Razor Mountain Development Journal #34

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 summarizing the last two chapters in Act II. I spent some time working on (or at least worrying about) Christopher’s characterization.

Resolving Mysteries

As I move into Act III, I’ve built up a nice backlog of mysteries. It’s time to think about resolving them. One of the most annoying problems with “mystery box” plots is when mysteries are set up or unexplained things happen, and then they’re never explained or resolved. Even if the ride up to that point was fantastic, the audience will sour on the whole thing as soon as they realize that a bunch of that stuff that seemed cool and important just didn’t mean anything or matter.

As I’ve gone through the outline, expanding these chapter summaries, I’ve been trying to call out mysteries in almost every chapter (and numbering them by chapter when I remember to). That way I can call out where the resolutions happen, and make sure I’m not missing anything.

I realized this week that I haven’t been noting when the resolution of these mysteries occurred, so I went back and fixed that where I could:

  • 6.1 – What are the locations on the map?
    • Ch. 11 – At least one is a burnt ruin, but it looks like it was similar to the bunker he came from.
  • 8.1 – Who made the little wooden doll and left it in the wilderness?
    • Ch. 15 – Amaranth. (Show her carving something similar)
  • 9.1 – Was there a person in the woods?
    • Ch. 14 – Amaranth was watching him.
  • 12.1 – Who left the fresh rabbit for him to eat?
    • Ch. 15 – Amaranth. (She carries more rabbits for her fellow exiles)
  • 14.1 – Who is shooting at him?
    • Ch. 23 – Soldiers from Razor Mountain
  • 15.1 – What is the place that Amaranth has brought him to?
    • Ch. 17 – A bigger building in the style of the bunkers, where the exiles are hiding.
  • 15.2 – Who is the girl who can’t speak?
    • Ch. 18 – Amaranth, one of the exiles
  • 15.3 – Who are these other people?
    • Ch. 17 – The other exiles, who left the mountain compound for some reason.
  • 16.1 – What is this place inside Razor Mountain?
    • Ch. 25 – The chamber of the artifacts.
  • 28.1 – Does Cain intend to betray God-Speaker?
    • Ch. 31 – No. Reed is actually out to betray him.
  • 28.2 – What will Reed find out?
    • Ch. 31 – Nothing interesting about Cain.

This work (along with trying to figure out which mysteries should resolve in the next couple chapters), led me to an unexpected problem. I’ve been focused on building up questions for most of the book. Now there aren’t many chapters left. Trying to lay out all of the necessary information may feel like too much of an info dump. So, I may need to try to seed some more hints and answers in earlier chapters, just so there’s a little less to explain as we approach the end.

Chapter 33

Cain leads Christopher to the artifacts’ chamber. It is a cylindrical room of some gray stone or metal, etched with faint markings. There is no ceiling, just darkness above. Cain asks Christopher what he feels (he’s not sure if he has to do something to kick off the process).

Christopher hears whispers, sees ghostly faces, then the chamber fades to blackness around him. He senses the long line of all of God-Speaker’s past selves, and a murky lineage beyond even that: millions of minds foreign to human thought. Finally, Christopher realizes that he is the terminating point of God-Speaker’s lineage.

Christopher opens his eyes and finds himself lying on the floor of the chamber. Cain sits next to him, trying to look patient, but clearly excited. Christopher asks what Cain did to him, even though he’s already beginning to understand. Cain tells him he is God-Speaker, and the chamber has renewed his memories, though it will take some time. Christopher wants to ask more questions, but he keeps having flashes, like visions.

Cain brings him down a zig-zag of hallways. They pass occasional people here and there. One older person looks oddly familiar to Christopher. Cain talks to himself as they walk, apparently debating whether to keep Christopher hidden or not. He seems to come to the conclusion that there will be no way to keep him hidden for long, and it’s better to just move forward with courage.

Cain takes a deep breath and leads Christopher into a locked room. Inside, there is a teardrop-shaped table with many people already sitting around it. They complain about Cain being late, then ask him who Christopher is. Cain just leads Christopher to the empty seat at the rounded tip of the teardrop and tells him to sit. There is a clamor around the table.

