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.

Cliffhangers:

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

Mysteries:

  • 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.

Cliffhangers:

  • Will he still be Christopher when he wakes up?

Mysteries:

  • 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.

Notes:

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

Results

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.

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.

Cliffhangers:

  • 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.)

Mysteries:

  • 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.

Notes:

  • 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.”

Cliffhangers:

  • What does Cain want with Christopher?

Mysteries:

  • 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.

Notes:

  • 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.

Results

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

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.

Cliffhangers:

  • Is he now trapped here forever?

Mysteries:

  • 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.

Notes:

  • 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.

Cliffhangers:

  • No.

Mysteries:

  • 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.

Notes:

  • 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.

Results

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal #31

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 the outlines for chapters 23-25.

The Oracles in Chapter 25

There’s some information that I need to work into the conversations in chapter 25 that I neglected to note last time. I need to clarify the use of the artifacts to travel through time. This isn’t physical time travel. God-Speaker seems to be uniquely attuned to the artifacts, and is able to use them to transfer himself into another person. However, the artifacts also contain the power to send the user’s personality and thoughts into the past, to a particular moment. There, they can perform a similar trick, inhabiting the targeted person.

God-Speaker has found that children are generally a bit better at attuning and using the artifacts, but he is the only one that can use them to their full potential. However, he keeps a small group of children “trained” in their use. He calls them oracles, and it is their job to act as an emergency warning system for him.

When something catastrophic happens, God-Speaker can give one of these oracles a message, and send them back in time to inhabit his own mind and report this message. This gives God-Speaker the opportunity to do something to prevent the catastrophe. It also destroys these children. They last long enough to deliver their message, then become untethered from the host mind. God-Speaker doesn’t know what happens to them after that. They may be dead, or they may become roaming spirits, sent into purgatory from a future that no longer exists.

God-Speaker doesn’t entirely understand how this “soft” time travel works. Are there alternate universes? Does the old future disappear when changes are made to the past? There’s no way of knowing. All he knows is that he has received messages from his future self in this way, and those messages have allowed him to keep Razor Mountain secret. They have allowed him to quash potential rebellion and conspiracy against him. They have warned him of people in the outside world who are close to discovering Razor Mountain or his other secrets.

This is also how he initially learned that Sky-Watcher, his love in Chapter 25, has a degenerative disease that has no cure. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help him. The world lacks the advanced medical resources he would need to treat her, and there is no way for him to build up the necessary infrastructure quickly enough on his own.

He tries to teach her to use the artifacts to jump bodies permanently in the current time, but she lacks the capability. In the end, the artifacts do nothing. They give him a warning he cannot act on, and he has no choice but to watch in anguish as his love slowly dies.

This is important to build God-Speaker’s character, but it’s also a bit of Chekhov’s time machine. At the end of the book, this is the mechanism that Christopher will use to travel back in time to the moment when God-Speaker first entered the caverns under Razor Mountain. This is how Christopher will take control of God-Speaker at exactly the right moment to throw him off the edge and into a deep chasm, ending his machinations before he has a chance to even find the artifacts in the first place.

Chapter 26

The banging noise stops with no explanation, leaving Christopher’s heart pounding. An indeterminate amount of time passes. Christopher thinks whoever is holding him is doing this as a form of torture to wear him down. He waves to the camera near the ceiling, just outside his cell. He gets no response. He pretends to start falling asleep again, but nothing happens. Only when he really starts to doze does the noise wake him.

Shortly after, a uniformed soldier arrives and takes him out of the cell, cuffing him to the steel table in the central area of the jail room. More time passes.

Finally, a man in an officer’s uniform (Sgt. Chris Meadows) enters and sits across from him at the table. He says that they have a lot to discuss.

Cliffhangers:

  • What are they going to discuss? What are they planning to do to Christopher?

Mysteries:

  • 26.1 – Largely continuing the mysteries from chapter 23, 24, 25. What’s going on here, and what do they want with him?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher is confused and alone, as he has been since the beginning of the book. Since he doesn’t know who’s holding him, he has no way to gauge what they’re likely to do to him. By the end of the chapter, he is fairly confident that they’re willing to hurt him, if they think it will be useful.

Chapter 27

Sergeant Chris Meadows introduces himself. He makes an un-funny joke about their shared first name. He states plainly that his judgment will decide what will happen to Christopher for the rest of his life. He could rot in a cage, or be set free. There could be other, worse options. Then he asks Christopher who he is, and how he arrived at the mountain.

Christopher gives an abridged, but honest version of events. Meadows asks about his life before being dumped in the Alaskan wilderness. Christopher talks about where he grew up, his parents and brother, and his job. Meadows asks about his interactions with the exiles. Christopher explains that he has no ties to them and holds no grudges against them. He was just looking for anyone he could find, in the hopes of getting back home.

Meadows seems dissatisfied. He has the soldier put Christopher back in the cell. Time passes. They continue blasting him with noise to prevent him from sleeping. He’s brought back out to talk to Meadows again. Meadows suggests that he tell the truth this time. Christopher tries to convince him that he is telling the truth. He asks Meadows what answers he wants. He suggests that if they’re honest with each other, maybe Christopher will know something useful. Meadows just tells him “I know more about you than you know. I know you’re lying, and until you tell me the truth, this will only get worse for you.”

Lack of sleep wears on Christopher. He begins having a hard time keeping events straight. He begins to wonder if he is lying. He’s uncertain when he’s only thinking, when he’s talking to himself (or the camera) and when he’s talking to Meadows. He seems to jump between sitting at the table and sitting in the cell. He thinks he’s forced to run in circles down the empty gray hallways. Then he finds himself jogging in place in his cell. He’s fed infrequently.

