Razor Mountain Development Journal #22

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 reviewed the overall outline and reread all of the chapter summaries in sequence. I thought about themes and and improvements to a couple chapters.

Improved Chapter Summaries

This week, I started going through each chapter summary one by one. I have a few goals with this.

Expand the Summaries

I’m adding extra detail in the outline so that I have a very clear blueprint that I can follow when it comes time to write each chapter. Normally, I wouldn’t go to this level of detail, and I would be more inclined to do some exploration as I write. However, since I’m going to write and release these chapters serially, readers will be getting them right away. I won’t have the luxury of rewrites and further edits.

Calling out Opportunities for Cliffhangers

Again, due to the serial release, I’m looking for places to stop where the reader wants to find out what happens next. I want to encourage them to come back for the next installment. I’m primarily looking for places to do a chapter break, but I am also considering the option of splitting some chapters into more than one episode, so cliffhangers within a chapter may also be useful.

Mysteries and Resolutions

The other thing I’m doing to create tension and keep the reader coming back is introducing lots of little mysteries. I’m going to note these and track their resolutions to ensure that I don’t leave plot threads hanging.


For each episode/chapter, I want to track the rising action, climax and resolution.


This includes things I want to research before writing the chapter, things I want to track, and general reminders of ideas I have for the actual text that may not come across in the summary.

Chapter 1

Christopher wakes up at night on a small plane over the Alaskan wilderness. As he wakes he has the impression that he is in a cave, but this resolves into the dimly lit passenger cabin. He feels  hung-over.

He looks around and discovers that the other passengers are missing. He checks the plane with rising panic and discovers that the pilot is also missing. There are no parachutes. The controls are confusing, but he can see that the fuel level is low.

In his panic, he has a sudden feeling that he knows what he must do: fly low and slow, and jump when he is over water. With uncharacteristic calmness, almost having an out-of-body experience, he watches for a lake, picks a spot, does his best to slow the plane, then jumps. (This is a hint of God-Speaker showing through.)

He snaps back to himself as he hits the water, terrified. The fall and the frigid water numbs his body, but he slowly realizes that his leg was injured in the fall. He manages to swim to shore, exhausted and shaking uncontrollably.

He stumbles around, already starting to lose consciousness, knowing that he needs shelter to survive. He makes his way under a shallow cliff. More by feel than by sight, he discovers a metal door set into the stone. There is a number pad, and he desperately pushes buttons, not expecting it to work. The door unlocks.

He stumbles inside, passing out. He is uncertain if he managed to close the door. He doesn’t know what’s inside, apart from a hard floor that feels surprisingly warm.


  • Christopher jumping from the plane.
  • Christopher passing out as he enters the bunker.


  • 1.1 – Why do the other passengers on the plane disappear while Christopher is asleep? Where did they go?
  • 1.2 – What is the bunker and why is it here in the wilderness?
  • 1.3 – How does Christopher know the door code to the bunker?
  • 1.4 – What are the strange thoughts that seem to be guiding Christopher?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher faces the confusion of the empty plane, the harrowing jump, injury and swimming to shore. Climax: hypothermia, finding the door, and gaining entry. Resolution: passing out in the bunker.


  • Research the kind of small passenger aircraft that might fly between local Alaskan airports, carrying around 10 people.
  • Research the effects of hypothermia.
  • Research realistic height and speed that would allow survival of the jump into water.
  • This chapter could be split into two short episodes for serial release, with each having a cliffhanger.
  • This chapter is action-driven. Readers won’t have a bond with Christopher yet, and will have limited investment in his well-being. His character is just being introduced, so it needs to be clear that he is terrified by all of this. He is surprised by his own decisive action.

Chapter 2

God-Speaker walks past the temporary dwellings of his tribe, scattered along a stream within a mountain valley. Others are packing and disassembling things.

He enters a cave in the cliff-side. It narrows to a crack that he has to squeeze through, then opens into a small space. There, he finds the tribe’s stone god, surrounded by little offerings. He prepares a sort of backpack — a carrier made of wood and animal hide. He puts the stone god into it and asks it for guidance and protection as the tribe journeys.

There is shouting from outside the cave. God-Speaker grabs a sharp rock and squeezes back through the crack. The valley is under attack by a raiding party. There is fighting. One of the raiders and one of the members of his tribe is killed. Another member of the tribe is wounded.

The raiders flee with some food, setting dwellings on fire as a distraction. A couple members of the tribe give chase, but God-Speaker stays — his greatest purpose is to protect the god. The return shortly after, empty-handed.

The tribe finishes preparations. They bury or otherwise prepare the dead. God-Speaker publicly asks the stone god for guidance and protection. They begin the migration, dispirited.


  • What will happen to the tribe? Will they have enough food after the raid?


  • Is the stone god actually supernatural, or is God-Speaker’s interpretation entirely in his head?

Episode Arc:

  • God-Speaker prepares for migration and is caught in the raid. Climax: The raid. Resolution: he supplicates to the god, but wonders if it can protect the tribe.


  • With two POV characters, I have the challenge of effectively having two introductory chapters. Normally, I’d let the reader get to know one POV character for a few chapters before introducing another, but I like that the God-Speaker chapter can be a subtle allusion to Christopher’s fevered dreams/memories, as he’s passed out in the bunker.
  • This is where I need to establish a simplified narrative voice for God-Speaker’s early chapters, if I’m going to do it. My main worry with this is that simplified language will make it sound “dumbed down,” when I really just want to establish a bit of an alien feel with these ancient humans whose daily lives and needs are relatively simple. (https://xkcd.com/simplewriter/)
  • I need to research some details of how these ancient people might have lived. What are their temporary dwellings like? How might they hunt, fish, and fight with other humans? What are social structures like? A lot of this will probably be best guesses and extrapolating backward from more recent, better-documented groups.


I added detail to two of the chapter summaries. This went more slowly than I thought it would, and I had less time than usual to work on it this week. I’m hoping that I can pick up the pace as I go.

I’m itching to get started writing, but I’m going to get through this prep first!