Cain tells these people that after many years and much effort, God-Speaker has been restored to his seat as the rightful ruler of Razor Mountain. He says that Christopher has only just undergone the process of retrieving his memory. Meanwhile, Christopher is still trying to sort out his head. The members of his council shout questions (and other things) at him, Cain, and each other. Many of them demand proof.

Christopher feels something stirring inside him. He wonders if this God-Speaker is waking up. He addresses several of the disbelievers by name, but he doesn’t remember others. Some want to quiz him. He answers one person with detail, but doesn’t remember what the next person is talking about.

Cain cuts them off. He says that Christopher needs some time to complete the process, but Cain will be the go-between and make sure any who want to can talk to Christopher one-on-one. Nobody is satisfied, but Cain whisks Christopher out of the room, to God-Speaker’s office.

Christopher studies the office and asks Cain what the hell is going on. Cain explains that Christopher has within him all of the memories of God-Speaker, the immortal ruler of Razor Mountain. He explains that God-Speaker was nearly murdered. Now that he’s back, whoever was behind it will likely try to strike again.


  • Could add an episode break at the “rightful ruler of Razor Mountain” bit.
  • Will the attempted murderer strike again?


  • Resolve 1.4 – What are the strange thoughts that seem to be guiding Christopher?
    • The minds that reside in the artifacts and provide their knowledge to God-Speaker.
  • Resolve 31.2 – What happens to God-Speaker?
    • He went into baby Christopher.
  • Resolve 31.3 – What happens to Razor Mountain with God-Speaker dead?
    • It falls into slow decay.
  • Resolve 32.1 – How does Cain know him? Is Christopher actually God-Speaker?
    • Yes.

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher starts out mildly confused, hoping to convince someone to let him go home. Instead, he finds out that there’s an immortal mind living in his own brain, along with the faint voices of a whole lot of aliens. He has an inkling that he might be about to cease existing.

Chapter 34

Christopher talks with Cain. Cain explains how Christopher was found murdered, and the imprisonment of the previous Secretary of Justice for the crime. Cain believes there may be another involved, who will want to kill him again before his memories fully return.

They talk about how Cain used what little connection he could make with the artifacts to see Christopher, and the years of work that went into tracking him down. Then he tried to bring Christopher to the mountain, only to have something go terribly wrong in the plane crash. Cain had thought Christopher dead, until his picture came across the desk a few days ago.

Cain suggests Christopher sleep, and gives him a little phone/walkie-talkie device to call Cain when he wakes. He shows him how to access electronic records and a library of paper records. He shows Christopher an attached bedroom, then locks the place up and leaves.

Christopher looks inside, at the process that’s happening in his own mind. He feels God-Speaker “waking up,” but also starting to pull Christopher into that much older, much larger blob of thought and memory. He feels the dread of understanding that he is going to cease to exist.

He is exhausted. He sleeps, even though he’s not sure he will be himself when he wakes up. He dreams of people and places past. He sees glimpses of the mountain compound as it’s built out; of the bunkers and buildings hidden for miles around it. Of patrolling soldiers receiving coded orders and maintaining a perimeter, all to protect God-Speaker. He dreams of the first time he entered the cave and came to the chamber of the artifacts.


  • Will he still be Christopher when he wakes up?


  • Resolve 1.2 – What is the bunker and why is it here in the wilderness?
    • It was built as a perimeter around Razor Mountain.
  • Resolve 1.3 – How does Christopher know the door code to the bunker?
    • He had access to all the information about Razor Mountain, and an very good memory.
  • Resolve 3.1 – Who built the bunker and stocked it so thoroughly. What is the geothermal technology that seems to power it?
    • God-Speaker’s workers built it, using technology that combines the alien knowledge and tech from the outside world.
  • Resolve 3.2 – What is the numbers station signal on the radio?
    • Coded orders to the soldiers that patrol outside Razor Mountain.
  • Resolve 3.3 – What are the landmarks on the map?
    • The bunkers and out-buildings (like power generation and comms) of Razor Mountain.
  • Resolve 19.1 – Can the artifacts actually make him immortal?
    • Yup, in the body-hopping brain kind of way.

