearer challenges to overcome.

This chapter is still about the tribe going from point A to point B, but that is now the backdrop for God-Speaker’s own struggles. It turns out he’s not good at the things that are important to a pre-historic tribe, like hunting, so his status has never been very high among the tribe. When he was taken in by Makes-Medicine to train as a shaman, and when he found and bonded with the stone god, his social status became murkier.

Now, Makes-Medicine is gone, which removes some of his social “armor.” The people of the tribe still aren’t too sure about this stone god thing, and some of the hunters still clearly have a low opinion of God-Speaker. The expectation for a shaman is to prove himself wise and capable, and become an important leader for the tribe. This is one goal.

Another goal becomes clear in this chapter. Makes-Medicine couldn’t bring the tribe out of the mountains to someplace warmer and more hospitable, but God-Speaker might. God-Speaker has no idea how to find snowless lands, but again, this gives him some direction.

Secondary Characters

I really didn’t have secondary characters fleshed out for God-Speaker’s part of the story, which probably should have been a red flag in the outlining process. However, this chapter forced me to build some of these characters. They’re directly tied to God-Speaker’s goals and obstacles.

I had to come up with more names for members of the tribe (both in this chapter and for later use). The interesting thing about this style of descriptive naming is that it automatically gives the character a bit of back-story. I need to come up with something that they’ve done or that they’re known for, to figure out what they should be named.

Far-Seeing and Finds-the-Trail are two of the best hunters of the tribe, representing everything that God-Speaker aspired to, and largely failed at. They see him as beneath them, and would be happy to see him fail, maintaining the current social order.

Braves-the-Storm is a more ambiguous figure. He is a rival for leadership. He has status as someone wise, brother of the former shaman, and a great hunter in his youth. However, he also reveals Makes-Medicine’s prophecy to God-Speaker, suggesting that he could bring the tribe to a better place. He quietly stands up for God-Speaker and begins to act as a possible replacement mentor figure in this chapter.

Research

I did a bit more research on the kinds of game animals that the tribe might find. There are a lot of good resources that talk about animals in the modern day, their habitats and ranges. But it’s much harder to find information on what was around thousands of years ago.

For example: pages about Alaskan hares.

Serial Writing

As writing this chapter dragged on, I had to admit that I just can’t consistently hit a schedule of one chapter per week with any consistency. Writing and publishing chapters as I go is honestly more of a challenge than I expected.

I could have put out this chapter a couple of weeks sooner, but the extra time has improved it quite a bit, and will also improve the rest of the story going forward. Rather than being beholden to a tight schedule, I decided that I’d rather try to put out good fiction and adjust the schedule as needed.

Of course, I’m still never completely happy, so I’m still planning to do another pass of revisions and improvements once all the chapters have been released. (If you have any thoughts or suggestions, feel free to leave comments!) But I’d like the story to be as good as possible for the readers that are reading it now.

Thanks for reading. See you next chapter!

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 4

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.

Research

This chapter’s research was all about flights and preserved food.

I had to figure out more of the details of Christopher’s flight plan. I looked up flights from Minneapolis to Anchorage. There are a wide variety of airlines that make the trip, and the flights are typically about 8.5 hours, which is more than I would have guessed. The distortions of the Mercator projection strike again.

I figured if he were headed to someplace less populous, he would probably connect in Anchorage. From Anchorage, I needed it to be a long enough flight to his actual destination that he might reasonably fall asleep and also fly over mountainous wilderness areas. Fairbanks fit the bill pretty well. I haven’t gotten too deep into it in the story, and probably won’t, but Christopher was on a sales trip trying to sell products to electrical utilities. In this case, the GVEA electric cooperative.

Flying from Anchorage to Fairbanks would send him over the Alaska range and would also be somewhat close to Denali National Park and Preserve, a 6-million acre park with a single road entrance and a small airport, McKinley National Park Airport.

