Razor Mountain — Bonus Development Journal

This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

But Wait…There’s More!

I write and edit each chapter of Razor Mountain as a single cohesive unit, but I’ve been splitting each chapter into multiple parts, usually between 1,000 and 1,500 words. For blog posts, this is supposedly the sweet spot for keeping readers’ attention, and it lets me draw out each bit of the story over a couple of days, to mitigate the fact that I usually only produce a new chapter every two weeks.

I sometimes take little notes as I’m writing, and once I’m done with a chapter I write the development journal for it. Usually this means I post the parts of the chapter early in the week, and the dev journal on a Friday.

A week ago, I released Chapter 17 in two parts and thought I was done with it. I posted the development journal. I did get feedback from my wife that this chapter felt a little short and ended abruptly, but I thought that was perfectly fine, and I moved on to working on Chapter 18.

As I wrote Chapter 18, I realized that it was going to be a short one, probably not even long enough to split into two parts. And then I realized that Chapter 17 flowed directly into it, with no significant shift in time or location. I reread the part of the chapter I had finished, and I had to admit, it was really a continuation of Chapter 17.

So, I decided to merge this into the previous chapter. This week I’ll post it as Chapter 17.3, and I’m posting this “mini” development journal to explain why.

Outlining and Flexibility

I am the kind of writer who likes to outline. For Razor Mountain, I knew I was going to be posting chapters as I wrote them. That’s a scary prospect, so I spent more time outlining in detail than I ever have for any other project before.

I know there’s supposedly this great schism among writers who outline or don’t outline, but I think it’s a false dichotomy. There’s a spectrum of more or less preparation, and more or less tweaking the story as you write it.

We outliners are a little smug about knowing exactly what’s going to happen in the story, but that can be dangerous. You can miss the opportunities for improvement that present themselves during the writing process, because they don’t “fit into the plan.”

The outline is an invaluable resource for me. I can’t imagine embarking on a project like Razor Mountain and not knowing exactly how I want the plot to flow or not knowing how it will all end. I’m not that kind of writer, and I’ve seen too many serialized stories crash and burn. But I also refuse to be beholden to the outline. I consolidated several chapters in the first act, and I’m happy to do it again. I’ve changed and adjusted a few minor plot points. The outline is a tool, a safety net, to be used only as long as it’s helpful.

The Upshot

The downside of making changes as you go, and the reason some writers are loathe to deviate from the outline, is that any significant changes mean the outline has to change too. Razor Mountain is a story of two different timelines, Christopher and God-Speaker, and thanks to my particular mental proclivities I have arranged it so that we get two Christopher chapters followed by a single God-Speaker chapter. Combining or eliminating chapters throws that off.

While that kind of consistent formula appeals to me, I don’t feel the need to force it when it doesn’t serve the story. Conveniently, the two timelines are fairly independent. The characters exist thousands of years apart, so while adjacent chapters may relate to one another indirectly or share similar themes, most of the book is fairly amenable to small re-orderings of individual chapters. I can probably pull chapters back to fill in the “gap” left by combining these two chapters. I just need to make sure the pacing feels good.

As evidenced by this post, this unexpected change also throws off my posting schedule. This sort of thing would have worried me back when I first started posting Razor Mountain. However, I’m now a year into the project (holy shit, yes, it really has been a year), and I’m slowly becoming less precious about the blog and how I present my fiction to the universe at large. As a small-time blogger, I now work under the assumption that none of my readership cares about my posting schedule as much as I do.

Besides, the whole point of this project was to provide a radically open view into my writing process, and I think this is a great example of that. Look for Chapter 17.3 this week, and then a return to the usual schedule.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 17

This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

Writing After Time Off

This chapter took a little longer than usual because of my Covid vacation, which mostly involved sleeping and being unproductive. This particular break was outside my control, but I’ve taken plenty of writing breaks in the past. I’ve never been a very consistent writer, so I’m no stranger to taking time off, but this blog has been slowly helping me get better at that.

The challenge for me with time off from writing is almost always just the mental block on getting started again. It’s not exactly writer’s block. Getting myself to write that first sentence is like pulling my own teeth, but once I’m a paragraph or two in, I can usually set my writing cruise-control for a while. It helps a lot to have a project like Razor Mountain, because I can write from a detailed outline. Most of the plot problems are small and easy to solve.

Mixed Feelings in the Middle

Looking at chapters, we are dead center in the middle of the book. We’ll have to wait and see how it shakes out in terms of wordcount. For me, this is always the most nebulous part of the story. That may be because I rarely feel comfortable working on a story unless I already have a detailed understanding of the beginning and the end. It just doesn’t feel like a proper story until I have those elements.