Episode Arc:

  • Things are finally beginning to make sense.


  • Lots to resolve here. These dialogues will be a lot of work.


I started tracking the resolutions to the mysteries I’ve set up, which helped me to think about how I’m going to structure all the info-dumping toward the end of the book. I added two more chapter summaries: 33 and 34.

Thing Number Zero: Write the Book

I came across this article recently, A Pre-Launch Playbook for Debut Authors, and I couldn’t help but laugh. A mere fifty-six things you need to do before launching a debut novel. Social media, website, bookstagrammers, goodreads, bookbub, newsletters, travel and networking, interviews. A YouTube channel.

As if it wasn’t exhausting enough writing a good book, this is what the business side of writing is like nowadays. God help you if you’re not independently wealthy and have to have a non-writing job. You can sleep when you’re dead, right?

I do like the idea of dropping a few copies of your book in local Little Free Libraries though.

Reference Desk #12 — DIY MFA

As you might expect from the title, this book is billed as a do-it-yourself replacement for a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. Now, a single book replacing an entire four-year degree is a tall order, and it’s pretty clear as you read that it isn’t really trying to do that. What this book is trying to do is provide a scaffolding for how to build a career as a professional author.

Having never gone through an MFA program, I can’t really compare the two. The impression I get is that MFA programs tend to focus on the fine art aspect of writing and especially on literary, rather than genre writing. I don’t hear much about MFA programs really preparing their graduates for the business of writing as a career. So, while DIY MFA makes for a catchy title, the book is at least trying to be a little more well-rounded than the average MFA program (or at least my slightly fuzzy impression of one).

Breadth Over Depth

DIY MFA is organized around three principles: reading, writing, and community-building. It starts with a brief description of MFA programs, pointing out their weaknesses (as might be expected in a book that positions itself as a direct alternative). Then it goes into the details of each of these pillars.

For Writing, there are chapters on motivation and writing habits, handling rejection and failure, and then more “traditional” technique discussion: developing ideas; outlining; creating characters; beginnings, middles, and endings; voice; point of view; dialogue; world-building. Oh, and a chapter on revision.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. The writing section is the bulk of the book, but each of these chapters is relatively short. Every one of these concepts is big enough to fill entire books. For better or worse, DIY MFA chooses to cover this huge breadth of topics, rather than dig into any one of them in depth.

Next is the Reading section, which talks about reading widely in the genres you want to write, active reading with the intent to learn, and some exercises for more effectively digesting what you read. Compared to the seventeen chapters on writing, there are three on reading.

Finally, there is the Community section. This is really an amalgamation of networking and business concerns. There are chapters on workshopping and critique, crafting an author identity and a website, targeting readers, networking, and submitting work. The book doesn’t play favorites between traditional publishing or self-pub, and generally looks at aspects of the business that can benefit any author.

Who Is This For?

In my opinion, this is a book for younger or inexperienced authors. The framework of Read, Write, Build Community is a pretty good overview of the things you should at least be thinking about if you want to write as a profession. The ideas around goal-setting, organization and learning are the best parts of the book.

The sections about craft and technique are a great jumping-off point, but you’ll need to find other books, websites, resources and mentors if you want to really dig deep into any of these topics, since they’re only addressed by a single chapter of this book.

At this point, it’s worth noting that there is a robust DIY MFA website with a whole team behind it. I don’t know whether the book or the website came first, but the book certainly shows the power of connecting your various media to draw in readers.

The book suggests signing up for the DIY MFA newsletter and BONUS MATERIALS! that you can download from the website. I went ahead and signed up, and the amount of emails is right on the edge of being spammy. If you’re an author who dreams of a media empire, this is an interesting example to look at. They have articles. They have a podcast. They have a newsletter. They have a paid courses and a virtual writing retreat. They have a random writing prompt generator that’s a little bit Story Engine-esque.

