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.
I finished the chapter summaries for God-Speaker in Act II!
Embarking on Act III
I like to think of the end of Act II as the inflection point of the story. We’ve reached the proverbial mountain top. In act III, we’re headed back down at breakneck speed, toward the end of the book. Everything should be moving toward the finale. The plot needs to be wrapping things up. Emotionally, the characters need to be moving in that direction too.
Going into Act III, the reader knows that Christopher is the reincarnation of God-Speaker. Christopher still needs to find that out. We’ve seen the evolution of Razor Mountain, and the evolution of God-Speaker alongside it. Now we know about his downfall. We know that there are probably enemies here that Christopher doesn’t even know he has.
To survive, Christopher needs to figure that out. As readers, we feel that there’s probably a confrontation brewing, and we’ll definitely know that there’s one on the way when we see that Reed and Cain are both still here.
Once that is dealt with, there is an even bigger question: what happens to Christopher? Does he go back to being God-Speaker, tighten his grip, and try to put his house back in order? Has his journey (and his whole life, really) as Christopher changed him? That’s the question that I really want driving the final act to its ultimate conclusion, where Christopher chooses to reject everything he did as God-Speaker.
The chapter structure I’ve laid out so far is very consistent. I alternate between God-Speaker chapters and Christopher chapters, with Christopher getting twice as many chapters. Act I and Act II have almost the same number of chapters (17 and 16 respectively), although I haven’t tried to estimate word-counts yet.
I expect Act III to be shorter. There are no more God-Speaker chapters. He’s dead and gone. Christopher is the one alive in the present. However, once Christopher “unlocks” God-Speaker’s dormant personality and memories, I think it will still make sense to include some flashes of God-Speaker’s perspective here and there. It may help convey the feeling that Christopher is losing himself as this ancient god-being starts to take over.
Act III should really have two parts. The first part is about Christopher discovering that he’s the reincarnation of God-Speaker. He meets what remains of his inner circle (which will need more characters than Cain and Reed). He learns about the artifacts. He learns that he was betrayed and murdered, and that his life depends on figuring out who did it before they do it again and finish what they started.
While all that is happening, I need to include the emotional threads of the story. God-Speaker slowly became terrified of death, and bored of life. Christopher starts the book in much the same way, albeit on a smaller scale. He has now risked his life and made dangerous choices. He has accepted the eventuality of his own death, and his limited control of an indifferent universe.
Once he activates the artifacts and God-Speaker starts to slowly seep in, his “death” becomes very real and immediate. Does he want to be subsumed by this other person, who in many ways represents the most extreme version of his own worst attributes, magnified over thousands of years?
The second part of Act III starts when Christopher figures out that Reed betrayed him and kills or otherwise defeats the man. He is the ultimate winner. He came back from the brink of death to continue his endless reign, unstoppable. His other minions are happy that order has been restored. Unfortunately for him, it’s a pyrrhic victory.
Without the distraction of the direct threat to his physical existence, he has to think about the existential threat to his existence. He has to reconcile Christopher and God-Speaker. The final battle is between these two, within Christopher’s mind.
Christopher decides that God-Speaker has wasted thousands of years building a dystopia. He uses the artifacts to travel back to the moment from the end of Act I, where God-Speaker found the artifacts. He accepts death in the service of a good cause, kills God-Speaker, and changes the timeline for the better (or so he hopes).
The tone will be shaped throughout the book, but the ending is what will have the most impact on what the reader feels about the book. It’s obviously pretty dark – the protagonist kills his worst enemy, then himself, to prevent the terrible things he would otherwise do. It’s tragic by the original definition.
However, that tragedy isn’t so tragic in terms of Christopher’s emotional arc. He overcomes his fear of risk, danger, and even death. He makes a very consequential choice because he believes it’s the right thing to do. He’s satisfied with the outcome, and hopefully the reader will also think he did the right thing. The effectiveness of this is going to depend on how well I build up that arc throughout the story, as much as it will depend on the actual ending.
I need to figure out what secondary characters come into play in the third act. I have two council members, but I need more for it to really be a council. They need to have some purpose and characterization in their own right.
I need to figure out how Christopher finds out who killed him. It may be as simple as retrieving that memory, but there has to be some tension around it. What does Reed do when he finds out that Christopher is here? What does he do as God-Speaker’s memories are returning?
I did some preliminary planning for Act III and the end of the book. I looked at the “scaffolding” like the number of chapters and the topics they have to address. I also thought about the tone of the ending.
Next time, I’m going to flesh out God-Speaker’s inner council and figure out how he discovers his killer.