Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 13

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.

The End of Act I

Chapter twelve finished the first part of Christopher’s story, and this chapter finished the first part of God-Speaker’s. Christopher’s chapters will continue in the same linear time, while the God-Speaker chapters are going to start time-hopping.

In terms of three-act structure, I’m now moving out of the beginning and into the middle. I’ve set up the two main characters and their settings. I’ve tried to set up their motives and some of the themes that will continue throughout the book.

The end of Act I is an inflection point. Big things happen, and the direction of the story shifts. For Christopher, this means finding people after weeks of being lost and alone. For God-Speaker, the opposite is true—it looks as though he may be permanently separated from his tribe. Christopher has succeeded in his goal to find people. God-Speaker has failed to guide his own people. Now both of them need to take stock of where they are and ask themselves, “what next?”

This chapter is also especially meaningful because in many ways it’s the inciting incident for the entire book. Chapter one may have started with Christopher’s plane crash, but this moment when God-Speaker finds the voices under the mountain is what drives the whole story, and will be important later on.

Into The Middle

As I move into the middle of the book, my focus is going to shift from building up the main characters and the world. First, some of the big mysteries of the book will come into focus: what’s going on around Razor Mountain, and how does God-Speaker’s story tie into Christopher’s? The middle of the book will flesh out these mysteries and eventually reveal the answers.

The other major task I need to tackle is expanding the characters’ internal conflicts and tying them to the external conflicts they’re experiencing, so that when we get to the end of the book, the biggest events can answer some mysteries as well as providing resolutions to external and internal conflicts in a kind of catharsis mega-combo.

No More Simple

This chapter also marked the last chapter where I use simple writer as an aid for simplifying the writing style. God-Speaker’s story is jumping ahead through time.

I originally started doing this because I wanted a short-hand way to suggest that God-Speaker’s tribe were human, with familiar human feelings and thoughts, while also having a more limited capacity for communication and lacking more complex or nuanced ideas that built up over thousands of years of human history.

I read Clan of the Cave Bear, and one of the stylistic choices that really turned me off from that book was the way the authorial narration used ideas and comparisons from modern times while describing paleolithic neandertals and humans. It wasn’t anachronistic exactly—the characters themselves weren’t having these ideas—but it took me out of the headspace of those characters, and out of that setting. I wanted to avoid that here.

I’m not sure the simplified language accomplished everything I set out to do with it in Razor Mountain, but hopefully it did help, in some small part, to make the setting resonate.

It also added an extra annoying layer to the revision process, where I had to decide if I wanted to keep certain complex words that fit my meaning, or if I wanted to replace them with simpler words that didn’t quite have the impact of the originals. I don’t mind admitting that I am happy to not do this anymore.

Next Time

That’s it for this chapter. Next chapter starts Act II, and all the excitement of new characters and settings. I’ve also got some summer vacation coming up, which hopefully means I’ll have a lot more time and energy to spend on writing in the next couple weeks. See you next time for Chapter fourteen.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 12

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.

Thank God For New Characters

This was a big, exciting chapter for a lot of reasons, and a fun one to write. This marks the end of Act I for Christopher, so a major shift in the story is appropriate.

Christopher’s long isolation is at an end. I get to introduce him to a new character, and then a whole host of new characters. A protagonist who is all alone presents some special challenges, as I’ve discussed in previous development journals, so it’s a relief to be out of that stage. It comes as both a relief and a shock to Christopher to suddenly be around people again, and hopefully readers will feel a little bit of a jolt as well.

This chapter serves as a transition. Rather than jumping into big blocks of dialogue, we start with a few terse sentences. Amaranth’s inability to speak (and her unwillingness to answer all of Christopher’s questions) means that we really only get a few terse sentences of back-and-forth between the two characters.

I really like Amaranth as a character. She comes across as very mysterious initially, but we’ll eventually see that she’s a person with simple motives. Writing her poses a few challenges—it can be hard to clearly describe gestures in fiction. I tend to fall back on a simple description paired directly with the character’s interpretation of what they’re being told. This hopefully helps the reader build an image in their head while making the meaning clear (or unclear, if that’s the goal).