The beginning is all about introducing characters and problems and settings. It’s busy. The ending is the most exciting part, because it’s full of problems being resolved and characters making important decisions and mysteries finally revealed.

The middle is more trouble. The middle is the glue. It’s the throughline that gets you from the beginning to the end. The middle is the most flexible part. It’s also usually the part with the most difficult decisions and problems to figure out. As a result, the middle is where I do most of my second-guessing and wondering whether I’m going in the right direction.

The issue I have right now with the middle of Razor Mountain is that it feels like a lot is going on—there are new characters in every chapter, new time-jumping narrative for God-Speaker, and a lot of shifting mysteries where some things are revealed while bringing up new questions. That all sounds pretty good on paper, but I have some doubts over whether all of these things will feel like a logical sequence of events or more like distracting degressions.

All of this is further exacerbated by putting each chapter up online for the world to see, as I write it. I have to accept that I may be writing imperfect story beats (and let’s be real, they’re never perfect), and that people will actually see them before I finish the thing and edit and polish as much as I would like.

The advantage of experience is that I know I always feel this way to some extent in the middle of the story. I can keep writing through it and come out on the other side with a more informed perspective. Looking back from the end of the book, I may choose to pull some plot points or change what happens. And the advantage of putting the story out there in this state is that I hopefully get a little less precious about my stories and get a little better at pushing forward and writing the thing.

A Lack of Agency

The other issue that I’ve been thinking about here in the middle of the book is how much agency Christopher has over the story. God-Speaker will be doing a lot for the next few chapters, but Christopher is at the mercy of other characters for a while. In these parts, his agency has to come from his thoughts and reactions, and how he chooses to react to the lack of control over his external situation.

My goal is to use these scenes to further develop Christopher’s character and set him up for the challenges and choices that will happen in later chapters.

Next Time

Chapter 18 continues Christopher’s forced march with the kidnapping brothers as they make their way toward Razor Mountain.

Dissecting Influences — Sci-Fi From My Childhood

If you’ve been around here for a while, you might remember that my favorite writing podcast is Writing Excuses. In Episode 17.7, the team discussed dissecting your influences.

We all have stories we love, whether they be books, shows or movies. The idea of this episode was that it can be useful to take apart our favorite things and figure out why we like them, because it guides us toward things that matter to us. The themes and ideas that draw us to these works will often be fertile ground for our own writing. And while it may seem obvious that we all know exactly what we like in media, the truth is that we often leave those stones unturned. It might even be surprising to dig into what really brings us joy in a favorite movie or book.

After listening to this episode, I started compiling a list of my own favorite media. It wasn’t hard to start. In fact, it was hard to stop. The things closest to mind were mostly books I had read recently or old favorites that I’ve been re-reading with my kids. But I soon started to remember books from childhood, poetry, and even influences outside fiction altogether.

With this list in hand, and continuing to add to it, I thought it might be fun to dissect my own writer brain in public. I have to limit myself to a reasonable size for a blog post, so I’m going to pick a somewhat arbitrary classification to pull out a handful of entries.

The Grown-Up Sci-Fi of My Childhood

That’s right, it’s some of my first loves in science fiction, way back when I was still in school. The actual dates of publication vary quite a bit, from 1965 to 1994, and these are all novels aimed at adults. One of the things that drew me into these books was the faintly illicit idea that I, as a child, could read stories intended for grown-ups. It felt like a window into ideas and worlds I wasn’t yet allowed to enter. Going from “Choose Your Own Adventure” and Goosebumps to heady books like Dune is a real shock to the system.

On that note, let’s start with Herbert’s masterpiece.

Dune

Having read this book at least three times—and one of those times quite recently—I have a hard time going back to the headspace I was in when I read it originally. I think I was in high school, and I’m pretty sure the reason I started reading it was because I saw a mention of it where someone said it was as influential in science-fiction as Lord of the Rings was in fantasy.

I think Dune is a pretty great book for young people who are starting to get into science fiction. On the one hand, it reduces the many political and economic complexities of the far future into a feudal culture where the only thing that matters are the machinations of a handful of powerful factions. The protagonist, Paul, is a ducal heir with adult responsibilities, but he’s still not quite an adult. Interestingly, the whole feudal system and it’s quasi-European royalty end up falling apart by the end of the book, with young Paul engineering their downfall at the hands of colonized people.

I remember this book being interesting because it sets up a world where people and decisions hundreds of years previous can have profound and complicated effects on the present. It’s a world of complex, interrelated systems that nobody can completely understand, and even a single person putting a wrench in the gears in just the right way can totally change the universe.