He talks about the time when he was young and nearly drowned. His older brother saved him, but was taken by the riptide and drowned in the process. He talks about his own guilt from that incident. After that, his parents never let him take any risks. He internalized their fear, and avoided any risks in his own life. He doesn’t know if he tells this to Meadows, or only thinks it to himself.

He hallucinates. He shrinks, getting smaller and smaller while the cell grows huge around him. His voice is too small to be heard. He screams and shouts, slamming his fists against the bars and the concrete floor until he sees blood. Then everything goes black.

Cliffhangers:

  • Is he dead? Has he lost his mind?

Mysteries:

  • 27.1 – What information is Meadows actually trying to get out of him? Who do they think he is?

Episode Arc:

  • This is Christopher’s lowest point so far. He has no control over his situation. It’s at this low point that he takes stock of himself, who he is, and what shaped him. He remembers this incident from his childhood that has shaped the rest of his life.

Notes:

  • This is the necessary breakdown that allows Christopher to understand himself and choose to change in upcoming chapters.

Chapter 28

God-Speaker sits in his modern office within Razor Mountain. He’s in an older body, feeling aches and pains. He knows that he’ll have to decide on a vessel and make the jump into a new body soon. Perhaps after he’s resolved the current situation? He feels a bit of nervousness, but reminds himself that he’s dealt with betrayal many times before.

He meets with Reed, a member of his inner circle. He explains that he believes Cain, another Razor Mountain official, may have plans to betray him. He asks Reed to keep an eye on him. Reed expresses skepticism, but accepts the duty and promises to keep God-Speaker updated on what he finds.

After Reed leaves the office, Cain comes in. The man is full of energy and has a plethora of ideas for improving Razor Mountain. God-Speaker pushes back, suggesting that they don’t have the resources to do all of this, and the plans haven’t been vetted by others. Cain is irritated. He asks God-Speaker pointedly about their resources and what his plans are for further construction. God-Speaker becomes irritated. He likes to keep some of this information from his lackeys to maintain his power. He suggests that Cain needs to work with the others to coordinate the governance of Razor Mountain. Cain complains that the other government secretaries lack ambition or vision.

God-Speaker reminds him who is in charge here. Cain leaves, glowering and annoyed. Again, God-Speaker feels a twinge of worry and a deep tiredness. He tells himself that a new, young body will help him feel better.

Cliffhangers: No.

Mysteries:

  • 28.1 – Does Cain intend to betray God-Speaker?
  • 28.2 – What will Reed find out?

Episode Arc:

  • God-Speaker is imperial and demanding of his underlings. He sees them as tools, and he’s annoyed that they don’t just do what he wants. He’s tired and bored of having to constantly manipulate and control people. His fear of death lurks just under the surface, still driving him.

Notes:

  • This is the penultimate chapter from God-Speaker’s perspective. His arc is pretty much complete. He is a shell of a human being. He feels his incredible age. He’s worn down. But his fear of death is too entrenched. This is what drives him.

Results

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.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #30

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 worked through two more chapter summaries. I also admitted that I’ve learned how terrible I am at cliffhangers. Luckily, it’s easy to fix, because it turns out I have a tendency to put the cliffhanger bit at the start of the next chapter. All I have to do is pull it back to the end of the previous chapter.

The Big Three-Oh!

It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this thing for thirty weeks. I tend to underestimate how long my novels are going to take, and this one is no exception. When I started working on Razor Mountain, I thought I’d be posting chapters by now.

Part of this is the result of choices I made. I decided to expand and revise my outline when I could have done one pass and started writing. I decided to do more up-front in hopes that it’ll make the actual writing easier. There are also a few things outside the text of the book that I’m going to have to address as I work on finishing up the outline. I need to decide what services I want to post to, and figure out things like cover art, blurbs and author bio.

Characters as Adjective-Nouns

Connie J. Jasperson had an interesting post recently about delving deep into characters by selecting key nouns and verbs to describe them. This reminded me of Fallen London, the darkly whimsical literary browser game. In Fallen London, hardly any of the characters you encounter have proper names. Instead, they have “adjective-noun” monikers, like the Ambitious Barrister, the Captivating Princess, the Jovial Contrarian, or the Gracious Widow.

As a fun little aside, I tried to come up with evocative “adjective-noun” names to describe my characters.

  • Christopher – The Melancholy Wanderer
  • God-Speaker – The Thanataphobic Despot
  • Amaranth – The Accomplished Trailblazer
  • Ema – The Despairing Rebel
  • Garrett – The Reckless Captor
  • Harold – The Obedient Brother
  • Strong-Shield – The Traitorous Lieutenant
  • Sky-Watcher – The Ailing Lover

Try it – it’s an interesting exercise. I tried to come up with a noun that describes the character’s role in the story and an adjective that describes a key personality trait. And check out Connie’s post for a more in-depth exercise in a similar vein.

Chapter 23

The soldiers swarm Christopher, Garrett and Harold. The three are pressed into the snowy ground, disarmed and have their possessions taken from them. Then they’re shoved, stumbling, across the rough terrain. They come to a metal door, cleverly hidden in the mountainside, and are pushed through.

On the other side is a maze of hallways, where they’re immediately split up. Christopher hears Garrett trying to say something about bringing them an enemy spy before he’s whisked out of earshot. Christopher tries to tell the soldiers that he is just someone lost in the wilderness, trying to get back home. He’s not a spy, he’s harmless and this is all a big misunderstanding. The soldiers tell him to be quiet, and give him a solid punch in the gut when he tries to keep talking. After that, he’s quiet.