I also had to decide how to depict her written responses in the text. I debated italics and eventually went with bold, just because it stands out more. I think I would ultimately like those “written” lines to be in a font that simulates handwriting, but that is more hassle than I want to deal with right now, especially when I’m posting the story across multiple services, and they each have their own tools and limitations.

Old Mystery, New Mystery

Along with the transition to Act II, we get the resolution of some major mysteries. However, the plot has to keep moving, and these resolutions only lead to new questions. Yes, there are more mysterious structures out here, and yes, there are people in them. But who are they? Why are they here? And why does at least one of them seem intent on shooting Christopher?

This is a balancing act. In this kind of “mystery box” story, the reader needs some mysteries to resolve or at least move forward. Otherwise, it just feels like it’s piling confusion on top of confusion until the reader gets fed up. On the other hand, the story’s momentum is built on those mysteries and getting to their resolutions, so the mysteries need to ramp up in scale and importance until the end, when the biggest payoffs and resolutions can finally happen.

Revision

This chapter and the previous chapter both started as two chapters in the outline (so these were originally conceived as four separate short chapters). I’m happy with how these turned out when reduced and combined.

There are two chapters left in Act I in my outline. These are both God-Speaker chapters, and once again I think it makes sense to combine them. This neatly keeps up the format of two Christopher chapters for every God-Speaker chapter. And while Chapter 12 was a pretty big moment in Christopher’s story, I’d argue that Chapter 13 will be an even bigger moment in God-Speaker’s. It’s the perfect way to wrap up the act.

The start of Act II will also signal a change in the format of the chapters. Christopher’s timeline will continue apace, but God-Speaker’s story is about to jump through time at a much faster pace. This big inflection point is a subtle signal that will hopefully make that more palatable for the reader.

Research

I didn’t have to do a lot of research for this chapter. In fact, the only things I looked up involved elevators. Specifically, what’s at the bottom of an elevator shaft? As it turns out, hydraulics, springs, or a shock absorber, and not much else. It only ended up mattering for a few sentences in this chapter, but I now know a little more about the different types of elevators out there than I did before.

Next Time: Finishing Act I!

That’s all for this chapter. Next time we’ll talk Chapter 13, and the end of Act I for God-Speaker.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 11

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.

This chapter took extra-long to get through, mostly because I do the brunt of my writing on weekends, and my weekends have been fully booked lately. As usual, it was hard to get back into it, but it felt good once I did.

Combo!

I had originally outlined this as two short chapters, but as I mentioned in previous weeks, I’ve been looking to consolidate as I approach the end of Act I. I think these chapters ended up being better as one than they would have been if they were separated.

The end of the first section is mostly Christopher working himself up to his emotional revelation, which is that he is going to keep going instead of turning around and heading back to the bunker, as he has been telling himself. The second section ends with an external revelation in the form of the rabbit. Both the internal and external aspects move the story in different ways, and I don’t think it would be terrible to have them driving two separate chapters, but they complement each other nicely when put together.

Hints

The inner-focused part of the chapter provides more hints about Christopher’s past. One of the keys with long-running mysteries in a story is to keep the reader thinking about them. Laying down some groundwork early on is not very useful if you then go a hundred pages without mentioning it again. I’ve been trying to keep juggling some of the ongoing mysteries by alluding to them every few chapters. In this case, I want the reader to keep wondering what exactly went on in Christopher’s past.

This chapter also worked to expand how Christopher views himself, at least a little bit. This is challenging when the character is alone for such a large portion of the book. Just having him think about himself constantly doesn’t work very well, and he doesn’t have other characters to play off of and reveal his character in a more passive way. Luckily, lots of things will be changing as we finish off Act I.

Parallels

Finally, my last goal in this chapter is to draw parallels and contrasts between God-Speaker and Christopher. God-Speaker is with his tribe, while Christopher is alone. In the “tribe” timeline, it’s verging on Spring, while Christopher is headed into Winter. Both of them are headed in the same direction: toward the mountain with the shattered peak.