While I was searching for info about what it might be like to board a small plane in Anchorage, I found a plane-spotting website and then spent a while going down that rabbit hole. One of the fun things about writing is discovering these random topics and subcultures that I know nothing about. I have absolutely no desire to go somewhere to watch planes, but I love anything where I can hear (or read) someone discussing something they are intensely passionate about.

For the preserved food, all I really needed for this chapter was something portable that Christopher could bring on his hike. However, I’ve been working on a larger list of long-lasting foods to fill the pantry. Christopher’s eats are going to be an ongoing background detail. It’s reasonable for the bunker to be stocked with long-lasting, zero-maintenance foods, but from a story perspective I also want things that preserve the mystery of how long it’s been since someone last used the bunker.

The meaty stuff that Christopher took on his hike is called pemmican. I found it through survivalist websites, although it has been around for centuries. It’s basically dried meat powder mixed with tallow and sometimes berries for flavor. It’s a high-energy food and one of the few meat products that can last for many years when properly prepared.

The final bit of research I had to do was around flint and steel. I was about as familiar as Christopher is. Thanks to a million RPGs and fantasy stories, I knew that these are used to make fire, but I’ve never actually used one. I looked into several different types and how they’re struck, as well as accoutrements like char cloth.

The Breaking Point

In the first three chapters, I found fairly natural break-points where I could split up episodes. This chapter was about 3.5k words, enough that I could theoretically break it into three episodes a little over 1k words each. Unfortunately, I only came across one break-point that I liked. I tried to find a second, but I wasn’t very happy with the placement, and it still would have left me with a very short third episode. Instead, I opted to just break the chapter in half. This ended up bringing me quite close to Tapas’ 15k characters size limit. I hadn’t bothered measuring it before, but it ends up being around 2k words. So this is about as big as an episode is going to get.

This week, having only two episodes worked out well, because I didn’t get all my revisions from feedback done until Tuesday, and I wouldn’t have been able to post three episodes without pushing this post into the weekend. As you can tell, I’m still working on getting ahead of the posting schedule.

I think part of my challenge has been that my chapters are continuing to skew long. Okay, not that long, but in the past I have tended toward ~2,000 word chapters. That may just be my style changing over time, but I’ve been wondering if there are other factors. I produced a more detailed outline for this project than I usually do, so that might have had some impact. I also suspect that I’m cutting fewer words in editing than I would be if I wrote the whole book and then edited all at once, instead of writing and revising the chapters in sequence.

Finding Drama

Christopher has had a bad time so far, but the bunker seems relatively safe. He’s lazy, like me, and he has to fight his instinct to lie low if he’s going to have a chance at being rescued. I tried to get into how he’s feeling toward the end of the chapter, as he realizes that he probably needs to save himself.

It’s a lot harder to dramatize dying slowly by doing nothing than dying quickly in an attempt to escape. Christopher will be facing some of both, but I wanted to lay some groundwork and get the reader into his head space here. He’s not someone who was inclined to take low-stakes risks in life before the start of the story, and he’s finding it hard to think about taking high-stakes risks now.

Back to God-Speaker

We now have three Christopher chapters and only one chapter of God-Speaker, but we’ll be getting back to him next week. I feel more comfortable writing Christopher, so I may have to work a little harder to keep God-Speaker’s chapters entertaining. I’m a little worried that the 2:1 chapter ratio will make him feel too much like a B plot, but that structure is baked-in now, and there’s no going back. Luckily, constraints breed creativity.

See you all next time, for Chapter 5.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 3 (Redux)

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.

Since I ended up posting the Chapter 3 episodes last week and this week, I had a brief Chapter 3 journal last Monday. I wanted to wait until after the episodes were out to avoid any potential spoilers. So now we can speak freely.

Momentum

Christopher exploring the bunker has a certain element of mystery that helps propel the chapter, but I don’t think it’s not enough to sustain the momentum all on its own. The radio message and the map ramp up the mystery, while also giving Christopher some useful clues that he can use to start solving those mysteries.

The sooner Christopher can take an active role in determining his own destiny, the sooner he can start to be a compelling character. That active participation is important, even if it’s just small things. Characters who are just passive lumps, waiting for things to happen to them, are not interesting characters to read about.