They haul him to a gray-walled room with a metal desk. Adjacent to it are four empty jail cells. The soldiers put him inside one of them, remove his cuffs, and leave him.

Cliffhangers:

  • What will happen to him in this jail?

Mysteries:

  • 23.1 – Who has captured him? What do they want?

Episode Arc:

  • The chapter starts with Christopher feeling that his life is completely out of his control, but he quickly realizes that the exile brothers may have been far kinder and safer captors than the efficient, silent soldiers that grab him and bring him to this underground jail cell in the mystery complex.

Notes:

  • After half a human lifetime away, Christopher/God-Speaker is finally back at Razor Mountain. There should be one or two things in the bunker and the abandoned building that the exiles inhabit that give Christopher a strong sense of deja-vu. He can’t quite bring those memories to the surface of his mind, but they feel like vague bits of something important. As soon as he’s under the mountain, even though it’s all gray walls and nondescript doors, that feeling of not-quite-remembering really ramps up to 11.

Chapter 24

Christopher paces in his cell, verging on a panic attack. His mind is frantic with ideas that these people are really going to do bad things to him. He was foolish to leave the bunker, and even more idiotic to let the brothers drag him to this place as a goodwill gift that won’t even help them.

He tries to calm himself down by assessing his surroundings. The cell has a hard bed with no sheets and a dented-up stainless steel toilet. He finds himself squinting, and realizes that the lights are abnormally bright. He becomes aware of a faint, high-pitched sound that immediately irritates him.

He sits on the bed, back to the concrete wall. The temperature, which initially felt warm compared to the outside, soon drops. His panic fades, replaced by misery. He feels childish to admit it, but he just wants to go home.

He thinks about everything that has happened, and is a little surprised to realize that the very real possibility of death doesn’t scare him as much anymore. He remembers how he felt in the wilderness, when everything had gone wrong and he decided to keep going. He tries to channel that inner peace. Despite his discomfort, he is exhausted and begins to doze.

Just as he’s losing consciousness, he’s jerked awake by violent banging just outside his cell.

Cliffhangers:

  • What’s that banging?

Mysteries:

  • 24.1 – Who are his captors and what are they planning to do with him?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher’s situation feels like it’s slowly worsening over this chapter, but his emotional state is slowly stabilizing. He is beginning to understand that even though he can’t control his external situation, he can still control his own internal response.

Notes:

  • Yet another cliffhanger pulled from the following chapter to make this one more interesting!
  • This is another important point in Christopher’s overall arc. When he decides to persevere in the wilderness, and again here when he starts to accept the inevitability of death, he’s growing beyond God-Speaker’s limited, “stuck” perspective, which is constantly driven by fear of his own mortality.

Chapter 25

God-Speaker waits on the balcony of his home, which is now within a city inside the mountain. He’s “wearing” a middle-aged body. He watches excavations underway, expanding the underground space. Sky-Watcher comes out. He asks her how she’s feeling, and she says she’s better. They go to the chamber of the artifacts. God-Speaker treats her a bit like she’s made of glass, and she acts mildly annoyed, but is clearly feeling weak.

In the chamber, God-Speaker guides her in listening to the voices and accessing their power. It’s clear that they’ve been practicing for some time. She has little success, and is quickly worn out. He helps her up a flight of stairs, and they lay outside and look at the stars. This is where she is happiest. They talk about the stars, and about the future. While she talks, he is distracted, worrying about her illness. He half-dozes, and when he wakes, he discovers that she is no longer breathing.

Cliffhangers: Nope.

Mysteries:

  • 25.1 – What exactly is he building under the mountain?

Episode Arc:

  • God-Speaker is quietly desperate. He loves her, he knows she’s dying, and he knows he doesn’t have the technology to cure her. He wants to use the artifacts to let her do what he does, transfer bodies. But they only seem to work well for him. He is used to being in control, but he senses that he’s running out of options. At the end of the chapter, he has failed, and she dies.

Notes:

  • This is the last time we see God-Speaker in any meaningful connection with another person. After this, he begins to pull back from others. He begins to use people solely as means to his own ends.

Results

Three more chapter outlines complete. I’m now about 3/4 of the way done.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #29

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 got through two more chapter summaries, fleshed out Christopher and God-Speaker’s interests, and identified some challenges presenting God-Speaker’s Act II chapters to the reader.

Chapter 21

Garrett, Harold, and Christopher take a break in the forest to rest and eat a little. (They have a paltry amount of homemade jerky. They offer to share with Christopher, but he declines.)

Garrett warns Christopher that they will be approaching the main facility shortly, and they need to be very careful or they will be shot. He does his best to scare Christopher, telling him that now is the time to give them any information he might have about the outside world – anything they can use to negotiate with the 550th Infantry.

Christopher tries to explain that they have a strange and skewed view of the outside world, and that he has been open and honest with them. Garrett doesn’t like this answer, and tells Christopher that their blood is on his hands if things go poorly. Harold seems more sympathetic to Christopher, but follows his brother’s lead in everything. Christopher tries to ask questions about the people in the “main facility.” All he gets from the brothers is that it’s where the exiles came from. They left because they thought they were being lied to, but being lied to is better than dying of starvation.

Garrett makes a flag from a branch and a white shirt. They continue walking. As the sun rises, they walk out into a treeless area at the food of the mountain. Garrett directs them to hold their hands up, while he holds the flag high. They walk out slowly.

The sounds of small animals, birds, and pebbles under their feet seem menacing. Christopher half-expects the sound of gunshots. Instead, just as he’s beginning to let his guard down (and his tired arms), there’s shouting, and fully-equipped soldiers swarm from the boulder-strewn slopes above.