The Upshot

I may not be the ideal audience for this book. I’ve read variations of the advice in a lot of these chapters before. I think the best and most important thing the book offers is the overarching ideas about what’s important for a career author, and how to stay organized and focused. It’s a good reminder of what you should be working on if you’re making your living writing, or at least aspire to. It certainly made me think about some of the aspects that I have personally been neglecting.

And while the book offers a variety of suggestions about how to do things, they’re always given with the caveat that what works for one person may not work for another. The DIY mindset requires you to develop your own best practices. This is a refreshing divergence from the many writing books that claim to provide the one and only way to do something correctly.

If you’re a young author (or a not-so-young author who is only recently committed to trying to write for a living) and you haven’t delved too much into the books and blogs and myriad resources out there, this is a perfect place to start. Just don’t limit yourself to the DIY MFA ecosystem. Find the pieces that really interest you and look for more resources on those topics.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #33

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 updated two more chapter summaries — 29 and 30 — and looked for potential plot holes that might trip me up.

Chapter 31

God-Speaker tours Cain’s latest project, a new geothermal borehole that provides more heat and energy for the city. God-Speaker suggests they put more resources behind it, and move up the project timeline. Cain apologizes for overstepping his bounds in their previous meeting. God-Speaker realizes that the man isn’t a threat, just passionate about his projects. God-Speaker advises him to focus on projects with the most impact, and avoid getting distracted doing too many things at once.

God-Speaker returns to his office and calls in Reed. He asks for a report on Cain, but Reed has nothing of interest to report. God-Speaker tells him to call off the surveillance and go back to focusing on his regular tasks. He notes (without much interest) that Reed’s projects have recently fallen behind while he’s distracted with this extra task.

Reed unexpectedly attacks him with a knife. God-Speaker is injured and taken completely by surprise. He fights Reed off and flees to the chamber of the artifacts. Reed catches him there, and he frantically sends his fading consciousness into a random person: baby Christopher.


  • Does he “survive”? (I think it should be unclear whether he succeeds in sending out his consciousness, and not clear that he’s gone into baby Christopher.)


  • 31.1 – Why did Reed betray him?
  • 31.2 – What happens to God-Speaker?
  • 31.3 – What happens to Razor Mountain with God-Speaker dead?

Episode Arc:

  • God-Speaker is mildly pleased to discover that Cain really isn’t a threat, and may be a useful person to mentor. He is distracted, and completely blindsided by Reed’s attack. He is used to being in control, and can barely believe that he might die from this danger that he completely overlooked. It is in this state of disarray that he sends out his consciousness in a last-ditch attempt to survive.


  • Once Reed attacks, this should feel like horror. God-Speaker is hurt, trying to get away. Reed appears emotionless, following slowly and steadily to finish the job. Maybe even play into it a little with something like the doors to the artifact chamber closing, only to have Reed’s hand come through, blocking them as he forces his way in.

Chapter 32

Christopher is still confined, but comfortable. He wonders if being trapped here is any better than being trapped in the bunker. He decides it is, because he has the hope of being able to improve his situation. He also realizes that being around people, even if he can’t interact much, makes a difference in his mental state. He also knows now that he can adapt to a lot more than he would have believed before this ordeal started.

Gabby visits him for the first time in several days. He asks why she hasn’t been interviewing him anymore. He wonders if he’s stuck in administrative limbo. She explains that it took some time for his case to work its way up through her superiors. Sgt. Meadows, Christopher’s former interrogator, has also been fighting every step of the way, making his own unsubstantiated claims about Christopher. Gabby clearly considers him slightly deranged.

Gabby takes Christopher out into the city. She explains that once her report reached a certain level, there was suddenly a great deal of interest in him. Now, he’s going to be moved yet again. He’s out of her hands.

He asks if this means he’ll have any more freedom or opportunity to leave. She doesn’t have that information, but she was allowed to escort him, rather than armed soldiers, so that’s probably a good sign.

She takes him through the facility to an elevator. They go up. At the top, she hands him off to a pair of silent soldiers and wishes him luck. They escort him to an empty room and leave him alone. A camera in the corner watches him. He is reminded uncomfortably of his arrival at the facility, and how he was treated.