There’s a natural play between these two timelines and main characters, by virtue of them being the stars of the show and the alternating chapters. However, I want to set out some of these simpler comparisons early, because there will be more as the story progresses.

Next Time

That’s all for this chapter. I’m looking at combining another pair of chapters from the outline, which will leave me with three more to close out Act I. See you next time.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 10

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.

Emotional Arc

This is the first time God-Speaker really feels like a leader. He doesn’t jump into it, he just steps up when nobody else wants to. (As an introvert, this is usually how I find myself in leadership positions as well. It just takes a small step forward when nobody else is willing.)

This entire chapter is a situation going from bad to worse. The rock slide starts it off with a bang, and then the entire landscape is set up to get in the tribe’s way. While things are looking up at the end of the chapter, the entire tribe is worn down. And even if everyone else is feeling better, God-Speaker still intuits that their troubles aren’t really over.

Making a Poultice

This felt like one of those writer rabbit holes that non-writers wouldn’t even think about. I was certainly aware of the idea of a poultice (medicinal herbs and sometimes other stuff pressed into a wound to help it heal). It’s a very old form of medicine. However, I didn’t know whether this was technology that ice-age Beringian people would be likely to have. I also didn’t know what particular plants would be available and useful.

Most of the information I found on poultices and their ingredients were Euro-centric (or at least included originally-European ingredients that were brought to North America much later. I settled on willow bark, which is fairly well-known for containing pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory chemicals similar to aspirin. Having never consumed it, I was surprised to learn that it can have a mildly minty smell. Along with that, I added Devil’s Club, a plant that apparently grows like a weed in parts of Alaska and has long been used in native medicine.

Officially a Novel?

This chapter finishes just shy of the 40,000 word mark, so while we still have a long way to go, it’s at least up to NaNoWriMo length. It also tells me I’m writing at about 1/5 of NaNoWriMo speed.

After some adjustments I made to the outline, the next God-Speaker chapter will be the last one in the first act. Everything is about to get turned upside-down for God-Speaker.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 9

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.

Internal and External Plot

I started writing this chapter by focusing on the physical journey that Christopher takes. He has external problems in the form of the tent and the heavy snow and the poor visibility and all of the various difficulties of surviving and navigating in the wilderness without any sort of training.

I had to remind myself partway through that where Christopher is going and all of the external problems he has along the way are important, but only as they relate to his own internal state. He’s gone out of his comfort zone, and he feels the need to accomplish something, but he’s also in a dangerous situation. The circumstances of his arrival were already bizarre, and he has growing evidence that there is someone around. All of it seems outlandish. He can’t come up with any good reason why he would be in this situation. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to do. But stagnating in the bunker seems like giving up.

This chapter is all about Christopher’s deteriorating emotional state. He’s torn between pushing forward and going back. His actual journey moves him where he needs to be for the purposes of the story, but it’s his emotional journey that will actually drive the plot, and (hopefully) keep things interesting.

Being Believably Bad

Christopher is not a great outdoorsman. His tent situation is a disaster. He’s having a hard time travelling through the snowstorm. He is certainly not an expert navigator.

Christopher is going to have failures and setbacks. However, I don’t want him to be annoyingly incompetent. He needs to be challenged, and his mistakes and failures need to come from who he is and what he knows (or doesn’t know). What I don’t want is for it to feel like he’s screwing up because it’s convenient to the plot. I want him to fail because he’s out of his depth in difficult situations. Then, when he succeeds, it will be that much more satisfying.

Most of his camping issues are reasonable, considering his lack of experience. These are things that I thought I wouldn’t have been prepared for, having never camped in cold weather myself. They came at least partly out of my research and all of the advice from veteran campers on what to watch out for.

His poor navigation is more about his mental state. He is careful, right up to the point where he thinks he’s made contact with another person. When that happens, he stops thinking about all of his carefully laid plans. When he isn’t able to actually find the person he’s chasing, it makes matters worse. He questions himself and his own mental state. He sinks further into depression.