Cliffhangers:

  • What will the soldiers do to them?

Mysteries:

  • 21.1 – What was the conflict between Razor Mountain and exiles? What lies are they feeding their population?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher has been kidnapped and his captors seem interested in him only as a bargaining chip. Still, he feels sorry for them and the bad situation they seem to be in. As they approach the mountain and he sees them get worried, he starts to seriously worry that he may just die here.

Notes:

  • Yet another chapter where I had an easy cliffhanger available! I just had to pull the exciting bit from the start of the next chapter to the end of this chapter.

Chapter 22

God-Speaker is in a new body, in excellent shape in the prime of life. He stands in a carved cave-chamber, with six other people, around a stone table. This is a war council, and they are his military leaders.

They describe the movements of a small war party that is approaching the mountain. He lays out a very conservative defense. His friend, Strong Shield, complains that they have better weapons and better tactics, and this approaching army stands no chance of defeating them. God-Speaker agrees, but explains that he wants as few casualties as possible, and the best possible defense. Becoming overly-proud and lazy will lead to their destruction.

Strong Shield suggests that once they have destroyed the attackers, they should mount a counter-attack to prevent any future threat. He suggests they send a permanent military presence, and essentially begin to build out an empire. God-Speaker dismisses the others so they can talk privately.

When they are alone, God-Speaker explains that he is thinking about stopping all interaction with outside groups, faking the destruction of the village at the base of the mountain, and hiding their knowledge and wealth from the rest of the world to avoid conflicts like this.

Strong Shield says this is a path of weakness. He thinks he would be a better leader for their people. He tries to kill God-Speaker, but God-Speaker is ready for him, and kills his friend. He weeps over the body.

After a few minutes, he composes himself and calls the others back in. He tells them that this is a man he loved like a brother, and he was betrayed. He makes it clear that if anyone else is thinking of betraying him, they’ll meet a similar fate. The gods of the mountain make him unstoppable.

Cliffhangers:

  • Nope

Mysteries:

  • 22.1 – What are the voices/gods/artifacts? What power do they really give him? (Really a continuation of 16.2)

Episode Arc:

  • The imminent attack doesn’t worry God-Speaker, but he is hyper-vigilant anyway. He fully believes the doctrine he’s espousing – laziness and pridefulness will lead to mistakes and failure down the road. This also applies to his friend, Strong Shield. He loves the man, but the artifacts whisper to him that he’s not to be trusted, and they turn out to be correct. He has taken precautions, and he’s ready, but it still crushes him to be betrayed like this. He’s determined to close off his heart to avoid this emotional pain in the future, and immediately begins to erect walls of fear between himself and his other close lieutenants.

Notes:

  • This is the first big lesson for God-Speaker, teaching him that his fear of others is justified. Only by constant awareness can he avoid death from unexpected directions. The voices from the artifacts can help him.

Results

I worked through two more chapter summaries. (I’d still like to get more done, but I’m slowly coming to accept that this is the average amount I’m likely to get done on this project in a typical week.)

Expanding the original, bare-bones chapter summaries has been a useful exercise, but what I’ve noticed most of all is how frequently I throw away opportunities for cliffhangers! There have been so many places where I put an exciting event with an uncertain outcome at the beginning of a chapter. Pulling it out of that chapter and putting it at the end of the previous chapter gives me that extra suspense without even having to rearrange the plot.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #28

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 worked on the chapter 17 and 18 summaries (and also identified some things I may want to go back and improve).

A Little Characterization

I spent a little time this week thinking about Christopher and God-Speaker’s personalities and came away with more ideas about what each of them is interested in.

Christopher loves drawing. Not necessarily what he would consider “real art,” but sketches, doodles, and little things in the margins. As a boy, he loved drawing and programming. When he went to school, he chose a degree in computer science. It was the pragmatic choice — the jobs were plentiful and paid well, as opposed to the challenge of making it as an artist. Yet another example of Christopher avoiding risk and choosing the safe path. As a result, he still has a little nagging regret that he didn’t pursue art beyond a hobby.

Christopher was always fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci’s journals. He got into the habit of similar journaling, mixing sketches and little blurbs of text. He doesn’t journal consistently, and he doesn’t follow any particular format or try to get anything out of them. In fact, he rarely goes back and looks at what he’s written. However, this is an important way that he processes things.

I also decided that Christopher has a habit of talking to himself. This is a bit of an aid for writing a character who spends Act I alone, but it also mirrors God-Speaker and the way he listens to the voices from the artifacts and from the people whose minds and bodies he has usurped over the centuries.

Christopher exhibited this tendency at a young age, but his father worried that it would make him seem strange to others and cause him to be bullied or mocked by other children. Christopher’s father discouraged it, and as a result, Christopher has learned to mostly suppress it around other people. It starts to creep in more as he spends days alone in the wilderness.

Finally, I decided that God-Speaker has a weakness for music. He has avidly followed the development of various instruments and the advancements of music theory over the years. He has a collection of music players (from wax cylinders to records to digital) and a handful of musical instruments in his offices. He also writes music from time to time, but he keeps it secret, never showing it to anybody. He sees himself as a hobbyist, and is afraid that his work is bad, despite centuries of occasional study.

God-Speaker’s Act II

I realized as I came into chapter 19 that the God-Speaker chapters very abruptly change from a sequence where everything is close in time to a series of vignettes with many years in-between. Meanwhile, Christopher’s chapters continue to be close together on the timeline.