Razor Mountain Development Journal #21

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

With my initial chapter outlines done, I took some time to consider what my high-level goals are as I revise those outlines. I’m looking to keep chapters shorter in Act I, and I’m willing to let them run longer in Act II. In each chapter, I’m going to track mysteries and resolutions. I’ll look for opportunities to end on a cliffhanger. I’ll treat each chapter as an episode, with its own mini-arc for character and plot.

Because revising these chapter outlines will result in a lot of small and tedious changes, I’m going to just provide the new and improved summaries and key highlights as I go. I may also add some asides in the midst of the chapter re-working to talk about more overarching changes when they come up.

Reviewing Chapter Summaries

I reread all of the chapter summaries in sequence. My goal here is mostly to just get as much of the story in my head at once as I can; to feel the general shape of it and see if anything sticks out or feels wrong.

In general, I see right away that a lot of these chapter summaries will need more specific detail if I want to use them as a straightforward blueprint for writing the chapters, without a lot of problem-solving during the writing process.

The Fear of Death

To that end, I need to work on really making Christopher’s encounters with death stand out. He faces death jumping out of the plane, out in the wilderness, in Razor Mountain prison, and when he is attacked by Reed. Over the course of these events, he starts out fearful. He finds some peace in the wilderness, when he decides that he will do what he can to survive, but it may be out of his hands. In the prison, he feels that fear of death once again, and has to actively remember and channel his attitude from the wilderness to accept that what will happen will happen. When he comes to Reed’s slightly pitiful attempt at murder, he finds it less scary than his previous experiences, but it gives him an opportunity to evaluate how he feels about death, and come to his final acceptance.

God-Speaker encounters death when he wanders alone, just before finding the artifacts, when his friend Strong-Shield betrays him, when his love, Sky-Watcher dies, and when he is actually killed by Reed. Each event reenforces his fear of death, and he doubles-down on obsessive, paranoid preparations to safeguard his immortality.

While I don’t think this focus requires any major changes to chapter ordering or content, it will affect how I try to write quite a few chapters.

The Artifacts

The artifacts interesting because they are only “on-screen” in a couple places in the entire book, but they are structurally very important to making the plot work, and central to resolving some of the mysteries. I think I’ve thought about them so much that I have been mostly glossing over how to sell them to the reader. I need to make sure that they are clearly and organically explained so that the reader understands what’s going on.

The pool of knowledge they give God-Speaker will be shown when he first finds them, and in the various anachronistic improvements he makes to Razor Mountain in Act II. The reincarnation aspect of forcing his mind into another body can be tangentially hit upon across Act II as we see him in different bodies across time periods, and in his interaction with his wife, trying to explain the process to her. I was thinking that the time-travel aspect of sending a consciousness into a person earlier in the timeline can be explained by his “oracles,” people specially sought in the community and trained to harness this ability, so that God-Speaker can send warnings back to himself. This can come up in the chapter with his wife as well.

Specific Chapter Improvements

Chapter 19, the second chapter of Act II, was originally about Christopher meeting the group of exiles and being questioned by them, with Garrett and Harold looking a bit suspicious as a lead-in to Christopher’s kidnapping.

This foreshadowing and focus on the brothers is fine, but there’s not much point in spending much time on the other exiles. They don’t end up playing a major role in the story. The exiles are there to add some verisimilitude. Razor Mountain is a society with underlying problems, and those problems are bubbling to the surface in the absence of God-Speaker.

I think this chapter will be better served by focusing on Christopher’s emotions and thoughts, with the sudden, overwhelming, and strange interactions with the exiles serving as a backdrop. They keep back details because they don’t trust Christopher, and he’s struggling to understand what is going on here.

Chapter 36 is similarly vague and uninteresting. Christopher talks with some of the secretaries in an attempt to figure out who might be trying to kill him. More of the same happens in chapter 37, and I think these two could be easily merged. Again, a focus on what Christopher is feeling here will be more meaningful than some of the actions he’s taking or the conversations he’s having with characters that don’t necessarily have any impact on the story.


Overall, I feel like the outline holds up well at a structural level. I don’t see a need for any major adjustments to the order of events, the order of narration, or the major characters. Most of the chapter summaries need more detail, and I’ve identified several chapters where certain things need to be called-out clearly.

Next time, I’ll be evaluating individual chapters and expanding the summaries.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #20

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 out details of Reed’s second attack on Christopher. Then I outlined all of the Act III chapters. I have a full outline of the book!

This session, I want to go through the outline and look at where I need to make adjustments and improvements.

Outlining in Greater Detail

I want to make this outline much more detailed than I typically would for a novel. Normally I leave some wiggle-room to figure things out and make changes as I write chapters. After all, I can always fix things and do necessary cleanup when the chapters are all written.

Because this is a serial project, I want to make each chapter as solid as possible when it is posted. I can’t do a lot of adjustments in the writing process without running the risk of tying myself to choices that can cause problems later on. It’s still an open question whether lots of up-front planning can really solve that. I may still have blind-spots in my outline. I may still discover critical plot holes or other problems when I’m writing. Maybe I’ll still decide to do some serious revisions after I’m done writing the serial parts. I’m going to try the detailed outline and see how it goes.

Setups, Payoffs, and Cliffhangers

There are a few specific things that I’m looking for as I go through the outline.

One of the things I want to note in the outline is where the reader is going to need particular knowledge, and how I’m going to impart that. In a similar way, I want to make a note of all the mysteries that I’m setting up, and the resolutions of those mysteries. If anything is left unresolved, I want it to be on purpose.

Because this will be released serially, I want to treat each chapter as an episode. The “perfect chapter” will present some sort of mystery to draw the reader on, while resolving or answering something presented in an earlier chapter. It will end with a cliff-hanger. It will have some sort of arc, with a beginning, middle and end.

As I go through each chapter outline, I need to note the mysteries that are set up in that chapter, the payoffs for mysteries carried over from other chapters, and look for cliffhanger opportunities. I also need to add some detail on these character mini-arcs.

General Structure

Looking at the large-scale structure of the book from this outline, a few things stand out to me. First, Act I has the most chapters, followed very closely by Act II. Act III has about half as many. Assuming all the chapters are the same length, that’s a bit of an odd shape. I’d typically want Act II to be the longest. However, the number of chapters isn’t necessarily a good indicator of the actual length. If I can keep the Act I chapters shorter, I think it will work out well. Quick pacing up-front can help engage the reader until they can get invested in the story.