Themes

There were several themes that I wanted to keep up throughout the chapter.

  • The strangeness of the bunker. A secret bunker in the wilderness has some built-in strangeness, but things like bunks, a radio, and survival gear are all reasonable things to find in that place. There are other things that are oddities, like the weird oven, the many-piped device behind the storage room, and the lights and odd decorative flourishes. I wanted the bunker to feel “off” in a few ways, to enhance the feeling that there’s a mystery here. (I also made sure to reference the strangeness of Christopher guessing the door code.)
  • Physical pain. Christopher likes action movies, but this is not an action movie. Jumping out of the plane was crazy, and it ought to have killed him. His survival is already a miracle, and he’s going to pay for it. It’s hard to make jumping out of a plane and surviving seem like a realistic thing, but I’m going to try. Christopher is thoroughly beat up, and I wanted to keep that in the forefront of the reader’s mind. He’s not going to be running and gunning by the next scene. He’s going to be hobbling and limping.
  • Christopher’s emotional state. I didn’t focus on this as much as the physical pain, but I wanted to make it clear that Christopher is someone who can work things out. He’s naturally compelled to be a puzzle solver. Even though he spends most of the chapter hobbling around, looking at things, and wondering what’s going on, he also spends some time thinking and planning. He tries the radio, even if it doesn’t work. He’s already thinking about next steps.

Editing Out Weak Language

One of the stylistic errors that I continue to fight is hedging language. I always find a few points in every chapter where things “seem” or “feel” or “are like” something, and I have to delete those words so they just are. I think this is a symptom of uncertainty while writing. If I’m not sure I have the right words or I am going in the right direction, this hedging slips in as a symptom. All it does is make the language weaker. On the upside, I’m developing a pretty comprehensive list of these problematic words, so I can catch this stuff quickly during revision.

Getting Back on Track

I started publishing Razor Mountain with a little more than one chapter already written, to give me a buffer. (The second was done, but not fully revised.) I intended to publish one chapter per week, fully knowing that would be a stretch for me. It only took until Chapter 3 for me to start to fall a little bit behind.

With Chapter 3 spread out across two weeks, I have a week of buffer again to get ahead on writing and keep going with the chapter-per-week cadence. I’m trying to stick with that plan for a few reasons.

First, it ends up being a nice amount of posts each week. Most chapters are going to split into two or three short episodes in order to fit the word count limits on the serial services. Filling Tuesday – Thursday with Razor Mountain fits neatly between a Monday craft post and this Friday development journal. If I ever have a really long chapter, I have the flexibility to split it between two weeks and maybe throw in some short posts or re-blogs.

Second, it feels like a stretch that is still achievable. One of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was to acclimate myself to writing more, and doing it on a regular schedule. I have to say, it’s been a resounding success. Having to write for my blog schedule (even though it’s self-imposed) has gotten me to write more, and write with consistency. I used to write in fits and starts. Now I write almost every day.

Writing on a tight schedule has forced me to be a little less precious about my writing. Posts can always be improved, but I’ve started to get a good sense of when I’m better served by expanding this week’s upcoming article, and when I should just let it go and think about next week’s post. I’m juggling Razor Mountain and blog posts, and I prioritize now, instead of putting things off and only writing what I feel like, when I feel like it.

I think I need to cultivate a little bit more of that attitude for Razor Mountain. I want it to be good, but there’s a limit to how much I can revise when I’m publishing serially. That’s okay. That’s the nature of the project. I console myself with the idea that I might go back when it’s all finished and clean up every little part I don’t like. Razor Mountain: The Director’s Cut. Whether or not I end up doing that, it helps keep me going.

I’ll keep trying to hit the chapter-per-week. If I find myself consistently getting behind, then I’ll reevaluate that and adjust the schedule. For now, let’s plan on Chapter 4 next week.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 3

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.

Deadlines

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.

Douglas Adams

This week, I did my Douglas Adams impression, finishing up Chapter 3 a few days behind schedule. It ended up being another 3-part chapter when I split it up for Wattpad and Tapas, and by the time I got through editing and beta feedback, I didn’t have three slots in the middle of the week to schedule it on the blog.