I could explicitly break the book into parts. I think that a major delineation like that cues the reader to be on the lookout for bigger changes in structure, like jumps in time. I’m not sure it’s a particularly elegant solution.

Another option is to sprinkle enough context into the first of these vignette chapters to make the time transitions clear. Some ways to do that:

  • Make direct mention of years passing in exposition.
  • Show that God-Speaker is much older through changed physical attributes
  • Highlight changes to Razor Mountain that must have taken years to complete

The first chapter that “jumps” in time will be the most jarring. After that first jump (and definitely after the second), the reader will be primed to look for clues as to how much time has passed in subsequent chapters. For that to work, I still need to provide clues, such as:

  • Each chapter after the first, God-Speaker is in a different body that he has taken over
  • In each chapter, Razor Mountain and the people around God-Speaker have changed
  • In each chapter, God-Speaker is dealing with a completely different set of problems (but following a progression as he consolidates power and hides from the world, all in order to be as safe as possible)

Chapter 19

God-Speaker is older now. It’s a cold morning, and his body aches. He greets a fresh group of ice-age migrants to the village at the base of Razor Mountain. He thinks to himself that there are many migrants, and there will soon be too many people in the village. He will have to be more selective about who he allows in. These newcomers are somewhat in awe, except for one young man who is determined to be unimpressed.

God-Speaker brings them to a large hall in the middle of the wooden buildings, where they eat a large meal, to impress upon the newcomers how good life is here. He answers some questions and deflects others. He asks them about their skills. The irritable young man claims to be a great hunter.

After they’re done, he leads them around the village, showing them where livestock, proto-grains, vegetables, berries and mushrooms are all being cultivated. He shows them stores of preserved food. He shows them a mine and a simple forge where they’re developing smelting and metalworking.

Finally, he explains that this “great tribe” is superior to small tribes. He tells them that he was called here by the gods of the mountain. He listens to them, and learns all the wisdom that allows the village to thrive. The newcomers are eager to join, and God-Speaker convinces the young man by flattering him and explaining that his skill in hunting will be vital to teach others.

God-Speaker passes them off to someone else to get situated. He follows a path up to a cave entrance, and heads into the mountain. Again he feels his body wearing out and knows that death is stalking him. He hears the whispering voices, and they grow louder deeper into the cave. Soon, if he can learn the secrets of the voices, he thinks he will show them something truly amazing: his own rebirth into immortality. He just has to do it before his body gives out.

Cliffhangers:

  • Will he die, or be reborn?

Mysteries:

  • 19.1 – Can the artifacts actually make him immortal?
  • 19.2 – Are the voices actually gods?

Episode Arc:

  • God-Speaker works to convince the group of newcomers to join the village, especially one skeptic who comes around by the end. He is building and carefully controlling a community, and developing power through the artifacts.

Notes:

  • Need to research what naturally occurring plants, animals and mushrooms would be available in this time period and location.
  • Need to research primitive metalworking.

Chapter 20

Christopher wakes in the night as he’s being roughly bound and gagged. He has a bag put over his head. He tries to scream, but can’t make much noise, and receives a blow to the head. Woozy, he is unsure if this is something orchestrated by the people he just met or someone else.

He is dragged and shoved and stumbles for a few minutes. He hears two voices speaking quietly, and thinks he recognizes one of them: the man who was guarding his room.

After some time, he feels cold air and hears that they’re moving through an echoey space, perhaps a cave, and then into snow outside. He becomes more and more sure that his captors are Garrett and Harold. They argue whether they are making a good choice, and whether they’ll be allowed back into the mountain. They discuss some of the contents of Christopher’s pack, which they apparently brought with them.

Finally, they stop to rest and remove Christopher’s head-bag and gag (warning him that he’ll get another knock on the head if he’s loud). Christopher begins to understand that they’re betraying the others and they may be afraid of Amaranth catching up. Garrett tells Christopher that if he has any useful information, he should talk now, because the professional interrogators up at the mountain will be far less pleasant. He tries to sound threatening, but Christopher thinks he’s actually nervous. Harold doesn’t like the plan at all, but does what Garrett says anyway.

They continue walking the rough, heavily-wooded slopes toward Razor Mountain in the faint moonlight. Christopher decides there isn’t much he can do but go along with them. He decides to wait and see if any opportunities for escape present themselves. Harold expresses the opinion that he thinks the 550th might just shoot them all on sight. Garrett doesn’t respond.

Cliffhangers:

  • Will they be shot on sight?

Mysteries:

  • 20.1 – Who is up on the mountain? What is the 550th?
  • 20.2 – What is the situation between the Razor Mountain people and Garrett and Harold’s people?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher is kidnapped. He’s confused, fearful, and a bit beat-up. He decides he is going to have to do something if he wants to get out of this situation, but isn’t sure what. He pacifies himself thinking that he’ll wait for a better opportunity

Results

I got through two more chapter summaries, fleshed out Christopher and God-Speaker’s interests, and identified some challenges presenting God-Speaker’s Act II chapters clearly to the reader.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #27

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 the chapter summaries for Act I and reviewed how the process is working. I tend to change my process for just about every project I work on, so I’m always reevaluating.

Chapter 17

Some of the surprised exiles draw guns on Christopher as he enters their underground hideout. Amaranth interposes herself between them and Christopher. She has a furious sign-language argument with them that Christopher has difficulty following.

Ema, the leader of the exiles, is drawn out from an adjacent room by the commotion. Amaranth appeals to her, and she has one of the other exiles (Harold) keep watch over Christopher in a supply closet while she goes with Amaranth into the other room.