As is usual for me, I have a lot of chapters. If these chapters average around 2,000 words, I’ll be in a pretty comfortable novel length. This feels pretty good for me. I think too many chapters shorter than this tend to feel very jarring. On the other hand, I personally have a hard time with very long chapters.

Finally, I need to keep POV character in mind as I am modifying chapters. Right now, I have a very straightforward 2:1 ratio of Christopher and God-Speaker chapters, evenly spaced out. If I need to add or remove a chapter, it’s going to throw off that perfect pattern. I suspect even if many readers don’t necessarily notice, it will feel subtly wrong to break that flow.


Now that I have outlines for every chapter, I took some time to consider what my high-level goals are as I revise those outlines. I’m looking to keep chapters shorter in Act I, and I’m willing to let them run longer in Act II. In each chapter, I’m going to track mysteries and resolutions. I’ll look for opportunities to end on a cliffhanger. I’ll treat each chapter as an episode, with its own mini-arc for character and plot.

I suspect that revising the chapter outlines will result in a lot of small and somewhat tedious changes, so I’m still figuring out exactly how I want to present that in these development journals. I may do a bit more summarizing than I have done so far.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #19

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 made some changes to God-Speaker’s cabinet, and I was able to roughly outline the plot beats in the third act. I still need to figure out how Reed’s attack on Christopher plays out to be ready to work on the chapter summaries for Act III.

The Attack

The secretaries are old. Reed and Cain are old. Even the undersecretaries are middle-aged to older. Nobody new has been added to the cabinet since God-Speaker died. This is not a dynamic and lively government. It is slow and set in its ways, largely content sit in a holding pattern and let Razor Mountain slide toward decay, waiting for God-Speaker’s return.

Christopher worries about the inevitable attack, but he is amazed by how well he can read people and make contingency plans when he has God-Speaker powers and access to the voices. But he also starts to understand how God-Speaker is always thinking about threats and reading people. God-Speaker is afraid of death all the time, partly because he has so many tools to fight against death.

Reed originally killed God-Speaker in anger, albeit a slow burn rather than a hot, immediate fury. After he succeeded, he had grand ideas of taking over Razor Mountain. However, he quickly discovered that he was still stuck in the quagmire of the government. He couldn’t very well stand against all of the other secretaries, and was stymied again and again as he tried to consolidate power. As the years began to wear on, he realized that he might not even enjoy absolute power under the mountain.

By the time Christopher returns, Reed would have been content to live out his few remaining years in his current position, without clawing for more power. But he knows that the return of God-Speaker will probably mean his death, and like God-Speaker, he fears death. So he makes some attempts to stop God-Speaker’s return, and when that fails, he feels that he can either admit what he did and accept judgement, or attempt to kill God-Speaker once and for all. He reluctantly chooses the latter.

Reed’s primary lackey is the Secretary of Justice, a slimy little man who just looks out for his own hide. Reed decides to blackmail him into attacking Christopher, knowing that he will either fail, or more likely try to give up Reed to protect himself. In any case, he will use the man as a distraction and then make an attempt on Christopher’s life.

So Reed does this. The Secretary of Justice goes to Christopher and tells him that Reed tried to get him to kill Christopher. Then Reed comes up behind him and literally tries to stab him in the back. Christopher sees what’s happening instantly, stops the old man, and drags him in front of the full cabinet. As he’s doing this, his memories of Reed killing him originally are trickling back, and he begins to feel a lot more like God-Speaker instead of Christopher.

Beating Reed like this feels easier than he expected, and that’s gratifying. But this is the exact point when he realizes that Reed wasn’t the real problem. The real problem is this: what is he going to do about Christopher and God-Speaker? Who does he want to be?

Chapter Summaries

All the Act III chapters are from Christopher’s perspective, although God-Speaker’s memories and thoughts intrude for certain segments, so I won’t label the viewpoint character for these.

  • Chapter 34 – Cain leads Christopher to the artifacts’ chamber. Christopher experiences a flood of emotions and memories. Once Cain is satisfied that God-Speaker has been awakened, he brings him to a meeting of the cabinet, where he introduces the new God-Speaker. Cain explains that he will schedule meetings between Christopher and all the individual secretaries. After the meeting, Cain tells Christopher that he is the ruler of Razor Mountain, once murdered, now back.
  • Chapter 35 – A Q&A session with Cain. He 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. Christopher has flashes of memory coming back, all out of order. Cain shows him how to access electronic records and a library of paper records.
  • Chapter 36 – A montage of Christopher meeting with secretaries. Some are eager to please. Some are suspicious and seem to be testing him. He talks with Cain and the imprisoned secretary of Justice. Others mostly glossed over. He continues to uncover memories.
  • Chapter 37 – Christopher researches the history of Razor Mountain. He does more interviews. He tries to remember who killed him. He discusses the problem with Cain, who suggests that God-Speaker could always read people exceptionally well, and perhaps he should rely on that.  Christopher counters that it apparently didn’t work the first time, but he decides to rely on his God-Speaker abilities.
  • Chapter 38 – Christopher runs into the Acting Secretary of Justice in a hallway, where the man tells him that Reed is the murderer and has blackmailed him. Christopher’s intuition tells him that this is accurate, that the man is an unwitting distraction, and that Reed intends to use the opportunity to kill him. Sure enough, Reed comes from behind with a knife. Christopher overpowers him and takes the knife. He sends the Acting Secretary to get MPs. Then he convenes the cabinet, talking with the cuffed Reed while the others gather. Christopher explains what happened. Reed and the Acting Secretary are taken to holding cells by the MPs.
  • Chapter 39 – Christopher stands on a private balcony as the sun sets, looking out over the beauty of the mountain valley. He remembers conversations with his beloved wife about selfishness, atonement, and the fear of death. He starts to think that the world is better off without God-Speaker and Razor Mountain. He watches the stars come out and thinks about her.
  • Chapter 40 – Cain wakes in the middle of the night to find Christopher sitting in his room. Christopher asks him why he worked so hard to bring God-Speaker back. Cain explains that the secretaries know God-Speaker constructed this utopia and will be the best caretaker of it. Christopher asks if Cain would still believe in him if all of Razor Mountain was just to safeguard God-Speaker’s immortality. Cain says yes, because he refuses to believe that, and even if he did, he sees that many good things have come out of it. Christopher suggests that Cain might think differently if he had lived in the outside world. Christopher feels that God-Speaker is tired of this endless cycle, and what is left of Christopher is no longer afraid of death. Cain says that Christopher will feel better when he’s “back to himself again.”
  • Chapter 41 – Christopher goes to the artifacts’ chamber and throws his mind back in time, in the same way he has trained “oracles” to send warning messages back to him when things go wrong. He seeks back thousands of years. We return to the scene where God-Speaker first entered the Razor Mountain caves. Christopher enters God-Speaker’s mind, a much stronger voice than the whisper of the artifacts. Where God-Speaker previously jumped across a crack, Christopher trips him up. He falls deep into the mountain, where his body is shattered. He’s surprised to feel no pain, only numbness. Death is peaceful for him. Maybe he glimpses something beyond.


