Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 4

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.

Research

This chapter’s research was all about flights and preserved food.

I had to figure out more of the details of Christopher’s flight plan. I looked up flights from Minneapolis to Anchorage. There are a wide variety of airlines that make the trip, and the flights are typically about 8.5 hours, which is more than I would have guessed. The distortions of the Mercator projection strike again.

I figured if he were headed to someplace less populous, he would probably connect in Anchorage. From Anchorage, I needed it to be a long enough flight to his actual destination that he might reasonably fall asleep and also fly over mountainous wilderness areas. Fairbanks fit the bill pretty well. I haven’t gotten too deep into it in the story, and probably won’t, but Christopher was on a sales trip trying to sell products to electrical utilities. In this case, the GVEA electric cooperative.

Flying from Anchorage to Fairbanks would send him over the Alaska range and would also be somewhat close to Denali National Park and Preserve, a 6-million acre park with a single road entrance and a small airport, McKinley National Park Airport.

While I was searching for info about what it might be like to board a small plane in Anchorage, I found a plane-spotting website and then spent a while going down that rabbit hole. One of the fun things about writing is discovering these random topics and subcultures that I know nothing about. I have absolutely no desire to go somewhere to watch planes, but I love anything where I can hear (or read) someone discussing something they are intensely passionate about.

For the preserved food, all I really needed for this chapter was something portable that Christopher could bring on his hike. However, I’ve been working on a larger list of long-lasting foods to fill the pantry. Christopher’s eats are going to be an ongoing background detail. It’s reasonable for the bunker to be stocked with long-lasting, zero-maintenance foods, but from a story perspective I also want things that preserve the mystery of how long it’s been since someone last used the bunker.

The meaty stuff that Christopher took on his hike is called pemmican. I found it through survivalist websites, although it has been around for centuries. It’s basically dried meat powder mixed with tallow and sometimes berries for flavor. It’s a high-energy food and one of the few meat products that can last for many years when properly prepared.

The final bit of research I had to do was around flint and steel. I was about as familiar as Christopher is. Thanks to a million RPGs and fantasy stories, I knew that these are used to make fire, but I’ve never actually used one. I looked into several different types and how they’re struck, as well as accoutrements like char cloth.

The Breaking Point

In the first three chapters, I found fairly natural break-points where I could split up episodes. This chapter was about 3.5k words, enough that I could theoretically break it into three episodes a little over 1k words each. Unfortunately, I only came across one break-point that I liked. I tried to find a second, but I wasn’t very happy with the placement, and it still would have left me with a very short third episode. Instead, I opted to just break the chapter in half. This ended up bringing me quite close to Tapas’ 15k characters size limit. I hadn’t bothered measuring it before, but it ends up being around 2k words. So this is about as big as an episode is going to get.

This week, having only two episodes worked out well, because I didn’t get all my revisions from feedback done until Tuesday, and I wouldn’t have been able to post three episodes without pushing this post into the weekend. As you can tell, I’m still working on getting ahead of the posting schedule.

I think part of my challenge has been that my chapters are continuing to skew long. Okay, not that long, but in the past I have tended toward ~2,000 word chapters. That may just be my style changing over time, but I’ve been wondering if there are other factors. I produced a more detailed outline for this project than I usually do, so that might have had some impact. I also suspect that I’m cutting fewer words in editing than I would be if I wrote the whole book and then edited all at once, instead of writing and revising the chapters in sequence.

Finding Drama

Christopher has had a bad time so far, but the bunker seems relatively safe. He’s lazy, like me, and he has to fight his instinct to lie low if he’s going to have a chance at being rescued. I tried to get into how he’s feeling toward the end of the chapter, as he realizes that he probably needs to save himself.

It’s a lot harder to dramatize dying slowly by doing nothing than dying quickly in an attempt to escape. Christopher will be facing some of both, but I wanted to lay some groundwork and get the reader into his head space here. He’s not someone who was inclined to take low-stakes risks in life before the start of the story, and he’s finding it hard to think about taking high-stakes risks now.

Back to God-Speaker

We now have three Christopher chapters and only one chapter of God-Speaker, but we’ll be getting back to him next week. I feel more comfortable writing Christopher, so I may have to work a little harder to keep God-Speaker’s chapters entertaining. I’m a little worried that the 2:1 chapter ratio will make him feel too much like a B plot, but that structure is baked-in now, and there’s no going back. Luckily, constraints breed creativity.

See you all next time, for Chapter 5.

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