Razor Mountain Development Journal #1

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts about the development of Razor Mountain, a book that I’ll be releasing serially on this site. Unlike my previous posts, which were about more general writing concepts, like writing episodically or creating satisfying mysteries, these posts will be very specific to the development of this particular book.

Writing is often a very solitary task, and while there are a plethora of great documentaries about film-making, TV, and even game development, there’s very little about the process of writing.

My goal with this series is to document what I’m thinking, my process, and the results in as much detail as I can. I don’t claim that my processes are the best or most efficient, but my hope is that it will prove interesting for other writers to get a detailed look into how someone else goes about it.

Spoilers!

My base instinct is to avoid spoilers at all costs. I always want to preserve that “first read” experience, and the story will not read the same to someone who knows important plot points before they’re revealed in the text.

However, what I really want to do with these development blogs is to have as open and honest an accounting of the process as possible. I don’t think I can do that effectively without spoiling the plot. So I am not going to make any attempt to be spoiler-free. These blogs will be as open and straightforward as I can make them. You’ll see the ideas as they are formed and refined. The mysteries and their resolutions will be on the table from the beginning.

If you want to read the book without spoilers, you should stop here and come back later.

Beginning

I’m not starting completely from scratch. I tend to kick around ideas in my head for a long time before I write them, sometimes with a few false-starts along the way. I’ve made at least two brief attempts at writing this story previously. Neither resulted in much actual content.

In my inventory, as I begin the outlining process, I have the following items:

  1. A beginning – The protagonist wakes up on a small plane flying over an unpopulated area of Alaska. He finds that the few other passengers and the pilot have all vanished while he slept.
  2. Some jumbled plot notes – The protagonist is actually thousands of years old, but doesn’t remember it. He has lived this long by jumping from one body to another with the help of some artifacts in the depths of Razor Mountain. He has built a sort of insular society/cult in this place, and kept it hidden from the rest of the world.
  3. An ending – The protagonist regains his memories, and his current personality comes into conflict with his long-lived body-hopping personality. He uses one of the artifacts to travel back in time and stop himself.
  4. Previous attempts at the first two chapters.

Problems

I think having a beginning and an ending for a story is a great starting position to be in. The “middle” is going to be most of the words, but getting from a well-defined start to a well-defined end is a straightforward step-by-step problem to solve.

This ending feels pretty good to me, in this admittedly vague form. It requires some setup: I will have to lay the groundwork of the protagonist’s long life and history and figure out the details of these artifacts. That’s fine.

The beginning feels considerably more wobbly to me. I want to start with a big mystery, and it achieves that. But I don’t have a good resolution. I don’t know why he’s on the plane or where the other people went. Without that, it’s a LOST-style big exciting question without a big exciting answer. This is the start of the book, so it needs to be really solid. This is currently the most important thing for me to figure out.

The second problem is the protagonist’s name. Yes, this is a silly detail, but I hate writing “the protagonist” in my outlines and notes. One of the first things I like to do is try to come up with a halfway tolerable name. I console myself with the knowledge that it can always be changed later (even if I often don’t).

There will be lots of other problems to resolve as I go along, but what I really want to dig into at this early stage is structure. By figuring out some of the structure of the story, I get a scaffold that I can hang all of the details on.

Structure – Space

Like many cults, I see this strange society that the protagonist has built as a series of concentric circles. Each inner circle knows more about what’s actually happening than the people outside it. He will have built it so that only a few people closest to him actually know any details about the artifacts and his long-lived-ness. There will then be one or more layers of people outside that who know progressively less and less.

These circles aren’t just metaphorical – they’re physical, too. The artifacts are deep inside Razor Mountain, and the inner circle is physically close to them, and perhaps locked-off and disconnected from the rest of this society. The outer circles are literally out around the mountain, and spread out into the valleys surrounding the mountain itself.

The story will start with Razor Mountain in the distance, and the protagonist will have to physically journey toward the peak. He will make his way through these outer circles, eventually to the inner circle, learning more and more as he goes.

Structure – Time

The bulk of the story will happen in the present, but the protagonist has a very long history, and bits of this history will need to be revealed throughout the book for everything to make sense. This history can also contribute to the mysteries.

I think a non-linear structure will work well for this. I could alternate chapters. One chapter is the present day, describing the protagonist’s slow journey to Razor Mountain. The next chapter in the distant past, revealing some events that relate to what’s going on in the “present.” This could go on for the whole book before it becomes apparent how these events are actually linked.

I expect these flashback chapters will tend to be shorter, and even then I don’t know if I will really need to alternate 1:1. There might only be occasional flashback chapters. I can work that out later.

Results

At the end of each of these development blogs, I’m going to try to quantify what I’ve actually accomplished.

For this first round, I thought a bit about the overall structure. I gathered the little bits of work I had done on this story previously. I defined some important problems to start solving:

  • What is the protagonist’s name? (Or at least placeholder name)
  • How does the beginning fit into the plot? (I need to solidify this, or change the beginning of the story.)

I also intend to start thinking about the act-level structure. To me, defining acts involves looking for points where the trajectory of the story can change drastically. They should also be important points in the characters’ arcs. Those larger pieces will then break down into smaller pieces – the episodes or chapters.

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