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.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #43

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

Writing the Last Chapter (Almost) First

With the rough drafts of the first two chapters done, I jumped ahead — way ahead, to the final chapter. This isn’t something I’ve tried before, but I thought it would be interesting. I’ve done a lot of outlining and plotting for this book, so I already have a solid idea where everything is leading, both in terms of plot and in terms of character arc.

Writing the last chapter actually turned out to be a lot easier than writing the first and second chapters. Part of that was that it ended up being shorter. There isn’t all that much action. I think a much bigger factor, however, is that the first two chapters were introducing the two plot threads of the book to the reader. The last chapter just has to lead reasonably out of the rest of the book, and come to a satisfying conclusion. At this point, most of that hasn’t been written yet, so I can imagine what it will all be, and write my ending accordingly.

Obviously, this means anything I choose to change along the way may invalidate part of the ending chapter. That’s fine. I expect that by the time I get everything written out, I’ll have to re-jigger the last chapter in a variety of ways. What it really seems good for is to highlight some of the themes and ideas that I really want to push at the end. Now, as I make my way through the book, I can look at that and work on pushing those things as I go, so it all builds up organically.

Writing the final chapter also gives me some ideas about the emotional resonance I want at the end. It’s more about how I want the ending to feel than the plot information I need to get across. All that really happens is that Christopher makes a decision, and acts upon that decision.

The First Revisions

The last chapter was a fun experiment, but if I want to start publishing chapters, I need to get my beginning into shape. My first and second chapters have had some breathing room, and now it’s time to go back and revise.

My first drafts are strictly to get words on paper (or pixels on screens, in this case). Sometimes the words come out amazing, but more often I end up with lots of clunky sentences that generally get across what I was going for, some digressions that seemed interesting in the moment, a few bits that I like, and maybe a couple phrases that feel fantastic. In short, it’s a mixed bag.

I like to give first drafts a little time to fade in my memory before going back to them. Some things that seemed great during the actual writing will feel less great when I reread them later. Sometimes the rough patches where I was just dumping words to get the point across and move on actually turn out to need less work than I thought. It’s hard to pretend you’re a reader of the text you, yourself wrote, but I don’t think there’s a better tool for pulling that trick off than a break between the writing and the reading.

I started working on revisions for Chapter One this week, but there’s plenty more to do.

The challenge I always face when I start revising (especially if it’s been a while) is the temptation to go straight to line editing. It’s easy to read a few sentences and find a word here or there that can be improved, a typo or some missing punctuation. For me, at least, that’s what jumps out immediately.

However, I fight that urge. Instead, it’s better to look at the larger pieces. I try to look for any reason to reorder scenes, rearranging dialogue, or otherwise make big adjustments first. By focusing on larger structural revisions before getting into the nitty-gritty, I try to avoid wasting time changing small things that are liable to need rework anyway after structural revisions.

Results

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

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.

Results

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal #41

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 part of the first pass at chapter one, and thought about the bits I want to write and polish before I start publishing chapters.

Real Life Intrudes

I’m still trying to come to grips with the new family schedule with the kids back in school. Unfortunately, the way it shakes out, I have to get up significantly earlier than during the summer. It follows, then, that I have to get to bed earlier. I haven’t been doing that very well, and as a result I feel approximately half-dead.

As you might expect, a state of partial undeath is not particularly conducive to good writing. Or any writing, frankly. I used to do the majority of my writing at night, after the kids went to bed. Now, it’s starting to look like most of my writing time and energy will be on the weekends.

All this to say that I had hoped to get through chapter two this week, and that didn’t happen. I made some progress, but once again I spent a lot of my time doing research.

When I was thinking about getting the first couple chapters done, I would have sworn that I started with two chapters from Christopher’s perspective. Turns out I actually have chapter one in Christopher’s point of view, and chapter two in God-Speaker’s point of view. As a result, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about indigenous Alaskan groups, in order to flesh out my stone-age Beringian tribe.

How Fast Can I Write, Actually?

Stephen King famously suggests that writers should write 1000 words per day. Is that first draft? Final? Does he do his editing on the side? I don’t know.

I’ve certainly gone through more than one November at NaNoWriMo speed (1667 words per day), and even had the occasional 3-5k day. Those aren’t sustainable rates for me. I did expect that a few thousand words per week would be fairly doable. I’m reevaluating that now.


My schedule is part of the problem. I also think things may go faster once I’m a bit further in. The biggest issue may be that this is going to be a serial story. I’m going to be publishing chapters as I go, so I really want to get them as polished as possible up-front. If I were writing a “normal” novel, I would write a rough draft of the entire book, then go back to revise and edit. Now, I’m going to have to combine the initial draft and at least some revision time together, up-front, which makes each chapter take longer than my rough-draft-words-per-minute rate might otherwise imply.

I also want to be able to publish frequently and regularly enough that readers will stay interested. Since I’m having a hard time getting through a chapter of rough draft per week, I can’t really plan to publish on that schedule. That might be okay though. My chapters are generally going to be 2,000–5,000 words, but many of these serial stories seem to be broken up into smaller chunks: around 1,000 words. I assume this is a natural evolution catering to small screens and short attention spans. I should probably embrace it. I don’t intend to chop the book into a hundred chapters, but I will look more seriously at chopping chapters into several smaller parts, and posting those either weekly, or more frequently when I am able.

Results

I worked on writing the first draft of chapter two. I began to admit my own limits under my current schedule.