Instead, I put out a reblog on Wednesday, and episode 3.1 on Thursday. I’ll publish the other two parts next week, giving me a little buffer to get ahead again. I’d prefer to publish a full chapter every week, but failing that, I can at least publish something Razor Mountain each week.

I don’t know if anyone cares as much as I do about the scheduling, but my goal is transparency here, whether the process goes smoothly or not.

Taking Inventory

A lot of the work of this chapter was envisioning the layout of the bunker and all of the things inside. I debated what the technology and furnishing should be like. It had to be things that are made to last without maintenance. Geothermal? Strange, tiny oven? Water pump? All of it, as much as possible, with minimal moving parts. The people who made this place understand how to build for very long term use.

In a classic video game level design blunder, I forgot to include a toilet in the first draft. Then I debated leaving it out anyway, and forcing Christopher to go in the woods. It may technically not be necessary for livability, but that was a little too silly a thing for the builders to do. I put it in the most logical room: the one where nobody would be living, sleeping, or figuring out what to have for lunch.

As I researched the best ways to preserve food, survival gear, etc., I discovered that doomsday preppers have websites with great info on pretty much all of these things. Which shouldn’t have been surprising. Just another internet subculture rabbit hole you can get lost in.

More Next Week

I’m cutting it a little short this week. I’ll pick up next week to talk about the whole thing when the rest of Chapter 3 is out.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 2

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 and outlining journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

Research

My outline originally called for a fight between a raiding party of outsiders and God-Speaker’s tribe. However, a little research made it clear that there is really no evidence of armed conflict between groups of paleolithic humans. The generally low population densities would mean that groups wouldn’t interact that much, and it would be disadvantageous for them to fight over resources in anything other than extreme situations.

I decided that attackers probably didn’t make sense as a raiding party, and might be more reasonable as desperate travelers who have fared poorly. They have different language and customs, and can’t communicate. The concept of violence between humans is foreign to God-Speaker’s people, so the attack is difficult to explain outside of supernatural causes.

These paleolithic people have some tools and bits of culture similar to more modern indigenous Alaskans, with the assumption that they are less adapted to that environment than their descendants will become (“modern” in this context still going back many thousands of years). Since they are far removed from future Alaskans, and there’s very limited hard evidence about how they lived, it comes down to inference, guesswork, and making things up.

I did spend some time researching the sort of flora and fauna that might be present, indigenous fishing and hunting techniques, and things like how simple shelters might be constructed.

Revision

My first draft started off slow, with a few paragraphs of background about the tribe and their winter settlement. I wanted to treat this as more of a second opening hook, since it’s introducing a new setting and characters for the first time. When I rewrote the opening, I tried to focus on the character and action and intersperse the background.

I also had the idea of simplifying the language of this chapter to reflect that the language the paleolithic people were using was likely less complex and developed than anything in recorded history. This is extremely tricky, because it’s very easy to get into tropey and condescending “cave-man speak.”

My son is a big fan of the XKCD Thing Explainer book, and I was aware that Randall has a word checker called Simple Writer, to flag any words in a text that aren’t in the most common 1000 words. This kind of writing strikes a nice balance to me, where it is definitely simple, but not quite at cave-man trope level.

I did use this tool to check the revised chapter, and it did help me identify some places where I could simplify the writing. I didn’t strictly adhere to it, because there were a number of places where conforming to it just didn’t sound good. I’ll probably continue to use it as a sort of automated advisor for the next couple God-Speaker chapters.

Properly Started

These first two chapters feel like the extended introduction to me. The two main POV characters have been introduced, along with the challenges they’ll be facing, and taste of both settings.

The next chapter will transition back to Christopher, and will be more about expanding what’s been introduced. More setting, more characterization, and more mysteries.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 1

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.

Revision

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.

Onward

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.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #47

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 added and updated the fiction sections of the blog, and I set up Razor Mountain on Wattpad and Tapas.