I worked out details of Reed’s second attack on Christopher. Then I outlined all of the Act III chapters. I have a full outline of the book!

Next time, I’ll go through the outline and look at where I need to make adjustments and improvements.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #18

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 came up with a list of departments in God-Speaker’s cabinet. I thought about what happens among this small group after God-Speaker’s death. I began to navigate the internal politics that develop in his absence.

Rethinking the Cabinet

Coming into this session, I’ve been rethinking my plans from the last session. I initially wanted a very small group of people under God-Speaker who know who he really is. The justification is that he would minimize his exposure and the number of people who could realistically pose a threat to him. It also limits the cast of characters that need to be introduced and developed in Act III.

However, I began to think that the very small group I developed would not be enough to run everything in Razor Mountain. I also realized that as long as the group was small, it would require me to do a certain amount of rounding-out all of the characters. They become important by virtue of how few of them there are.

Now, I’m leaning toward a slightly larger group: something like ten to fifteen people. The unimportant characters in this cabinet can be mostly treated as a loosely-defined crowd, while I provide more detail for the characters that matter in the narrative. These flatter characters make the governance of Razor Mountain a little more believable, and a web of alliances and rivalries helps to explain why it’s difficult for the more powerful cabinet members to simply take over. It also makes it harder for the suspicious loyalists to discover who was really behind God-Speaker’s death.

I’ll probably take cues for these additional cabinet positions from the US presidential cabinet – Razor Mountain does maintain a facade of secret association with the US government. I can include secretaries of agriculture, commerce, labor, health, energy, education, science, etc.

Plot Beats

I have also been thinking about how the plot unfolds in Act III. I think it starts with Christopher being led into this inner sanctum, where only the cabinet and perhaps a small  guard corps are allowed to enter. He is greeted by Cain, who tells him, “Welcome home, God-Speaker.” That strikes me as a good line to end Act II on.

Cain’s first order of business is to bring Christopher to the place where the artifacts are housed. This begins the process of “unlocking” God-Speaker’s memories and personality. Christopher doesn’t realize what’s being done to him until he starts to have flashes of God-Speaker coming through. At that point, he realizes that he’s on a slow, inevitable road to death, or at least something very similar to death as he is subsumed in God-Speaker’s vast, long-lived persona.

Once the process is started, Cain convenes the cabinet and reveals Christopher to them, framing it as a long-awaited return to order.

It’s only after all of this, in private, that Cain really answers some of Christopher’s questions and warns him that the murderer may still be looking for a way to finish both of them off before Christopher remembers everything that happened.

Christopher remembers things piecemeal, and has access to a wealth of records. He worries about the seemingly imminent attack while also struggling with his transformation into God-Speaker. He questions the cabinet officials, gathering information.

When Reed finally makes a second attempt on his life, perhaps through proxies, Christopher already has accurate suspicions and is prepared. His memories of the first attack awaken. I still need to work out exactly how this happens. He stops Reed.

This easy victory feels strangely hollow (to Christopher, and hopefully the reader, since it’s intended to be a bit of an anti-climax). Even though Christopher has now regained control over Razor Mountain and gotten answers to the mysteries that plagued him through the whole book, he is fading away. He is turning into God-Speaker, and discovering that even God-Speaker isn’t excited to be God-Speaker. He’s just propelled onward in an endless malaise by a gnawing fear of death. In one sense he won, but he really had no path to any outcome that feels like success.

The cabinet is relieved that the long interregnum is over. They have spent their lives in Razor Mountain, they believe God-Speaker is a nearly infallible leader, and they were at least partly selected for their acquiescence to his authority. In short, most of them are relieved that they have him above them to be ultimately responsible for the functioning of their little society.

The End

Christopher can feel when the end is near. He knows that within hours he will be just another tiny sliver of God-Speaker. He weighs his fears, and he talks to Cain. He tells him that he thinks Razor Mountain was a mistake. Cain doesn’t understand and disagrees. He tells Christopher that he’ll feel better when he’s back to his old self again.

Christopher then goes to the place where the artifacts are, and sends himself backward through time. He stops young God-Speaker from entering the cave, sending him slipping down the rocks to his death.


I made some changes to God-Speaker’s cabinet, and I was able to roughly outline the plot beats in the third act.

Next time, I need to decide exactly how Reed makes his final, desperate attack on Christopher, and how Christopher stops him. Once that’s settled, I think I have everything I need to work on the chapter summaries for Act III.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #17

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 did some preliminary planning for Act III and the end of the book. I looked at the “scaffolding” like number of chapters, and the topics they have to address, as well as the tone of the ending.

Upper Management for an Immortal

So far, I’ve created two characters to serve in God-Speaker’s inner circle, because these two were important for Act II. They’re not the most rounded characters yet, because they were designed to fit a plot purpose. I also need to figure out what other characters are in this inner council.