Then, a hidden door in the wall opens, letting him into a hallway (the inner council’s private facilities). There, he is greeted by Cain (now old), who tells him, “Welcome home.”


  • What does Cain want with Christopher?


  • 32.1 – How does Cain know him? Is Christopher actually God-Speaker?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher is physically comfortable, really for the first time since being in the bunker. He’s still dissatisfied with his life being largely out of his control, but determined to make the most of what control he does have. Immediately, the ground shifts under him again, and he’s brought to Cain, whose greeting tells him that once again, he has no idea what’s going on.


  • This is the moment when the story starts to “wrap around,” introducing a character from God-Speaker’s story into Christopher’s. Some readers will realize at this point that Christopher is God-Speaker in some form or another.
  • This is the end of Act II. Everything should be pushing toward the ending from here.

Finding Christopher

I’m typically a character-oriented writer, but Razor Mountain is built around plot. This particular story evolved from my ideas about structure and making a “mystery box” story that leaves the audience satisfied instead of irritated. Christopher is thrown into bizarre circumstances that he doesn’t understand. He does have agency, and his decisions matter, but I still don’t feel like I have as good a grasp on his character as I’d like.

Christopher starts as someone who’s afraid of taking chances. This mirrors God-Speaker, who progressively becomes this immortal who needs to completely control his surroundings due to his utter fear of facing death. Christopher’s arc involves becoming less afraid, partly because he’s thrust into danger and confusion, and partly because he chooses to move forward into uncertainty rather than move back into stagnant safety. Christopher has to be the one who ultimately overcomes the fear of death, because God-Speaker isn’t able to.

Christopher has backstory. His fears stem from the childhood trauma of losing his brother. He carries guilt, though it wasn’t really his fault, and this is compounded by the way his parents treat him, as they are afraid of losing their only remaining child.

All of that is useful, but a bit cold and clinical. What I’m trying to find is Christopher’s voice. He should be likeable, and while this background might add up to sympathy from the reader, I don’t think it gets to likeability. I think humor may be the key to a likeable Christopher.

I don’t see Christopher as a sarcastic person. God-Speaker is self-important enough that he might go for a bit of sarcastic or even mean humor at someone else’s expense. Christopher is much more likely to be self-effacing, and to use humor as a defense mechanism or a way to process being way over his head in an unexpected situation. He’s the sort of person who might lead with a joke about the situation when meeting someone for the first time.

I’ve never really figured out how to work humor into an outline. For me, it feels like something that has to happen organically as I’m working on description or dialogue. However, I think having an idea of Christopher’s sense of humor can at least point me in the direction of where some jokes might be. He’s willing to make fun of himself, especially when he’s in a ridiculous situation. He’s also liable to joke as a nervous habit. He won’t have other characters to bounce dialogue off of in Act I, but he may crack a joke to himself.

I’ll have to continue to work on understanding Christopher as I wrap up these last few chapter summaries. Ultimately, some of his personality will come out in the writing, but I’m a planner, and I’d love to understand as much as I can up-front, especially for this project.


I finished summarizing the last two chapters in Act II. I spent some time working on (or at least worrying about) Christopher’s characterization.

How to Create Authentic Children’s Voices in Fiction–and Hold an Adult Reader’s Interest – by Gail Aldwin…

on Anne R. Allen: For writers who want to improve their practice in using children’s voices in their work, one of the best places to start is by …

How to Create Authentic Children’s Voices in Fiction–and Hold an Adult Reader’s Interest – by Gail Aldwin…


I recently went on a foray into Twitter-size microfiction, a story format so short that it’s challenging to even fit the basic elements of a story. It was a fun exercise in minimalism and editing down to the bare bones, and gave me something to do with a bunch of ideas that I had never found a home for. I wrote 21 of these little gems and I was rather pleased with myself.

Well, that was then, and this is now. I’ve really grown as a creator in the last…uh, month or so. My stories need to grow with me. I simply cannot be contained within the narrow confines of 280 characters. No, I need more.