Reminiscing Before The Starting Gun

Forty-seven weeks. That’s how long I’ve been working on Razor Mountain.

I brainstormed and researched. I outlined and outlined again. I created an author profile and a book description. I made a book cover. I wrote the first couple of chapters, revised them, sent them out for feedback, and revised some more.

As I did all that, I took you along for the ride and did my best to document the whole process in these journals. I hope you found it useful, or at least interesting, to follow along.

It’s been a long journey. The better part of a year, and about twice as long as I originally expected it would take. Now, everything is ready. Mostly. As it turns out, it always feels like there’s more I could do to prepare. I think a lot of writing is like that. You can always put in more time and eke out a little improvement. But at some point you hit diminishing returns and you’ve got to move forward.

This is the last pre-production journal. It’s time to publish, baby!

There’s Gonna Be Some Changes Round Here

I’ve settled into a comfy blog cadence:

  • Monday – A post about writing craft
  • Wednesday – A mini-post or reblog
  • Friday – A Razor Mountain development journal

Starting next week, I’m adding Razor Mountain episodes into the rotation. I’d like to post a chapter a week, but it will depend on how quickly I can write and polish them. I’ll also be splitting longer chapters into multiple “episodes,” since serial services (and readers) seem to prefer lots of smaller episodes.

I’ll still be writing these journals, but I’m going to switch to a journal per chapter instead of one per week like I’ve one up to now. I’m also going to continue writing my usual weekly post about craft.

The new schedule will look something like this:

  • Monday – A post about writing craft
  • Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday – One or more Razor Mountain episodes. Sometimes a mini-post or reblog.
  • Friday – A Razor Mountain development journal

Not too different. Just a little more nebulous around the middle of the week, and hopefully with even more content. I’m still keeping the weekends open, because I don’t like weekend deadlines, and because I generally see more traffic during the week anyway. Lots of you coming into the office on Monday and reading blogs. I see you.

Results

I did more little revisions on Chapter One and Two. Like picking a scab. I worked on Chapter Three. I figured out how I’m going to adjust the posting schedule to accommodate Razor Mountain episodes. And I vacillated between nervousness and excitement about publishing.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #46

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 continued revising and editing chapters one and two. I created a book cover that I’m satisfied with.

Preparing For Launch

I have to admit that I slacked on the writing front this week. I made small tweaks to my first two chapters, but I’m waiting on reader feedback to do another big editing pass. I really need to get myself in “writing mode” if I’m going to start pumping out weekly episodes. Luckily, if there’s anything having a blog has taught me, it’s that deadlines are a great motivator.

There’s really not that much left to do before I embark. However, there are still a few of those non-writing tasks that need to be done. First, I finished setting up a Razor Mountain project on the two services that I’m planning to use for serial publishing: Wattpad and Tapas. I considered some other services, or even something like Substack, but I think it will end up being a lot of busywork keeping these updated along with the blog. My hope is that publishing on multiple platforms will increase visibility, but I’m also going to be evaluating their strengths and weaknesses for future projects. I may stick to one in the future, or dump them for something like Kindle Vella (which has exclusivity requirements).

I already ran into one annoying issue: while Tapas allows scheduled posts, Wattpad does not. That is a real downer for me, since I always prefer to schedule posts, and it would be nice if I could post new parts everywhere at the same time. Wattpad will just have to be a little out of sync.

Site Improvements

While I’m writing for the sake of writing, I do hope that posting Razor Mountain on other services will bring some new readers to the blog. In anticipation of that, I did some cleanup and improvement that I’ve been meaning to for a while.

I spruced up the Razor Mountain page by adding the book cover and description. I also added pages for microfiction and drabbles under the fiction section, so those little stories aren’t buried in old posts. Finally, I updated my “About” page with my author profile.

I’ve been looking at changing the blog theme, but I haven’t found a theme that I’m entirely happy with, so the search for that will continue. I may also make adjustments to the home page.

Results

I added and updated the fiction sections of the blog, and I set up Razor Mountain on Wattpad and Tapas.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #45

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 revised Chapter One, with special attention to the opening. I spent time evaluating options for book covers.