Next Time

The next chapter brings us back to God-Speaker, and I need to make some difficult decisions about consolidating chapters. I’ve been reevaluating my outline, and I’m thinking I may be able to combine two Christopher chapters and two God-Speaker chapters to tighten up the plot and move everything along a little faster as we approach the end of Act I.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 8

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.

Landscape Writing

As Christopher and God-Speaker spend time traveling, I’m working on building my repertoire of geographical descriptions. This sounds simple, but it can actually be challenging. First, it requires that I get the lay of the land clear in my own head, then I have to describe it succinctly, but still make it clear to the reader. Spend too much time describing the geography, and the story slows to a crawl. Spend too little, and it’s hard to clearly picture the characters’ surroundings.

I recently re-read The Lord of the Rings for the first time in years. Tolkien has a reputation for being meandering and long-winded by modern standards, and it is a reputation that is occasionally deserved. But I was really struck by his mastery of this kind of “landscape painting” through words. I was able to see the sights of Middle Earth as the fellowship traveled.

Modulating Discomfort

Over the past few chapters, I’ve been thinking a lot about my characters’ discomfort levels. One of the key ingredients to build suspense is to put characters into uncomfortable, dangerous or difficult situations. On the other hand, it’s important that the tension actually build over time, and not just max out at extreme levels too quickly. I’m trying to measure the larger story arcs and modulate the tension accordingly, so it ramps up into key story beats.

The other challenge is that my main characters are timid. They need to be carefully led into more challenging situations if they’re going to build up a tolerance and overcome them. My characters are frogs that I’m slowly boiling. By the time they fully realize the danger, it’ll be too late.

I debated whether Christopher’s camping trip should be more catastrophic, but this is the first chapter where he’s really purposely going out of his comfort zone. And it’s uncomfortable, but not so bad as to send him running scared. Yet.

Act I Planning

As I mentioned last time, my outline called for sixteen chapters in Act I. Having reached the theoretical halfway point, I wanted to reevaluate the next eight chapter outlines in light of what I’ve written so far. I haven’t deviated wildly from my outline, but there are tons of tiny decisions that happen in the act of writing, and those can add up to unexpected changes in the direction of the plot, or a crystallization of themes and ideas. Pacing is also something I have to get into writing to feel.

My general feeling is that Chapter 8 should be more than halfway through Act I. The next eight chapters look to be shorter, so that checks out. However, because they’re shorter, I could also consider combining a couple of them together. I’ll keep that option in my back pocket and make the decision as I’m writing those chapters.  That would also affect the spacing between Christopher POV chapters and God-Speaker POV chapters. That’s not a major concern, but it does affect the pacing a little.

Next Time

That’s all for this chapter. See you in Chapter 9, where we’ll look at continuing to ramp up the tension on Christopher.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 7

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.

A Big One

This was a long chapter, clocking in at 5,100 words. It was also  split into several short scenes, which is not something I typically do very often. A side-effect of this is that I have more convenient places to split the chapter into blog posts, and this results in a bunch of smaller posts rather than a couple large posts. I don’t have a ton of metrics, but I suspect people will generally prefer bite-sized pieces when reading online.

I’m still using Simple Writer as a guide to make these God-Speaker chapters feel different in tone and style to Christopher’s chapters, although I can’t bring myself to cut all of the “less simple” words. One of the interesting side-effects of using this tool is that it tends to highlight adjectives and adverbs as naturally less common words. I end up cutting words that I probably ought to consider cutting anyway, even if I weren’t trying to simplify the language.

Wildlife Research

I continue to research wildlife from thousands of years ago, and bits of it creep into almost every chapter. Did you know that there were ice age giant beavers? Yeah, there were ice age giant beavers. Six to seven feet long. Mammoths are neat and all, but there are all these other cool kinds of megafauna that nobody really talks about.