I’m moving up, friends. Moving up to drabbles. “What are drabbles?” you ask. Drabbles are short stories of exactly 100 words. Yes, that’s an astonishing two or three times the length of an average tweet.

On the one hand, a drabble might be harder to write. In terms of pure labor, it has more words. On the other hand, one of the biggest challenges of microfiction is making a structurally sound, interesting story, within the size limit. So the extra space may make the editing that much easier. More likely, I’ll just be tempted to cram more into that luxurious extra space.

How to Drabble

I’ll admit, I haven’t read very many drabbles, so I thought I had better educate myself. There are some examples by well-known authors (and a bit of history) at meades.org. I also found the site Drablr, where authors have freely published thousands of drabbles. They have section on drabble history and suggestions on how to go about writing one (namely, write a short short story, then edit it until it’s exactly 100 words).

When it comes to Drabble construction advice, I think Connie J. Jasperson has the best take I’ve seen. She says to limit yourself to a setting, one or two characters, a conflict, and a resolution. No subplots, and minimal background. She also suggests a dedicating about 25 words to the opening, 50-60 for the middle, and the remainder for the conclusion (and resolution). Check out the whole post over on her blog.

More to Come

My first attempts at this format will probably be expanded versions of my microfiction. There were several that left a lot on the cutting room floor. I’d like to see if they benefit or suffer when given twice as much breathing room. I plan to write some “fresh” ones as well, to get the full experience of writing drabbles from scratch.

It’s worth mentioning a notable benefit to writing drabbles instead of tweet-sized microfiction: drabbles are more practical to sell to online and print magazines and journals. In fact, there are markets like The Martian magazine that only publish drabbles. If there are markets for tweet-stories, I haven’t seen them.

I’m guessing drabbles are going to be a bit harder to write than my microfiction stories, but I’ll have a follow-up post once I’ve finished a few, to describe the experience.

Reference Desk #11 —Writing Comics

I recently read two of Scott McCloud’s lauded books about comics: Understanding Comics and Making Comics. These books have been around for decades, but they hold up well. And when comics treatises are praised by the likes of Art Spiegelman, Jeff Smith, and Neil Gaiman, you can be pretty sure there’s something good in there.

I wouldn’t say I’m a full-on comics nerd, but I did work at a comics shop in high school, and I have a respectable number of comics on my bookshelf and e-reader. I know what I like and dislike. And while I occasionally dabble in visual arts like drawing and painting, I’m happy to be a semi-competent amateur when it comes to producing visuals. As a writer, I’m much more interested in the craft of writing for comics. That’s the perspective I brought to reading these books.

Understanding Comics

This book is, first and foremost, a comic. McCloud understands that the best way to describe the medium of comics is within the pages of a comic. He is an adept artist and writer, rendering his ideas clearly and gracefully, with a dash of silliness here and there.

McCloud has a style that appeals to my personal tastes — he loves to define and categorize. He describes the medium of comics by breaking it down into bite-sized pieces, then showing how those pieces can be combined to build new and interesting things.

First, he goes through pages of effort to justify his chosen definition of comics: “Sequential Art,” or more precisely, “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.” He gives a brief history of art that fits this description, from native Mesoamerican codices to the Bayeux Tapestry to Egyptian tomb paintings, and on into more modern examples. This may sound like dry academics, but it’s much more palatable in comic book form.

Next, he discusses iconography and the complex spectrum between words and pictures; how symbols can be more relatable than realism. He categorizes the ways that a reader infers movement across time and space between the juxtaposed images of a comic, in the “gutters.” He shows the ways that words and pictures can interact together to create unique effects within comics.

Finally, he finishes the book with a broad manifesto describing all art as a series of layers, with some art at the shallow surface level, and some digging deep into other layers. This ties into the comics stuff, but it’s more like his ideas of how to make great art.

McCloud is a great observer of comics. He describes many techniques that I’ve seen before, but his categorization and explanation allowed me to understand how they work, and what they’re good at. This book is not prescriptive, it’s descriptive: it’s a fantastic description of comics from his vantage point as an articulate insider.