More Book Cover Action

Much like in my writing, I’m finding that making a good book cover is not about the first draft. It’s about revision, revision, revision. I am, admittedly, trying to be cheap and do it myself, instead of dropping cash on the many fine businesses that would be happy to provide professional artists to help me out. I got myself into this mess, and I’ve been doing my best to get myself out of it.

A couple weeks back, I had rough ideas for what a Razor Mountain cover might look like. First and most obvious thing: with a title like that, it pretty much has to have a mountain on the cover. Apart from that, the book is in many ways about duality: past and future, acceptance and denial, life and death, God-Speaker and Christopher. That’s not necessarily an easy concept to get across visually, but I had a vague idea of the mountain being split in half, and the shape of a person in a dark space beneath it, also split or doubled. I imagined a line down the middle, with the regular colors on one side, and a photo-negative effect across the other side.

I continued to think about what I wanted. I looked at lots of book covers. I researched tools and techniques and companies and prices. I wrote a post about it.

I tried creating a prototype by hand, with colored Sharpie felt-tip pens. I enjoy doodling and painting from time to time, but I was not particularly satisfied with the result in this case. It does look slightly better in person — the lighting is bad and the colors are pretty washed-out in this photo — but it’s not something I want to put on the front of my book.

Welcome to Disappointment Mountain.

Next, I moved on to Canva. I started by modifying their premade templates. My next cover was certainly better, but it’s a little too simple, with even fewer visual elements than the Sharpie disaster. It also looks a bit outdated, like a paperback cover from the 70s. In retrospect, the font is more of a fantasy font, with a vaguely runic look. Still, this looks like a book cover to me, even if I’m not that excited about it.

There’s probably dwarves in that there mountain.

I came back a few days later, energized to make another attempt. With some Canva experience under my belt, I trolled through Pexels for royalty-free images of mountains, silhouetted people, cities, etc. I also fired up GIMP (a.k.a. GNU Image Manipulation Program) and did some light editing. I’m hardly a graphic designer, but I’ve played around with GIMP and Photoshop in years past, so I can do some simple things like filters or gradient transparency.

The end result was actually pretty close to my original vision. I spent a surprisingly long time on little tweaks, like the silhouette of hills that separate the top section from the bottom. Fonts are also incredibly difficult to get right. I spent ages flipping between fonts. I still vacillate between this being too cheesy and just right. It definitely feels more like a thriller font.

I also created several different layouts with these same elements slightly rearranged. Unfortunately, different services want square (or even circular-cropped) “cover” images, and in some cases I may want the image without the title and author overlaid, for cases when they already appear in text nearby.

More Revision

I don’t have too many specifics to report on the editing front. I took several more passes through the first two chapters, mostly making small line edits. Now they’re going to my first beta reader, my wife. I’ll be back to looking for more critique partners and beta readers this upcoming week.

Results

I continued revising and editing the first two chapters and I created a book cover that I’m satisfied with.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #44

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 wrote a rough draft of the last chapter and started getting into revisions on Chapter One.

The Hook

As I talked about in a post earlier this week, I spent some time refining my first sentence, first page, and first chapter. I started with the hook.

In the rough draft, my opening paragraph is this:

The cave was a dark, low tunnel, crowded with formless shapes. Christopher struggled to identify his surroundings through eyes bleary with sleep. There was a long roar, followed by a thump. A buzzy, persistent rumble emanated from the darkness around him. Christopher rubbed his eyes and blinked several times, breathing deep and trying to clear his vision.

The first thing I did was get rid of the roar and the thump. I originally intended them to be the sound of other passengers jumping from the aircraft, and the door shutting behind them, while Christopher is still out of it. There’s no more mention of it later on, and it just ends up being confusing and slowing things down slightly. I rearranged and reworded almost all of the rest of it, although the meaning changed very little.