Christopher is still shocked, but he asks Harold what’s going on. He tries to explain that he’s been lost and is just trying to get back home, but Harold politely asks him to be quiet and wait for Ema. After a few minutes, she comes back, and has him brought into her “office,” another store room with an old table and cot.

She sits him down and makes the others leave. She explains that she’s in charge, and she’s going to ask him questions, and he’s going to answer. She doesn’t trust him, and her goodwill depends on how honest she thinks he is.

She asks him who he is, and he explains his job and where he’s from. She asks him why he’s here, and he explains everything from waking up on the flight to the point where Amaranth found him. She’s skeptical of his plane story and his surviving the jump. She’s worried that if he was shot at, the people at Razor Mountain might be aware of him now. Christopher tries to ask questions about Razor Mountain, but she cuts him off.

She begins to ask stranger and stranger questions, about the general state of America and the Soviet Union, and whether there have been any nuclear strikes. She asks him who he really works for. She threatens him and asks again why he’s here and how he plans to escape. He gives up trying to answer reasonably, and tells her there’s no point if she’s convinced he’s lying about everything. Again, he tries to ask her questions about what this place is. He tells her that her ideas about the outside world are very skewed.

Ema finally stops the questioning, seemingly defeated, and brings him out into the main room, where the others pretend that they weren’t listening in. She tells them to do what they want with him.

Cliffhangers:

  • What are they going to do with him?

Mysteries:

  • 17.1 – Why do these people seem to have strange ideas about the outside world?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher starts out in shock, and gets progressively more confused and disheartened.

Chapter 18

Christopher is introduced to the other exiles, who seem like reasonable people, at least initially. They all have questions, mostly about his arrival and the outside world. Christopher feels intimidated by all these people focused on him. They have mixed reactions to his responses, and again he gets the sense that they have strange ideas about the outside world. They are clearly disappointed. He notices that Garrett is stand-offish, but constantly watching him. Amaranth hovers, almost protectively.

He keeps trying to ask what is going on at the mountain, but they avoid giving him straight answers. One or two of them respond, but they’re hushed by others before they can reveal much more than “Razor Mountain is a city,” and it has a military presence. He wonders if this is some kind of strange cult, or people who have lived out away from civilization for a long time. He wonders about the bunkers and the radio signals.

He thinks that he might have been better-off alone in the bunker. Eventually Amaranth leads him to another small room, completely bare, and brings in a cot for him. She asks him questions by writing on scraps of paper – is he telling the truth, and does he know of any way to get back to where he came from. He says yes and no. She apologizes and says it may have been a bad idea to bring him here.

Harold peeks in and tells Christopher that he’ll be standing guard, and if Christopher needs anything (like the bathroom) he just has to ask.

Cliffhangers: No

Mysteries:

  • 18.1 – What is Razor Mountain? Why do these people seem afraid of it.

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher starts out confused, and starts to seriously worry that he’s gotten himself in an even worse situation with these people.

Notes:

  • I would like to work in a little more information about the exiles, without giving away all the mysteries of their origins and Razor Mountain.

Results

Sadly, I only got through two chapter summaries this week, and I may still revise these further. Act II is often the roughest, and this was probably the least-defined section when I was originally thinking through the plot. I suspect it may be a slog.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #26

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 improved chapter summaries for chapters 9, 10, and 11. I also vowed to get through these summaries faster!

Chapter 12

Christopher feels numb. He knows he’s in a bad situation, but he prepares shelter for nightfall and tries to go to sleep.

Instead, he ends up thinking back on his life so far. He considers his motivations and accomplishments, and decides that none of it is particularly special. Eventually, he decides that he’s probably not going to sleep, so he gets up and throws more logs on the campfire.

He spends the night taking in the beautiful scenery. Staring up at the stars makes him feel a peaceful melancholy. He realizes that despite his growling stomach and the looming thread of dying in the wilderness, he is content in this moment.

He decides that he will not cap off an unexceptional life by trying to find his way back to the bunker. Instead, he’ll take a huge risk: he will seek out the next point marked on the map, in hopes of finding people or a way home.

The next morning, he happily packs up and begins hiking, taking care with his ankle. He’s stiff and injured, but beginning to feel used to it. While walking through the forest, he comes across an offering in his path: a rabbit carcass, skinned, gutted, and ready to cook.

Cliffhangers: None.

Mysteries:

  • 12.1 – Who left the rabbit?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher starts at a low point, but he works through it emotionally and makes a risky, but potentially rewarding choice instead of the safe one.

Notes:

  • This is a vital turning point for Christopher. He originally set out with a plan that he thought would keep him safe. Now he is actively choosing a risky path. He is beginning to accept the possibility of his own death with grace instead of fear.

Chapter 13

God-Speaker’s tribe trudges on through the blizzard. The stone god compels God-Speaker to climb a slippery ridge, and he sees that they are close to the place where the ice opens up. He directs the others, but slips and falls. He slides deep down into the ice and boulders, getting completely turned around.

He shouts, but the voices of his tribe are faint and echo from every direction. Soon, they fade away. He discovers that the stone god was broken in the fall. He is lost and alone.

Cliffhangers:

  • Will he find his way back to his tribe?

Mysteries:

  • None

Episode Arc:

  • God-Speaker is close to success, leading his tribe to a better land. Then he falls, and goes from victory to abject failure, losing the stone god and his tribe in a single moment.

Notes:

  • This chapter stayed mostly the same as the original, being a single short scene. I did pull his discovery that the stone god was broken from the next chapter into the end of this chapter, to really reinforce how bad the situation is.