Even though this book doesn’t describe comics in a “how to do it” manner, it’s incredibly useful for aspiring creators. It provides framework and language for understanding the medium. These are vital tools in the creator’s toolbox.

Besides, when it comes to creation, there’s a related book called…

Making Comics

Making Comics is another comic about comics. It takes many of the concepts from Understanding Comics and uses them as a foundation. This is much more of a how-to manual, split pretty evenly between visuals, words, and general storytelling principles.

Since my interest is in writing, not art, I skimmed some of the more technical parts related to drawing recognizable expressions and body language. I focused on the parts relating to writing, storytelling, and the way the words and pictures work together.

This book will be most useful to the indie comic artist, who wants to draw and write everything themselves, or perhaps writer-artist duos. McCloud does everything, so that’s the perspective he writes from.

There is a bit less in here for someone like me, who is only interested in the writing, despite it being a thicker volume than Understanding Comics. Still, Making Comics is a valuable book, worth reading if you’re interested in any aspect of comic creation. It solidifies some of the abstract concepts of the first book in more hands-on examples.

Am I an Expert Yet?

Reading these books didn’t make me want to immediately write a comic. But that’s a good thing. They do a great job showing how deep comics can go as an art form, and that’s a little intimidating. They showed me enough to realize I’d need to put in more effort before I think about starting a comics project.

I think my next step will be to re-read some of my favorite comics and analyze what makes them great. McCloud’s books have given me the tools to do that analysis. I know I like the stories, but how are they using the medium, the “juxtaposed images in sequence,” to tell those stories so effectively?

I also want to look for good examples of comics scripts, just to learn the ins and outs of formatting. I know there’s an annotated Neil Gaiman Sandman script in some edition or another of those books, and I’m sure there are other examples floating around. I get the impression that comics script format is a bit less rigid than TV and movie scripts.

As I continue to dig into writing for comics, I’ll come back and post more updates. If you have any interest, these two books are a great starting point. And if you’ve come across any other great resources for comics writing, let me know in the comments.

Character Motivation: Tips And Tricks — K.M. Allan

When it comes to crafting your characters, one important thing to include is motivation. It’s not just because motivation will get the story moving forward, but because it will also help you create well-rounded characters readers will relate to and become invested in. If that sounds like something you want to include in your book, […]

Character Motivation: Tips And Tricks — K.M. Allan

Kindle Vella is Now Live!

This is an interesting new market for serial fiction. It’s unfortunate (although not particularly surprising) that Amazon is demanding to be the sole distributor of any stories you put on the platform. That’s the main reason I’m not excited to start using it immediately.

It’ll be interesting to see if Amazon can leverage their existing writer and reader ecosystems to make headway against the existing services, especially companies from Asia, where short, serial fiction for mobile has been a thing for a while…

Originally posted on chrismcmullen: KINDLE VELLA Amazon just launched the new Kindle Vella. What is Vella? Stories that are told one episode at a …

Kindle Vella is Now Live!

Razor Mountain Development Journal #32

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 chapter summaries for 26, 27, and 28, as well as digging into God-Speaker’s “oracles” and their structural purposes in the story.

Chapter 29

Christopher awakes in his cell, on his bed. The lights are now dimmed. It’s warmer. The irritating noises are gone. He realizes that he has had a restful sleep, and savors the uncomfortable bed while trying to piece together what happened to him.

He vaguely remembers getting fed up and refusing to speak to Meadows any more. He delivered some sort of ultimatum, demanding to speak to Meadows’ superiors.

After some time, a woman in uniform arrives and enters his cell, bringing a chair to sit on. She shows some cool interest in his well-being, but he doesn’t trust her. She says that he has been deemed non-threatening, but that they still need to get as much information from him as they possibly can, and she has been tasked with doing it.

She takes him out of the cell and into Razor Mountain. They walk along streets lined with homes and businesses, all clearly inside caverns within the mountain. In some ways it seems like science fiction. In others, it all looks oddly outdated. He tries to ask about things, but she deflects, explaining that she has no authorization to tell him anything.