God-Speaker understands that one of the best ways he can protect himself is by minimizing the number of people who know or suspect that he exists. He built Razor Mountain to hide himself from the outside world, and he built the internal mythology of Razor Mountain to hide himself from the people within the mountain. However, he is obsessively controlling. He wants a constant feed of information coming in to him. He wants to project his influence across Razor Mountain, and when necessary, the world.

To do this effectively, he created a small group of carefully vetted people who can act as his liasons, bringing him information and carrying out his orders. They necessarily know more about him than anyone else, and he knows that they are the only people likely to betray him. Because of this, he keeps the group as small as possible, and watches them carefully. He develops tools and strategies to discover and weed out disloyal people in the inner circle (which work well up until Reed’s betrayal.)

What Does God-Speaker Need?

What departments does this council have?

  • There must be some amount of management and governance for Razor Mountain itself: the facilities, the people and the goods generated and consumed by those people.
  • The mountain is largely self-sufficient, but trade with the outside does happen, and this needs to be handled in a secretive way.
  • While God-Speaker keeps Razor Mountain hidden, he still sometimes needs to manipulate events in the world, he needs a few carefully trained people to send out and accomplish tasks.
  • Razor Mountain society is largely built around a military hierarchy masquerading as a part of the U.S. Army. The illusion of that hierarchy has to be maintained. It makes sense that a military-style justice and policing system would also be incorporated.

From those needs, I can begin to decide what the positions on this council might be. The term “council” doesn’t particularly fit the actual function of these people. They don’t deliberate – they are more like cabinet heads, or political ministers or secretaries. They serve at the pleasure of God-Speaker, and he can ultimately allow or overrule their decisions.

  • Building and Works Department – Cain Dolus (loyal)
  • Economic Department – New character?
  • Intelligence Department – Reed Parricida (traitor)
  • Military Department – New character?
  • Justice Department – New character?

I think those positions might also sometimes have a senior secretary and an undersecretary who is effectively in training to take over. While God-Speaker is missing from the mountain, a secretary might also die or be deposed, and their positions consolidated under other secretaries.

What Follows God-Speaker’s Death?

As soon as God-Speaker is gone, Reed knows that he is up against the other secretaries if he wants to actually take control of Razor Mountain. He hides his treachery by planting evidence that incriminates one of the other secretaries. This also provides him an opportunity to create an opening that he can fill. The Military and Justice departments would probably be the most useful to a budding new dictator.

So, Reed kills God-Speaker, but God-Speaker manages to transfer his consciousness into baby Christopher. Reed plants evidence and accuses the Secretary of Justice. They deny any involvement, but the rest of the cabinet decide to imprison them. There is an Undersecretary, but they are a weak-willed pushover who easily falls under Reed’s sway.

Cain, however, finds the entire situation suspicious. He believes that the Secretary of Justice may have been framed or working with another member of the cabinet. He sometimes talks to them in their jail in hopes of gleaning some new information (and out of pity). Cain is also close to the Secretary of the Military, and the pair effectively block Reed and his puppet Secretary of Justice from taking too much power.

Even worse for Reed, Cain has more of a knack with the artifacts. He discovers that God-Speaker isn’t gone, and can be brought back if they find Christopher and bring him to Razor Mountain. Reed knows this will be disastrous for him, but can’t act overtly. He helps Cain plan to bring Christopher to the mountain, but plans to dispose of him before he can come back and reveal that Reed was the traitor.


I didn’t get as far in this session as I was hoping, but I honestly underestimated the work that had to be done here. I came up with a list of departments in God-Speaker’s cabinet. I’m going to need to flesh out characters for the deposed Secretary of Justice, the weak Undersecretary of Justice (who takes over and allies with Reed), the Military Secretary (who allies with Cain), and the Economic Secretary (who probably ought to play a lesser role just to limit the cast of characters.

Next time, I need to sort these characters out. I think I’ll be lucky if it only takes me one session.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #16

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 God-Speaker in Act II!

Embarking on Act III

I like to think of the end of Act II as the inflection point of the story. We’ve reached the proverbial mountain top. In act III, we’re headed back down at breakneck speed, toward the end of the book. Everything should be moving toward the finale. The plot needs to be wrapping things up. Emotionally, the characters need to be moving in that direction too.

Going into Act III, the reader knows that Christopher is the reincarnation of God-Speaker. Christopher still needs to find that out. We’ve seen the evolution of Razor Mountain, and the evolution of God-Speaker alongside it. Now we know about his downfall. We know that there are probably enemies here that Christopher doesn’t even know he has.

To survive, Christopher needs to figure that out. As readers, we feel that there’s probably a confrontation brewing, and we’ll definitely know that there’s one on the way when we see that Reed and Cain are both still here.

Once that is dealt with, there is an even bigger question: what happens to Christopher? Does he go back to being God-Speaker, tighten his grip, and try to put his house back in order? Has his journey (and his whole life, really) as Christopher changed him? That’s the question that I really want driving the final act to its ultimate conclusion, where Christopher chooses to reject everything he did as God-Speaker.


The chapter structure I’ve laid out so far is very consistent. I alternate between God-Speaker chapters and Christopher chapters, with Christopher getting twice as many chapters. Act I and Act II have almost the same number of chapters (17 and 16 respectively), although I haven’t tried to estimate word-counts yet.

I expect Act III to be shorter. There are no more God-Speaker chapters. He’s dead and gone. Christopher is the one alive in the present. However, once Christopher “unlocks” God-Speaker’s dormant personality and memories, I think it will still make sense to include some flashes of God-Speaker’s perspective here and there. It may help convey the feeling that Christopher is losing himself as this ancient god-being starts to take over.

Act III should really have two parts. The first part is about Christopher discovering that he’s the reincarnation of God-Speaker. He meets what remains of his inner circle (which will need more characters than Cain and Reed). He learns about the artifacts. He learns that he was betrayed and murdered, and that his life depends on figuring out who did it before they do it again and finish what they started.

While all that is happening, I need to include the emotional threads of the story. God-Speaker slowly became terrified of death, and bored of life. Christopher starts the book in much the same way, albeit on a smaller scale. He has now risked his life and made dangerous choices. He has accepted the eventuality of his own death, and his limited control of an indifferent universe.