Accidental Inventions

It’s interesting to realize that I didn’t really map out any of the interpersonal relationships between God-Speaker and other members of his tribe when I was outlining. They didn’t even have names until the point where I needed to write them. So much for outlining making the writing trivially easy. Even with an outline, you have to invent some aspects of the story on the fly, and they might still surprise you.

I think these chapters would be a lot duller without that interplay between people, even if I did lean more heavily on the people vs. nature conflict that is pretty natural for prehistoric people in a hostile environment. Besides, the people vs. nature conflict is already present in this part of Christopher’s story, and it’s good to have variety.

It also turns out that these relationships and conflicts help develop God-Speaker’s character in useful ways. They make sense of his background as we progress further into the story, and help to explain why he does what he does, and why he is who he is.

A Connection

It’s exciting to note that this is the first of God-Speaker’s chapters where Razor Mountain comes into view, and the mountain is the first thing that links God-Speaker’s story to Christopher’s (since it was also mentioned in passing in Chapter 3). Appropriate for the name of the book.

Thoughts Going Forward

According to the outline, I’m only about halfway through Act I, but it feels like I should probably be a little further along. I’m going to look into trimming from the act so it doesn’t feel overly drawn-out. I often find it easy to cut chunks out of chapters in editing, but I find it harder to make broader cuts that might affect whole chapters. However, it’s been a little while since I finished the outline, so now is probably a fine time to revisit it and see if it still makes sense now that I’m decently far into the book and have a little better idea of what it wants to be.

That’s all for this chapter. See you after chapter 8.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 6

his 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.

A Little Rewrite

I knew what I wanted to do in this chapter and I didn’t deviate too much from my outline. I initially wrote the first couple pages of this chapter as a summary of what Christopher had been doing for the past week or so, but that was too dull. I rewrote that section from the perspective of a single day, while layering in little details of what he has been doing along the way.

This is something I catch myself doing occasionally. It almost always turns out better to have a scene where a character is actively doing something, instead of paragraphs of exposition describing what they already did. While I think “show, don’t tell” is one of those rules that people worry about far too much, this is a fairly classic example of “show, don’t tell.”

I caught myself (much more quickly) doing the same thing in the second part of the chapter, as I summarized Christopher’s thought process leading up to his test excursion. Once again, I adjusted it to start with him taking action, and interspersed his thoughts and details of his preparations.

Winter Camping and

For this chapter I had to research a topic that I knew was coming: cold weather camping. Some things are fairly obvious: you need to wear multiple layers and warm outerwear. You need a fancier sleeping bag and tent. Other things were less obvious to me, like watching out for sunburn or dehydration from sweating.

Here’s a selection of links, if you want a taste:

Tents for cold-weather camping come in a few different types, ranging from under 3 lbs. to over 20 lbs. Single-person tents designed for mountain climbers can be impressively light and sturdy. The larger ones are more for basecamp or for recreational camping, because they’re a hassle to carry.

Some are double-walled, but not all. They’re typically a waterproof fabric with additional coatings, and require stronger poles (e.g. carbon fiber). Even with waterproofing, water in the tent can be a concern – a person’s breath can create condensation on the inside.

I made a rough list of the things Christopher might want to bring with him. Estimating the weight of all of this, it could come to 50 lbs. or more, so the sled really becomes necessary to carry a good chunk of that weight.

  • Food
  • Fresh water (need 1 liter / 2 hours of hiking. 3.78L = 1 gallon. Snow can also be melted.)
  • Sleeping bag + pad
  • Hatchet
  • Flint and steel, dry kindling
  • Snow shoes
  • Small snow shovel
  • Spare clothes
  • First aid kit
  • Rifle
  • Camp stove & fuel
  • Utensils, Knife, misc.
  • Lantern

Everything is Harder Than It Looks

Things are still not easy for Christopher. He has supplies, but he has no expertise. He’s not in particularly good shape and was recently injured.

I think pop culture has trained a lot of us to accept that protagonists can just step up and do whatever needs doing and end up being just fine. The supposedly average character effectively gains super-powers when the plot calls for them to do hard things. I really don’t want Christopher to be one of these action heroes. Even something that might sound fairly straightforward, like hiking and camping in cold weather, can actually be fraught, especially when completely cut off from civilization.