Chapter 14

Christopher shouts and looks for people in the nearby forest, but finds no

Christopher shouts and looks for people in the nearby forest, but finds nobody. He finds a single smudge in the dirt that might be a footprint. He checks for traps, then picks up the rabbit and looks for any signs of tampering. He realizes he has no idea what he’s looking for, and if anyone wanted to cause him harm, they’d probably just do it directly.

He walks back to the campsite, relights the campfire, and roasts the rabbit. He knows that gorging on wild game while half-starved will probably wreck his stomach, and tries to restrain himself. He eats half and wraps the rest in packaging from the food he already ate.

He begins walking again, feeling slightly queasy, watching the trees for any sign of someone else. He wonders why the person won’t reveal themselves. He thinks about everything that has happened to him since he woke on the plane, but still doesn’t understand any of it.

He comes to an open area and sees that he’s close to the distinctive peak of Razor Mountain. Suddenly, bullets pelt the ground and nearby trees, and he’s forced to take cover.

Cliffhangers:

  • Will he be shot?

Mysteries:

  • 14.1 – Who is shooting at him?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher goes from tentative relief at the food to confusion over who might be helping him, to fear for his life as the bullets fly.

Notes:

  • This is Christopher’s last chapter alone in the wilderness by himself. A good opportunity to recap what’s happened so far, and check-in with Christopher’s emotional state before he gets mixed up with the people from Razor Mountain.

Chapter 15

Christopher moves deeper into the forest to avoid the shooting. It’s coming from the direction of Razor Mountain. While hiding and fumbling with the gun he brought from the bunker, he sees Amaranth in the trees.

She is wild-looking and moves with the litheness of a forest creature. She sneaks nimbly between trees to reach him without showing herself. She indicates with hand signs that he shouldn’t fire back, and motions to lead him on a route through the trees and glacial boulders that keeps him hidden from the shooter. After a while, it seems to be safe and they walk.

He tries to talk to her, but she points to scars across her throat, indicating that she can’t speak. She writes in the dirt, “talk later.” They continue to walk.

Nightfall comes, and she finally brings him to a cliff-side entrance, similar to the bunker where he first found refuge. Inside, it’s much bigger than the bunker. She leads him through a sort of ruined office area, with 1950s-era styling, past a blocked stairwell, to a set of rusted elevator doors. She pries them open, revealing a ladder along the side of the shaft. She has him go down first.

At the bottom, he exits the elevator shaft. There’s a long, poorly lit hallway. Amaranth leads him to a doorway at the far end and opens the door. On the other side are a dozen surprised people.

Cliffhangers:

  • What will the reaction of these people be?

Mysteries:

  • 15.1 – What is the place that Amaranth has brought him to?
  • 15.2 – Who is the girl who can’t speak?
  • 15.3 – Who are these other people?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher is lost and confused. As he goes further and further into this complex, he becomes more and more worried that he’s making a bad decision. However, he was looking for buildings and people, and he’s found them both.

Notes:

  • This is a good time to play up the mysteries, since some payoffs and revelations will be coming shortly.

Chapter 16

God-Speaker gives the stone god a sort of burial, then wanders among boulders, blue ice, and sheer cliffs. After some time, he comes to a place where the ice is black, but it glows strangely. There are wisps of black smoke in the air, and he realizes that this is the smoking mountain.

He hears a new set of whispering voices that he’s never heard before. They remind him of the stone god, but they’re strange and alien. He feels compelled to continue toward the voices and finds a cave. He follows it in complete darkness until he comes to a glowing place.

There, he finds the voices (the artifacts) and bonds with them. He feels a violent electric shock, and receives a sort of enlightenment. He thinks he is dying and going to the spirit world, and he is afraid.

Cliffhangers:

  • Will he die?

Mysteries:

  • 16.1 – What is this place?
  • 16.2 – What are the voices/artifacts?
  • 16.3 – What is being done to him?

Episode Arc:

  • Everything has been taken from God-Speaker. He thinks he cares very little now what happens to him, but when he faces death, he’s still afraid.

Notes:

  • This is the turning point for God-Speaker. From this point forward, everything he does is to fight against death.

Act I Done

That’s Act I finished!

I only ended up “removing” one chapter, by combining two adjacent chapters that didn’t really stand on their own very well. Although the synopses are longer now for each chapter, I don’t think I added a ton of actual content. I just clarified things that were vague – things that I would have had to work through when writing.

Looking for cliffhangers was a useful exercise. Not every chapter ends in a cliffhanger, and that’s okay. But there were several spots where the opportunity was right there. I think the adjustments I made to create cliffhangers resulted in better-structured chapters, and better flow from one chapter to another.

Paying attention to the episode arc forced me to think more about what the two main characters are thinking in each chapter, and make sure that each chapter really has something meaningful happening to the character.

Tracking the mysteries was less important for structural adjustments than the arc or cliffhangers. However, I’ve been numbering them so that I can easily make a list and ensure that everything gets a satisfying answer.

Results

I managed to get through a couple more chapters this time (even if I ended up with an evening post instead of my usual morning post). I finished revising chapter summaries for Act I.

Next time, I’ll dig into Act II.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #25

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 worked through chapters 5-9, expanding the summaries, consolidating two chapters, and adding more mysteries and cliffhangers. I broke the pattern of Christopher and God-Speaker chapters, so I’m making a note to reevaluate that after I’ve gone through all the chapters.

Chapter 9

Christopher manages to dig his way out of the tent and the snow, damaging it in the process. He does his best to jury-rig a lean-to, but it goes poorly. He gets no more sleep before morning and is forced to eat and pack in heavy snow. He is cold, wet and miserable.

He decides to continue, with the belief that he can go one more day further and still make it back to the bunker if he needs to. But he is once again full of uncertainty. His progress is very slow.