Once he activates the artifacts and God-Speaker starts to slowly seep in, his “death” becomes very real and immediate. Does he want to be subsumed by this other person, who in many ways represents the most extreme version of his own worst attributes, magnified over thousands of years?

The second part of Act III starts when Christopher figures out that Reed betrayed him and kills or otherwise defeats the man. He is the ultimate winner. He came back from the brink of death to continue his endless reign, unstoppable. His other minions are happy that order has been restored. Unfortunately for him, it’s a pyrrhic victory.

Without the distraction of the direct threat to his physical existence, he has to think about the existential threat to his existence. He has to reconcile Christopher and God-Speaker. The final battle is between these two, within Christopher’s mind.

Christopher decides that God-Speaker has wasted thousands of years building a dystopia. He uses the artifacts to travel back to the moment from the end of Act I, where God-Speaker found the artifacts. He accepts death in the service of a good cause, kills God-Speaker, and changes the timeline for the better (or so he hopes).


The tone will be shaped throughout the book, but the ending is what will have the most impact on what the reader feels about the book. It’s obviously pretty dark – the protagonist kills his worst enemy, then himself, to prevent the terrible things he would otherwise do. It’s tragic by the original definition.

However, that tragedy isn’t so tragic in terms of Christopher’s emotional arc. He overcomes his fear of risk, danger, and even death. He makes a very consequential choice because he believes it’s the right thing to do. He’s satisfied with the outcome, and hopefully the reader will also think he did the right thing. The effectiveness of this is going to depend on how well I build up that arc throughout the story, as much as it will depend on the actual ending.

What’s Next?

I need to figure out what secondary characters come into play in the third act. I have two council members, but I need more for it to really be a council. They need to have some purpose and characterization in their own right.

I need to figure out how Christopher finds out who killed him. It may be as simple as retrieving that memory, but there has to be some tension around it. What does Reed do when he finds out that Christopher is here? What does he do as God-Speaker’s memories are returning?


I did some preliminary planning for Act III and the end of the book. I looked at the “scaffolding” like the number of chapters and the topics they have to address. I also thought about the tone of the ending.

Next time, I’m going to flesh out God-Speaker’s inner council and figure out how he discovers his killer.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #15

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 what I wanted in each of the Act II God-Speaker chapters, but I didn’t get into detailed summaries. Time to get it done.

Names for Secondary Characters

As usual, I hate to have nameless characters for very long. If I’m going to write chapter descriptions, I at least need working names.

Reed Parricida – The disloyal servant who tries to kill God-Speaker. Reed is a sideways glance at papyrus, and he’s a bit of a bookworm. Parricida is a reference to his eventual murder of God-Speaker. (Parricide doesn’t feel like a very commonly used word to me, but may still be a bit heavy handed.)

Cain Dolus – The loyal servant. Cain to bring to mind the biblical betrayer and murderer, Dolus as a reference to the Greek spirit of trickery and guile. He’s meant to appear to be the traitor at first.

Sky-Watcher – The beloved. God-Speaker’s lover is an iron-age astronomer and mathematician who took the name for her love of studying the night sky.

Strong Shield – Friend/betrayer. The first person who betrayed God-Speaker. He earned his name by protecting Razor Mountain, but he comes to believe that God-Speaker’s desire to withdraw from the world is weak, and that they should grow their kingdom through conquest.

Chapter Summaries

  • Chapter 20 – (GS) God-Speaker introduces a new group of ice-age migrants to the village  build at the base of Razor Mountain, next to the cave. They eat a huge meal, to impress upon the newcomers how good life will be for them. He shows them fields of grain, orchards and livestock. He shows them a mine, a forge, and metal tools. He explains that this “great tribe” is superior to their small tribes. Finally, he tells them about himself and how he listens to the gods of the mountain, who teach him all of these good things.
  • Chapter 23 – (GS) God-Speaker speaks with his military leaders about a small army that is approaching the mountain. He has better weapons and better tactics, and isn’t worried about losing. He dismisses them, telling one to stay behind – his friend, Strong Shield. Strong Shield suggests a counter-attack, to stop the threat for good. God-Speaker explains that he is thinking about stopping all interaction with outside groups, and hiding their knowledge and wealth from the rest of the world to avoid conflict. Strong Shield says this is weak, and tries to kill God-Speaker, but he is ready, and kills his friend.
  • Chapter 26 – (GS) God-Speaker waits on the balcony of his home, which is now within a city inside the mountain. He watches excavations underway. He goes inside, to Sky Watcher, and they go to the chamber of the artifacts. He tries to guide her in listening to the voices and accessing their power, as he has been for some time. She has little success. He helps her up stairs, though she is very weak, and they go outside and look at the stars. They talk about the future. Even while they’re talking, he is worrying about her illness. She dies suddenly and quietly.
  • Chapter 29 – (GS) God-Speaker sits in his modern office within Razor Mountain. He explains to Reed, a member of his inner circle, that he believes Cain may have plans to betray him, and asks Reed to keep an eye on him. Then he speaks to Cain, who has a plethora of ideas for improving Razor Mountain, but also pushes God-Speaker to reveal information that God-Speaker wants to keep solely for himself.
  • Chapter 32 – (GS) God-Speaker tours Cain’s latest project, a geothermal borehole that provides heat and energy. They talk, and Cain apologizes for overstepping his bounds. God-Speaker realizes that the man isn’t a threat, just passionate about his projects. He returns to his office and calls in Reed, asking him to call off the surveillance, then telling him that his work has been poor while he’s distracted with this extra task. Reed unexpectedly attacks him. God-Speaker is hurt, and flees to the chamber of the artifacts. Reed kills him there, and he frantically sends his fading consciousness into a random person: baby Christopher.


I finished the chapter summaries for God-Speaker in Act II!

Next time, I’ll begin working on Act III, and working toward the ending of the book.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #14

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 fleshed out the artifacts, and changed their nature a bit. I worked through the building of Razor Mountain from a natural cave into the hidden city that Christopher finds when he arrives there. I outlined God-Speaker’s emotional evolution, and some of the reasons why he becomes so bitter and indifferent to the people around him.