Christopher’s just taking baby steps, but soon he’s going to have to get riskier. Things are going to get harder for him. We’ll see how it goes in Chapter 7.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 5

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.

God-Speaker’s Goals

After two chapters starring Christopher and a holiday hiatus, it feels like it has been a long time since we got to hang out with God-Speaker. His tribe is on the road now, and we get to see a glimpse of what life is like for him in the wake of his mentor’s death.

It took a long time and quite a few drafts to write this chapter. Much longer than the previous chapters. Part of that was real life, but a lot of it was the story itself. It’s an important lesson that’s easy to forget: if writing something seems especially hard, you may not be writing the right thing.

My initial outline for this chapter mostly just had the tribe moving from point A to point B. My primary beta reader (the wife) confirmed that the chapter felt like filler, or “waiting for something important to happen.” I was thinking and writing about story threads and character goals at that time, it became pretty obvious that God-Speaker needed better-defined goals and clearer challenges to overcome.

This chapter is still about the tribe going from point A to point B, but that is now the backdrop for God-Speaker’s own struggles. It turns out he’s not good at the things that are important to a pre-historic tribe, like hunting, so his status has never been very high among the tribe. When he was taken in by Makes-Medicine to train as a shaman, and when he found and bonded with the stone god, his social status became murkier.

Now, Makes-Medicine is gone, which removes some of his social “armor.” The people of the tribe still aren’t too sure about this stone god thing, and some of the hunters still clearly have a low opinion of God-Speaker. The expectation for a shaman is to prove himself wise and capable, and become an important leader for the tribe. This is one goal.

Another goal becomes clear in this chapter. Makes-Medicine couldn’t bring the tribe out of the mountains to someplace warmer and more hospitable, but God-Speaker might. God-Speaker has no idea how to find snowless lands, but again, this gives him some direction.

Secondary Characters

I really didn’t have secondary characters fleshed out for God-Speaker’s part of the story, which probably should have been a red flag in the outlining process. However, this chapter forced me to build some of these characters. They’re directly tied to God-Speaker’s goals and obstacles.

I had to come up with more names for members of the tribe (both in this chapter and for later use). The interesting thing about this style of descriptive naming is that it automatically gives the character a bit of back-story. I need to come up with something that they’ve done or that they’re known for, to figure out what they should be named.

Far-Seeing and Finds-the-Trail are two of the best hunters of the tribe, representing everything that God-Speaker aspired to, and largely failed at. They see him as beneath them, and would be happy to see him fail, maintaining the current social order.

Braves-the-Storm is a more ambiguous figure. He is a rival for leadership. He has status as someone wise, brother of the former shaman, and a great hunter in his youth. However, he also reveals Makes-Medicine’s prophecy to God-Speaker, suggesting that he could bring the tribe to a better place. He quietly stands up for God-Speaker and begins to act as a possible replacement mentor figure in this chapter.

Research

I did a bit more research on the kinds of game animals that the tribe might find. There are a lot of good resources that talk about animals in the modern day, their habitats and ranges. But it’s much harder to find information on what was around thousands of years ago.

For example: pages about Alaskan hares.

Serial Writing

As writing this chapter dragged on, I had to admit that I just can’t consistently hit a schedule of one chapter per week with any consistency. Writing and publishing chapters as I go is honestly more of a challenge than I expected.

I could have put out this chapter a couple of weeks sooner, but the extra time has improved it quite a bit, and will also improve the rest of the story going forward. Rather than being beholden to a tight schedule, I decided that I’d rather try to put out good fiction and adjust the schedule as needed.

Of course, I’m still never completely happy, so I’m still planning to do another pass of revisions and improvements once all the chapters have been released. (If you have any thoughts or suggestions, feel free to leave comments!) But I’d like the story to be as good as possible for the readers that are reading it now.

Thanks for reading. See you next chapter!

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.