He comes across what look like footprints in the snow in a heavily wooded area. He follows them, and they lead to a place where someone could have watched him. He continues to follow them, and thinks he catches a glimpse of someone in the trees. He chases and shouts, but he twists his ankle. The tracks go to a tree and disappear, as though someone climbed up, but nobody is in the branches. He shouts again, but nobody answers.

He still hasn’t gotten to his destination by nightfall, and he’s forced to make camp. He’s exhausted, and he constructs something that barely qualifies as shelter.

Cliffhangers – Is he lost again? Will he find the thing on the map?

Mysteries

  • 9.1 – Was there a person in the woods? Who?

Episode Arc – The chapter starts bad for Christopher, but his hope is renewed when he comes across the tracks. Then he chases the mystery person, hurts his ankle, and still hasn’t arrived. He pushes forward. He begins to seriously doubt he can do this, and even wonders if he’s having a mental breakdown.

Notes

  • This chapter originally lacked a good mystery or clear arc. I added the footprints and Christopher chasing the mystery person to address this.

Chapter 10 (Previously 11)

The tribe hikes slowly around the rock-strewn base of the mountain. It snows lightly. The other side is all scree slopes. They search for hours for a safe place to descend to a snowy valley below. They find a relatively shallow descent, but the loose rocks shift as they go down. Everyone slides to the bottom over sharp rock fragments. Several people are hurt. God-Speaker is struck in the temple on the way down and his head aches. They eat the last few morsels of food, then sleep.

The next day, they follow the valley as it winds to the left of the smoking mountain. The snow is deep here, and travel is slow. The valley turns away from the direction they want to go, and they are forced to climb rough slopes. At the top, they see a landscape of jagged glacial ice. There is no food in sight. God-Speaker’s head still throbs. He thinks he hears spirits nearby, but doesn’t understand them. The tribe sleeps, hungry and miserable.

The next day, they follow the canyons between the ice formations. Everything glows with the eerie blue light of the ice. They come to a tunnel into the ice, going in the right direction. They follow it, all sound muffled except footsteps and the deep thump of ice cracking far away or above. Deep in the tunnel, they come across a bear and two malnourished cubs. They kill, cook, and eat the animals, saving a few days of meat and giving thanks to the bears’ spirits.

The spirits seem louder here, to God-Speaker. He thinks it would be bad to sleep under the ice. Somewhat reinvigorated by the food, they press on. They arrive at the end of the tube. It is deep night, and there is a huge blizzard coming down. They sleep at the mouth of the tunnel. God-Speaker dreams that spirit voices are calling to him from the smoking mountain. They tell him that his tribe will be destroyed.

Cliffhangers – Will the tribe be destroyed? Will they make it through the blizzard?

Mysteries

  • 10.1 – What are the spirits that God-Speaker thinks he hears? Or does he just have a head injury?

Episode Arc – The tribe is hungry and travelling through barren areas. They have a difficult time over several days of travel. When they find and slaughter the bears, it gives everyone some hope again. The spirit voices worry God-Speaker though, and the blizzard means travel will be even harder from here.

Notes

  • This chapter was very poorly defined and really had to be reworked into a summary that will let me just write the chapter without having to figure out too many things in the process.
  • To make the travel interesting, I looked at pictures of glacial areas for inspiration. The tribe travels over varied terrain over several days.
  • The spirits that God-Speaker hears are alluding to the artifacts that he will encounter later, and add some mystery. His head trauma adds a plausible non-supernatural explanation.

Chapter 11 (Previously 12)

Christopher wakes early in the morning, aching and exhausted. He decides that he will look for the marked spot on the map for half the day. If he doesn’t find it, he’ll head back toward the bunker.

He studies the visible mountains, compares them to the elevations on the map, and believes he has a good idea of where he is. He travels over fairly flat, but heavily wooded terrain until he thinks he’s close to his destination. Noon comes and goes, but he finds nothing other than trees. He keeps searching, even though he knows he should start the journey back.

Mid-afternoon, he finds something: a slab of broken concrete sticking out of the ground at an angle, hidden behind a fallen tree and covered in lichen. He digs around and finds more chunks of concrete. He quickly realizes that a vague depression is actually the foundation of a small building. The walls are shattered. Christopher finds sooty scorch-marks on some of the concrete pieces.

He’s eventually forced to conclude that whatever was here is destroyed years ago. There are no hidden doors, and no habitable structure. It’s late enough that he sets up camp on the ruin.

Cliffhangers – No

Mysteries

  • 11.1 – What was the ruined building? How and why was it destroyed?

Episode Arc – Christopher is worn down, and starts his day by making a plan to give up. He searches longer than he told himself he would, desperate not to give up and admit defeat. He finally succeeds in finding the building, but it is ruined and useless, and he’s wasted more time. He is at his lowest point so far.

Notes

  • This chapter and the next both had very short single-paragraph summaries. I considered combining them, but I decided that they both had a viable structure and just needed to be expanded.

Results

I updated three more chapter summaries. I’m finding that analyzing each chapter by its cliffhanger, mysteries and arc is a pretty good strategy. When I don’t have a mystery or satisfying arc, that’s a pretty clear sign that something needs to be added or reworked. In every case where I’ve done that, I think the chapter has become stronger as a result.

I haven’t been able to put a ton of time into this project over the past couple weeks, which has been a little frustrating. I’m really eager to get through these summaries and begin writing. I wanted to start posting the story in the first half of the year. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’ll be able to make that happen.

Still, steady progress is a good thing, and I’m not going to be too negative as long as the project keeps moving forward.