Supporting Characters

Along with fleshing out the long history of Razor Mountain, God-Speaker’s Act II chapters need to illuminate his own character. To do that, he needs supporting characters.

God-Speaker needs a friend to betray him, and a love interest who dies tragically. He needs at least one loyal member of his most recent inner council and one who betrays and murders him, setting the events of the story in motion.

God-Speaker’s friend betrays him while he’s still building up a kingdom and fending off outside attackers. He is starting to really understand that increasing his fame will bring new dangers and problems to him, and considering a change of course. His friend is one of his best warriors and strategists, who believes that they should keep expanding the kingdom. He sees this change of heart as weakness in God-Speaker, and believes he can do a better job ruling the kingdom.

The artifacts, and the ancient voices that speak from them, give God-speaker some intuition that his friend has the potential to betray him, but he doesn’t want to believe it. Still, when his friend makes his betrayal plain and tries to kill him, God-Speaker is prepared with a hidden weapon and successfully defends himself. He kills his friend, and he and the kingdom begin to turn inward.

His great love comes many years later. Razor Mountain is a self-sustaining city, and little more than a legend to the outside world, conducting careful and clandestine trade. While God-Speaker has had some partners, this love is different. He is completely enamored. The woman he loves is an astronomer, and he uses the knowledge given to him by the artifacts’ ancient voices to help her better understand the physics of the cosmos.

However, she is sick, and getting worse. He knows that she has a form of cancer that has spread throughout her body, but he lacks effective treatments. Desperate to save her, he tries to teach her to use the artifacts to be reborn into another person’s mind. The artifacts are not compatible with most human minds, however, and she is unable to do much more than faintly hear the voices. Every night, they practice together, to no avail. Then he brings her outside to look at the stars. She dies, staring up at the sky.

The final two chapters of the act will revolve around God-Speaker and two members of his inner council, only a few years before the story starts. I’d like to fake-out which of the two is actually going to betray him.

He talks with the first council-member, a gruff but effective administrator that he relies on to plan his new projects. He tells the man that he distrusts another council member, and asks him to surveil his fellow. Then he speaks to the distrusted council member, a bookish intellectual who has a plethora of ideas to improve Razor Mountain, and is convinced that he could do more for God-Speaker if he could know all of God-Speaker’s secrets. They argue over this.

In the following chapter, the intellectual reports on several projects which have been successful. They have another discussion where the man decides that he over-stepped his bounds and God-Speaker decides that perhaps he can be trusted with a few additional secrets. Then he meets with the administrator. He tells him that surveillance can be scaled back, and the man can get back to some of his projects, which have been slipping while he was distracted by this task.

To God-Speaker’s surprise, the administrator betrays him. God-Speaker didn’t think the man had enough of an ego to be a threat. Even worse, the man has been planning for some time. He has removed God-Speaker’s hidden weapons from their hiding places. There’s a nasty altercation.

God-Speaker flees to the artifacts’ chamber, and the man murders him there. As he lays dying, his consciousness is flung out into the world, and into baby Christopher, where it lies dormant.

All of that should fit into four God-Speaker chapters, and I’ve allocated five. I think I can use my first Act II chapter as a look at the early days of Razor Mountain. God-Speaker is introducing a new group of ice-age migrants to Razor Mountain. The first thing they do is eat a huge meal, to remind the newcomers how good life will be for them. Then he shows them the fields of grain, orchards and livestock that the food came from. He shows them a mine, a forge, and metal tools. He explains that this “great tribe” is superior to their small tribe. Finally, he tells them about himself, and how he listens to the gods of the mountain, who teach him all of these good things.


Today was a shorter session, so I worked through what I wanted in each of the Act II God-Speaker chapters, but I didn’t get into the detailed summaries. I’ll finish those off next time. Then I’ll probably get into Act III, where Christopher and God-Speaker’s stories finally converge!

Razor Mountain Development Journal #13

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 fleshed out the secondary characters that interact with Christopher in Act II. Then I wrote chapter-level summaries for 11 of his Act II chapters.

God-Speaker Problems

My Act II plans for God-Speaker are a lot more nebulous than my plans for Christopher. There are several things I’ll need to figure out. Once I solve those problems, I need to fit the results into the chapters, or make some modifications to make them fit.

I left 5 open chapters in my Act II outline while I was working on Christopher’s plot. That doesn’t feel like much space, but I’ll start with that. Those chapters need to work like little self-contained stories from different time periods, while still contributing to the overall plot and illuminating God-Speaker as a character.

Before I start on the summaries for those chapters, I need to figure out what information I have to present, what changes God-Speaker undergoes, and come up with supporting characters so all that can happen.

I need to figure out what the artifacts can do, and some back-story for them (even if it’s only hinted at in the story). I need to figure out the progression of Razor Mountain, from God-Speaker alone in a cave to a city-sized hidden society. Finally, I need to figure out how God-Speaker grows steadily more obsessed with and fearful of death, how he evolves into an emotionally hardened despot, how he slowly becomes disconnected from his own humanity as he lives for thousands of years.

The Artifacts

God-Speaker finds the artifacts when he first comes to Razor Mountain. They’ll barely be seen in the story, but their power drives the plot. They are essentially magic, even if they’re masquerading as technology. I need to make sure that I explain clearly what they can do, and also what their limitations are. Otherwise, their effects will feel like deus ex machina instead of being grounded in the world of the story.

The artifacts have three purposes in the story:

  1. Intelligence – When God-Speaker first finds the artifacts in a cave, his mind is altered. He suddenly sees the world differently than his stone-age cohorts. He can make cognitive leaps that are beyond them. He is able to manipulate them and make himself appear to be a god.
  2. Reincarnation – When God-Speaker grows old in body, he doesn’t die. Instead, he transfers his consciousness and memory into another person. For this transfer, distance is no issue. However, his thoughts are dormant in that person until “activated” by the artifact at close range.
  3. Altering the timeline – A person or their consciousness can be sent back to a particular point in time, with the power to alter the timeline. God-Speaker uses this to fix any catastrophic mistakes he might make by ensuring he is sent a warning from the future, before the mistake can ever happen. This also facilitates the ending, when Christopher goes back and stops God-Speaker from initiating the whole chain of events.

