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.
Q & A
My intent with Razor Mountain was always to write a “mystery box” story that actually resolved in a satisfying way. To do that, I created a starting premise with a lot of mysteries, and then made sure that I knew the answers—why everything was happening. In the first half of the book, most of my time was spent building up those mysteries. Now, as I approach the final act, it’s all about answering those mysteries.
I’ve long believed that it’s easier to create interesting mysteries than it is to resolve them, which is why so many mystery-centric stories fall flat at the end. However, in my hubris, I assumed that the hard work was in figuring out all the answers. Some of the feedback on early drafts of recent chapters has shown me that it’s not enough to just know the answer. The resolution has to come out in the story, while being clear enough that the reader doesn’t miss it, and organic enough that it doesn’t feel shoved-in just to make the story work.
So, one of the things I did while writing this chapter is to go back through my outline and review all of the things I set up early in the story, and make sure that I have plans for resolving them in the next few chapters. This chapter and the next one are important to some of these revelations, so it was a good exercise to do at this point in the story.
I initially left out the third scene in this chapter. It was squeezed into the start of the next chapter because I was worried that it might reveal too much before the next chapter. This is part of the ongoing rearranging of the outline that I’ve been doing for the past few chapters.
However, when I began to write this journal I realized that the chapter felt purposeless without that third scene. Seeing Cain is interesting, because it’s a big link between the two narratives, but it’s not exactly a shocking stinger at the end of the chapter, and I would have had to be a little more coy in Christopher’s conversation with Speares to try to make it more of a revelation. The first two scenes are mostly the characters walking from A to B and talking, which is the same as Christopher’s previous chapter. Without the additional revelations and action at the end, it falls flat.
So once again I adjusted my chapters and pulled in that third scene. I also decided that I can write it without quite giving up certain big secrets. But this scene combined with the next chapter will serve as the climax for Act II and set up Act III.
The Value of Journaling
Despite the power of ego, when I sit down to write one of these chapter journals I sometimes wonder how worthwhile it actually is. There are certainly times when feel that I don’t have much interesting to say about a given chapter. However, when I look back, it’s often when I’m working on a journal that I realize I’ve missed something or need to do some rearranging (as I did this week).
As it turns out, when I force myself to think about process enough to be able to articulate a journal entry, it helps me better understand the story I’m telling. Maybe that seems like it should be obvious, but it’s a lesson that I keep learning.
That’s partly because I originally intended these journals to be a sort of documentary—a way for other writers to peek inside my head and see what I was thinking, alongside the actual product. Not because I thought it would be a breakout bestseller and everyone would be interested, but because I can only speak for myself, and it seemed like a fun hook for the blog. I think there’s a real tendency among authors to want to keep the secret sauce secret, or to be so deep in the impostor syndrome that we don’t want to risk the potential embarrassment of opening up to others.
Now that I’ve been doing this for most of a book, I’m beginning to think that journaling through a big project will often be worthwhile for a lot of writers, even if nobody else ever sees that journal. As writers, we are used to thinking through a lot of things in text, and keeping up that meta-narrative has really helped me to understand the story I’m writing, and probably do a better job than I otherwise would.
It also occasionally serves as a record that I can return to, if I forget a decision I made, or an idea that I set aside that turns out to be important.
The next chapter is a big one. Things are happening now. It’s been a few minutes since Christopher’s life got worse, so I’m going to remedy that with some existential dread. It’s the end of Act II and the start of Act III. See you there.