She leads him to a small but comfortable apartment, then sits him down and tells him that this is where he will probably live out the rest of his life. Then she asks him to explain everything to her all over again.


  • Is he now trapped here forever?


  • 29.1 – What is this city and who’s in charge here?

Episode Arc:

  • Despite being inhibited by days (weeks?) of torture, Christopher realizes that he has apparently stood up for himself, and it seems to have worked. However, his situation only seems to have improved incrementally. He’s still a prisoner of sorts. He wants to trust Gabby, but suspects that there’s some sort of “good cop, bad cop” going on here.


  • I need to think about the layout of the parts of the Razor Mountain city that he sees.

Chapter 30

Christopher wraps up an interview session with Gabby, and they go on a little outing into the city. She asks him questions about what he’s told her, and she allows him to ask her a bit about the facilities (it’s not clear if she has gotten new orders or is exercising her own discretion).

He asks when the mountain was colonized. She gives the “party line” explanation – early in American history, but also notes that some people think the mountain was found this way, mysteriously, and construction dates much further back.

He asks what the people of Razor Mountain think the outside world is like. She relates the basics of the mythology that the mountain’s inhabitants have been indoctrinated with. He asks if anyone disbelieves, and she talks about recent and older mutinies. He asks her what she believes, and she demurs.

He asks if there’s any way for him to leave. She’s unequivocal that it’s very difficult to leave because of the clearances involved. The governance of Razor Mountain is outside normal constitutional constraints because of the supposed special secret amendments that have been made over the years.

She seems genuinely kind and curious, and Christopher wants to let his guard down, but he trusts nobody at this point. He feels jaded. She writes everything down in a little notebook.


  • No.


  • More of the same questions about Razor Mountain. It’s time to start resolving more mysteries than I’m adding.

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher senses an opportunity to start looking for ways out of this place. He also finds that he craves some kind of human contact, and he has to fight that because he distrusts Gabby.


  • This is an opportunity to deliver some sneaky exposition about Razor Mountain from the inhabitant’s point of view.

Filling Plot Holes

I posted recently about the process of finding and filling plot holes, and I’ve been trying to preemptively do that in Razor Mountain as I go through the outline. As usual, I’m trying to get as many problems fixed in “pre-production” as I can, because I won’t have the opportunity to draft and revise when I’m releasing weekly episodes. I do really wonder if this will end up paying off in the long term…

One of the things I’ve done to mitigate plot holes is call out the mysteries set up in each chapter –– places where information is not available for characters and for the reader that would explain what’s going on. This ramps up the tension (hopefully), but I need to make sure they all get resolved.

For this project, since I’m outlining in detail and should have a good grasp of the plot before I start writing, my biggest risk is failing to properly explain something because I’m so used to it that I take it for granted. I’ve gone through the outline to look for plot points that I need to make sure I explain.

  • The people who disappear from the plane in the first chapter were supposed to be agents sent by Cain to bring Christopher to Razor Mountain, but they were planted by Reed, who wanted Christopher killed in a way that couldn’t be traced back to him.
  • The abandoned bunker by the lake and the burned bunker are the result of rebellions and breakdowns in the Razor Mountain hierarchy that have happened in God-Speaker’s absence. Patrols have been pulled back closer to the mountain.
  • The artifacts are revealed to be a crashed ship from beyond Earth. They contain many alien consciousnesses. The machinery of the ship provide certain powers to God-Speaker, and the consciousnesses provide a huge amount of knowledge. I’m inclined to be a little circumspect about this one.
  • Amaranth is responsible for most of the mysterious signs of life that Christopher encounters in the woods around the mountain.
  • The people of Razor Mountain have been fed a story that the city is a secret offshoot of the US military –– a backup in case of some apocalyptic event. They also believe that there is ongoing cold (and sometimes hot) war between US, Russia and China, so apocalypse is always a real possibility. Some residents have come to disbelieve parts of this narrative in the years since God-Speaker disappeared, including the exiles. People like Sgt. Meadows believe it fervently.


I updated two more chapter summaries and looked for potential plot holes that might trip me up.