Although I’ve been referring to them as “the artifacts,” they could take whatever form is convenient. I think I may prefer them to be more abstract and mysterious. Maybe they’re not items at all. Perhaps there’s a chamber, deep inside the mountain, embedded in some much larger structure of unknown size. A crashed alien ship? A construct of some ancient, extinct race? In any case, it helps to explain why God-Speaker is so bound to the mountain.

The powers of the artifacts need not feel so precise either, as long as they still fulfill their functions. The transfer of consciousness that allows for reincarnation might just allow the transfer back in time. The intelligence or insight given by the “artifacts” might really be due to other consciousnesses or fragments of consciousnesses, trapped in the chamber in a way that God-Speaker can access their collective wisdom.

The Building of Razor Mountain

When God-Speaker emerges from the cave, he suddenly understands a great many things. He has become stone-age MacGyver. Resources are still scarce, but he has advantages in survival. He finds that he has expertise in plants, in the instincts of animals and trapping them. He can create better tools, from finely knapped flint spearheads to spear throwers that increase his range and accuracy.

Having satiated the immediate needs of his own survival, he begins traveling further afield. There are still migrating tribes nearby. Perhaps he even finds members of his own original tribe. He has a better understanding now of social manipulation, and he becomes a leader through careful application of flattery, bribery, intimidation and trickery.

With more labor at his disposal, he can begin to develop technology like agriculture, animal husbandry, mining, smelting, and simple medicine. His group prospers, and he builds up a little kingdom in a harsh environment; far more advanced than the neighboring tribes.

However, his kingdom draws the attention of rivals. He is attacked and even betrayed by some of his own. The bloodshed disturbs and disillusions him. He decides that it’s best not to expand his kingdom or draw more attention to himself. Instead, he and his kingdom turn their focus inward. He begins excavations under the mountain.

From there, things progress in small, incremental steps. His spies periodically go out into the world. The world progresses and he sometimes has people, materials and finished goods brought to the mountain. For the most part, his kingdom stays within a few miles of the mountain.

Turning Inward

To turn God-Speaker into an emotionally deadened autocrat, he needs more than the challenges of managing a small kingdom. He needs personal pain and loss. He needs the person he loves most to die, while he lives on. He needs to be betrayed by a close friend.

If God-Speaker loves someone deeply, he would do everything in his now considerable power to protect her. I think this relationship is going to be cursed. She’s sick. Perhaps with his considerable knowledge he even has some idea of how sick she is, but he lacks the technology and resources to heal her.

Of course, he tries to use the artifacts to save her, but perhaps not everyone can use the artifacts. Perhaps his connection is unusual. (This might also explain why nobody is able to use them in the years when God-Speaker is trapped as a sort of ghost in Christopher’s subconscious). She tries to use them with his instruction, but is unable to send her soul into someone else.

Early on, even as God-Speaker is growing in power, he is still among the people he rules. This begins to change when he is betrayed by someone he considered a close friend. He sees greed and desire for power corrupt this friend. It continues to be an ongoing cycle throughout the years, and God-Speaker builds up defenses against it. His society becomes stratified, with fewer and fewer people able to get close to him. Eventually, only a few even know he exists.

Even when only a handful of people are in any position to threaten him, God-Speaker develops social structures to separate the greedy and power-hungry from those who are willing and loyal servants. He allows the potential betrayers to make their plans under surveillance, then promptly crushes them. The cycles of betrayal and distrust wear at him. He begins to evaluate people by the likelihood that they’ll betray him.

The Recent Past

The final puzzle piece in the history of Razor Mountain is a relatively recent development.

It’s challenging enough to keep this sovereign mountain compound hidden from the outside world through the expansions and explorations of mankind over thousands of years. Where it really becomes impossible is in the modern age of precision satellite imaging and worldwide instantaneous communication.

I could make this a little less challenging for myself by setting the story a decade or three in the past, so the technology isn’t quite so developed. But I think it makes sense that God-Speaker would be planning to handle a world where it’s harder and harder to remain hidden. He also still wants access to the people, manufacturing capabilities, and resources of the outside world.

His first problem is remaining hidden. This is partly resolved by the artifacts’ ability to go back in time and get a do-over. Carefully placed spies, both human and technological, can help. The advent of the internet also potentially allows him to use the skills and knowledge from the artifacts to hack into information systems around the world and adjust things as needed.

His second problem is internal. If he wants to send people into the outside world, they can’t be shocked and awed by what they find there. Likewise, he can’t run the risk of occasional deserters finding their way out into the real world and revealing Razor Mountain’s existence. His isolated little city needs to feel integrated into the outside world while still physically separate.

For this, he develops the faux military system that ties into the American military. To the inhabitants of Razor Mountain, the 550th Infantry is a battalion of the U.S. Army. To certain Army IT systems, it may be too. However, the 550th isn’t an ordinary battalion. It’s cut off, with limited supplies. Its soldiers live in Razor Mountain, but so do their civilian families. Travel is strictly limited.

For this, God-Speaker develops a mythological origin for Razor Mountain: it’s a city built under the auspices of secret laws, unknown to the outside world. These laws establish the place as a sort of fail-safe against catastrophe. Should there be nuclear Armageddon, worldwide plague, or devastating meteor impact, Razor Mountain will survive.

Part of this mythology is the secrecy and self-sufficiency of Razor Mountain. In the heart of the cold war, the communists can’t find out about this secret bastion. They’ll nuke it. If civilization is destroyed by plague, it won’t do to let outsiders bring it to the last safe place.

This story reinforces the secrecy of Razor Mountain, but it’s also a story that can be used to instill a sense of pride in the populace. They live confined and limited lives, but the hardships they endure are because they are special: unique in the world. They are important. They might very well be the salvation of humanity in the face of disaster.


I fleshed out the artifacts, although there may still be some work to do there. I worked through the building of Razor Mountain from a natural cave into what Christopher finds when he arrives there. I outlined God-Speaker’s emotional evolution, and some of the reasons why he becomes so heartless and cold.

Next time, I’m going to do my best to distill all of this into a sequence of chapter summaries for Act II.