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 reviewed the overall outline and reread all of the chapter summaries in sequence. I thought about themes and and improvements to a couple chapters.
Improved Chapter Summaries
This week, I started going through each chapter summary one by one. I have a few goals with this.
Expand the Summaries
I’m adding extra detail in the outline so that I have a very clear blueprint that I can follow when it comes time to write each chapter. Normally, I wouldn’t go to this level of detail, and I would be more inclined to do some exploration as I write. However, since I’m going to write and release these chapters serially, readers will be getting them right away. I won’t have the luxury of rewrites and further edits.
Calling out Opportunities for Cliffhangers
Again, due to the serial release, I’m looking for places to stop where the reader wants to find out what happens next. I want to encourage them to come back for the next installment. I’m primarily looking for places to do a chapter break, but I am also considering the option of splitting some chapters into more than one episode, so cliffhangers within a chapter may also be useful.
Mysteries and Resolutions
The other thing I’m doing to create tension and keep the reader coming back is introducing lots of little mysteries. I’m going to note these and track their resolutions to ensure that I don’t leave plot threads hanging.
For each episode/chapter, I want to track the rising action, climax and resolution.
This includes things I want to research before writing the chapter, things I want to track, and general reminders of ideas I have for the actual text that may not come across in the summary.
Christopher wakes up at night on a small plane over the Alaskan wilderness. As he wakes he has the impression that he is in a cave, but this resolves into the dimly lit passenger cabin. He feels hung-over.
He looks around and discovers that the other passengers are missing. He checks the plane with rising panic and discovers that the pilot is also missing. There are no parachutes. The controls are confusing, but he can see that the fuel level is low.
In his panic, he has a sudden feeling that he knows what he must do: fly low and slow, and jump when he is over water. With uncharacteristic calmness, almost having an out-of-body experience, he watches for a lake, picks a spot, does his best to slow the plane, then jumps. (This is a hint of God-Speaker showing through.)
He snaps back to himself as he hits the water, terrified. The fall and the frigid water numbs his body, but he slowly realizes that his leg was injured in the fall. He manages to swim to shore, exhausted and shaking uncontrollably.
He stumbles around, already starting to lose consciousness, knowing that he needs shelter to survive. He makes his way under a shallow cliff. More by feel than by sight, he discovers a metal door set into the stone. There is a number pad, and he desperately pushes buttons, not expecting it to work. The door unlocks.
He stumbles inside, passing out. He is uncertain if he managed to close the door. He doesn’t know what’s inside, apart from a hard floor that feels surprisingly warm.
- Christopher jumping from the plane.
- Christopher passing out as he enters the bunker.
- 1.1 – Why do the other passengers on the plane disappear while Christopher is asleep? Where did they go?
- 1.2 – What is the bunker and why is it here in the wilderness?
- 1.3 – How does Christopher know the door code to the bunker?
- 1.4 – What are the strange thoughts that seem to be guiding Christopher?
- Christopher faces the confusion of the empty plane, the harrowing jump, injury and swimming to shore. Climax: hypothermia, finding the door, and gaining entry. Resolution: passing out in the bunker.
- Research the kind of small passenger aircraft that might fly between local Alaskan airports, carrying around 10 people.
- Research the effects of hypothermia.
- Research realistic height and speed that would allow survival of the jump into water.
- This chapter could be split into two short episodes for serial release, with each having a cliffhanger.
- This chapter is action-driven. Readers won’t have a bond with Christopher yet, and will have limited investment in his well-being. His character is just being introduced, so it needs to be clear that he is terrified by all of this. He is surprised by his own decisive action.
God-Speaker walks past the temporary dwellings of his tribe, scattered along a stream within a mountain valley. Others are packing and disassembling things.
He enters a cave in the cliff-side. It narrows to a crack that he has to squeeze through, then opens into a small space. There, he finds the tribe’s stone god, surrounded by little offerings. He prepares a sort of backpack — a carrier made of wood and animal hide. He puts the stone god into it and asks it for guidance and protection as the tribe journeys.
There is shouting from outside the cave. God-Speaker grabs a sharp rock and squeezes back through the crack. The valley is under attack by a raiding party. There is fighting. One of the raiders and one of the members of his tribe is killed. Another member of the tribe is wounded.
The raiders flee with some food, setting dwellings on fire as a distraction. A couple members of the tribe give chase, but God-Speaker stays — his greatest purpose is to protect the god. The return shortly after, empty-handed.
The tribe finishes preparations. They bury or otherwise prepare the dead. God-Speaker publicly asks the stone god for guidance and protection. They begin the migration, dispirited.
- What will happen to the tribe? Will they have enough food after the raid?
- 2.1 – Is the stone god actually supernatural, or is God-Speaker’s interpretation entirely in his head?
- God-Speaker prepares for migration and is caught in the raid. Climax: The raid. Resolution: he supplicates to the god, but wonders if it can protect the tribe.
- With two POV characters, I have the challenge of effectively having two introductory chapters. Normally, I’d let the reader get to know one POV character for a few chapters before introducing another, but I like that the God-Speaker chapter can be a subtle allusion to Christopher’s fevered dreams/memories, as he’s passed out in the bunker.
- This is where I need to establish a simplified narrative voice for God-Speaker’s early chapters, if I’m going to do it. My main worry with this is that simplified language will make it sound “dumbed down,” when I really just want to establish a bit of an alien feel with these ancient humans whose daily lives and needs are relatively simple. (https://xkcd.com/simplewriter/)
- I need to research some details of how these ancient people might have lived. What are their temporary dwellings like? How might they hunt, fish, and fight with other humans? What are social structures like? A lot of this will probably be best guesses and extrapolating backward from more recent, better-documented groups.
I added detail to two of the chapter summaries. This went more slowly than I thought it would, and I had less time than usual to work on it this week. I’m hoping that I can pick up the pace as I go.
I’m itching to get started writing, but I’m going to get through this prep first!