The cave was night-dark and claustrophobic, crowded with indistinct shapes. The cave was night-dark and claustrophobic, crowded with indistinct shapes. Christopher struggled to identify his surroundings through eyes bleary with sleep. All around him was loud buzzing; it permeated his body. He pressed his palms to his eyes and breathed deep, trying to clear his head.

Hopefully the question of where Christopher is and what is happening is enough to hook the reader, without being too confusing. Part of that relies on me quickly revealing more about what’s happening in the remainder of the first page.

The First Page

My goal in the first page is to get across a couple of ideas:

  1. Christopher feels strange, as though he’s been drugged.
  2. He realizes that he is not in a cave, he is in the passenger cabin of a small plane.

Next, as quickly as possible, I need to reveal that the passengers are missing, the pilot is missing, and Christopher is in a world of trouble. This leads naturally into the rest of Chapter One, which is all about answering the question, “what is he going to do about it?”. I think the rough draft does this decently well, so I worked on saying more with fewer words, rewording each of the next 4-5 paragraphs.

This is what my first page looks like, after some revision:

The cave was night-dark and claustrophobic, crowded with indistinct shapes. Christopher struggled to identify his surroundings through eyes bleary with sleep. He was surrounded by loud buzzing; it permeated his body. He pressed his palms to his eyes and blinked repeatedly, then breathed deep, trying to clear his head.

Although his surroundings were shadowy, Christopher could make more sense of the shapes around him as he blinked away his grogginess. The hunched, round shapes were seats. He fumbled around, felt the thin padding beneath and behind him, felt the arm rests.

Christopher’s perception shifted and he understood what he was seeing. Not a cave; an airplane cabin. Why had he thought it was a cave? Moonlight faintly illuminated the outlines of the small, round windows. The prop engines buzzed. Now that he thought about it, Christopher could feel their vibration through his seat.

He tried again to blink away the sleepiness that clung like cobwebs. Even when he had pulled all-nighters in college, he hadn’t felt this discombobulated. This was more like a bad hangover.

Christopher had been skeptical when one of the other salespeople in the department warned him not to sleep on planes when traveling. Better to hold out and hit a new time zone running, one of the veterans had said. Christopher had thought he was exaggerating.

He tried to stand and found himself still seatbelted. He fumbled the clasp open and stood fully, immediately banging his head on the sloped ceiling above. Christopher felt a sudden head rush from standing too quickly, but the pain of his bruised scalp helped to cut through the fog of his thoughts.

It was too dark in the passenger section of the little plane. Before he had dozed off, Christopher recalled little LEDs along the aisle between the seats; recessed lights along the seam between wall and ceiling. He had to turn around to face the front of the plane. Unlike the large passenger planes Christopher had flown on for other trips, this little plane had seats back-to-back, with some facing forward and some facing the rear of the plane. There were only eight seats in the passenger area, and Christopher’s was near the back, facing the tail.

The seats were all empty.

The First Chapter

To revise the rest of Chapter One, I looked at the order of events and made sure I was happy with everything that happened, and what order it happened in. I did end up making some small adjustments from the outline, which is to be expected.

Next, I took several more passes through the chapter to look specifically for some of the things I mentioned in my “firsts” post: adjectives and adverbs, sound, character voice, and pacing. It’s a long chapter (although it’s getting a little shorter in editing), and I still need to spend more time with it to get through all these improvements.

After that, I’ll pass it to my first reader/editor — my wife — and I’ll make more revisions based on her evaluation.

Cover Work

I’ve also been looking at options for cover art. As long as I’m experimenting (and not strategizing for an Amazon e-book bestseller), I thought I might try to make a cover myself. However, when it comes to visual art I’m a somewhat enthusiastic dabbler. I have no formal training. I just occasionally make things for my own enjoyment.

So, I tried making a cover, and I didn’t much like it. Then I started digging more seriously into other options, from paid services to DIY. I can say right now that I won’t be spending a ton of money on a cover (and boy can you spend a lot of money on a cover), but I’m still looking. More to follow.

Results

I revised Chapter One, with special attention to the opening. I spent time creating a book cover that I didn’t like, and then evaluating other options for book covers.