Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 21

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.

Anchor Scenes

When it comes to writing, I am a planner. To a lot of people, that just means having an outline rather than writing and seeing what comes out. However, there are really several phases to planning, especially when it comes to a big project like a novel.

For me, the first phase of planning is really just collecting ideas. There has to be some set of ideas that get me excited enough to say, “Yeah, I want to put hundreds of hours of effort into making this book.” Often, these ideas aren’t enough to provide a start-to-finish synopsis of the story, but they are important moments, so they tend to be the things that cluster around the beginning, the end, or act breaks. Occasionally, they’re just something cool that happens in the middle, and that’s fine too.

That collection of exciting ideas are like mountain peaks in the fog. They’re moments in an incomplete story. To make a real story, I have to figure out all the obscured parts—I have to blow away all that fog in between.

Before I really start to put together a proper outline (and even while I’m outlining), I tend to act out those scenes in my head and think about what the characters might do and say. Sometimes I come back to the same scene over and over and discover new details or different directions they could go.

For Razor Mountain, these were things like Christopher waking up alone on the plane and the moments leading up to jumping out; his journey into the wilderness, and facing the choice of going back to safety or continuing on without any certainty of success; or God-Speaker falling down into the depths of the glacier and discovering that the stone god is broken and he is utterly alone.

A lot of the ideas in this chapter came to me later in the process, but it still feels like one of those anchor scenes. When I first conceived this book, I didn’t know about Chris Meadows yet. I didn’t have a complete understanding of Razor Mountain, and I didn’t know exactly how Christopher would get there. What I did know was that Christopher would have to be broken down completely. He doesn’t know it yet, but this is the experience that allows him to really change.

The rest of the story will be about him figuring out why he is who he is, and whether he wants to do something to change that.

Capturing Dreaminess

I got to play around with style a little bit in this chapter. Christopher is in a dreamlike state, sleep-deprived and tortured on top of everything else that has happened to him since the beginning of the book.

I wanted parts of this chapter to feel more concrete, as though we’re with him in the room, and parts to be more dreamlike, to the point where it’s not entirely clear what is real and what is hallucination, what is memory, and what is happening in the moment.

To make time feel disjointed, I added an unusual number of narrative breaks within the chapter. The story jumps back and forth between (what we can assume to be) multiple interviews with Sergeant Meadows and descriptions of Christopher’s mental state and thoughts. I also used an unusual number of short sentences and sentence fragments in the dialogue and descriptions to show how unfocused and disjointed his thoughts are. A side-effect of this is that longer sentences stand out, and I used that to draw attention to one or two things.

The third trick I used was substituting italics for quotes in some of the dialogue. I think this makes Christopher’s quoted dialogue feel more immediate, while Meadows’s italicized dialogue makes him seem more distant. It also has the side-effect that it’s much easier to follow the back-and forth without any dialogue tags. There’s no description in these parts either—just two disembodied voices—and that also adds to the dreamlike quality.

Finally, I added a section where I switch to first-person for the first time in the book. Honestly, I suspect I wouldn’t have had the guts to try something like this if I hadn’t read and analyzed The Martian and seen how many times Andy Weir jumped between perspectives and tenses, and how seamless it all felt.

I initially tried the change in perspective to untangle some gnarly sentences where it just wasn’t clear which person the pronouns were referring to. However, I kept it because it puts the reader deep into Christopher’s perspective at the exact moment when he is most vulnerable. This is a big reveal of something only lightly hinted at, a key piece of Christopher’s background.

With any stylistic experiments there’s a risk of failure, but I’m happy with how this chapter turned out. I think the experiments paid off.

Next Time

In chapter 22, we’re coming back to God-Speaker, once again leaping ahead through history. We’ll see a formative time in his life, and a little more information about Razor Mountain, the mysterious voices within, and their powers.

Author: Samuel Johnston

Professional software developer, unprofessional writer, and generally interested in almost everything.

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