I also genuinely love Paul’s relationship with his own psychic powers. He hates them. He is constantly vacillating between seeing the future and being unable to steer it, or losing that sight and the fear of not knowing. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that handled that kind of power in quite the same way.

I have to at least mention the other books in the (original) Dune series. I read them all, although not right away. I don’t think any of them quite measure up to the original, but I appreciate how strange they are, and Herbert’s audacity in choosing to set them thousands of years apart in far-flung futures that are less and less similar to our own modern lives.

Ender’s Game

Another book with a child protagonist? Possibly a theme. Ender in this book is much younger than Paul is at the beginning of Dune, but he deals with some comparable drama. This is another book that I re-read recently with my kids.

This book was astounding in a few different ways. Firstly, while it’s not exactly dystopic fiction, it does depict a world where war with aliens has resulted in hardship for average people and a government with dictatorial power. We learn early on that Ender is special because he’s a “third.” In a world where the government limits how many children each couple can have, he is a rarity.

All of the main characters are children: Ender and his siblings, and all of the kids at the battle school. Parents and adults are present, but they have little time “on-screen.” Like the dictatorial government, they show up periodically and force some seemingly arbitrary and often cruel new rules onto the children, but it’s the children and their relationships that matter. This is a book that understands what it feels like to be a child, to feel like adults don’t give you all the information and many decisions are left completely out of your hands.

Ender is bred to be a soldier and a leader. He’s trained for it. He is subjected to insane cruelty, to the point where he ends up having to kill other children to defend himself, all because it’s part of the program. But the ultimate cruelty happens at the end of the book, when he discovers that the supposedly wise adults who forced this horrible life on him didn’t even understand the enemy that they trained him to kill. The entire war is nothing more than an interspecies miscommunication, and he finds out by accident.

And then he leaves. He finds the one person he loves and who loves him: his sister. They get on a spaceship and fly away. He leaves behind all the systems of abuse and control that defined his entire life. Maybe a metaphor for growing up.

The “Ender” series continues on. Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind are all great books, but again I feel like the original is still the best. The series is similar to Dune in the way it jumps large spans of time in a wildly changing galaxy. The Dune series eventually had a bunch of new books written much later, by Herbert’s son. I heard they were terrible and I never read them. The “Ender” series, on the other hand, had more and more books still written by Orson Scott Card, but I got to the point where I just wasn’t that interested by yet another rehash of the same story from a different secondary character’s perspective.

Before we move on, it’s worth mentioning that I’m still disappointed that Orson Scott Card turned out to be a homophobe and the sort of person who politely states their deeply held and hateful beliefs. Card was one of my early writing heroes, and I still hold his books on writing in high esteem, but as a person, he really bums me out. He kind of did the whole “J.K. Rowling” thing before Rowling.

The Uplift Saga

While the above two entries are the first (and I would argue, most important) books in a series, David Brin’s “Uplift” books are inseparable in my mind. There are six of them, in a pair of trilogies:

  • Sundiver
  • Startide Rising
  • The Uplift War

…and…

  • Heaven’s Reach
  • Brightness Reef
  • Infinity’s Shore

I suspect this series might be the most influential set of books in my childhood, but I came at them in a very weird way. I’m honestly not sure if I even remember it correctly. I know I read them out of order, because I bought one of these books at a garage sale, completely unaware that it was part of a series. I can’t be sure, but I think it was The Uplift War, the third book in the first trilogy.

That might sound a little insane to some readers, but it’s something I did multiple times as a kid. I even read through the fifth book in a series once, and didn’t realize it was part of a series until the ending completely failed to resolve the plot. One of the crazy things about being a child is that the world makes no sense. Every time you open a “grown-up” book, it’s like being transported into a completely new universe. Of course it’s confusing. Everything is confusing when you’re a child. It’s the ultimate introduction to the concept of “in media res.”

While Dune imagines a sci-fi future with no aliens whatsoever, and Ender’s Game has only the buggers, who seem to be mindless insectoid killing machines, the Uplift books are absolutely chockablock with all sorts of aliens. They are not your usual little green men. They are crabby things with 360° vision or energy creatures that live in the corona of the sun. They are varied and logical for the environment they came from.

The Uplift books depict a humanity that has just made contact with a galaxy full of aliens. There is a galactic culture. It is full of aliens who are much more advanced and powerful than humans, and we are forced to very abruptly change our own assessment of how awesome we are.

Humanity has started the process of advancing the intelligence of chimpanzees, dogs, gorillas and dolphins through genetic manipulation and technology. It turns out this is a pretty damn important concept to all the aliens, who call it “Uplift.” In fact, it’s the glue that binds all these different cultures together, as the uplifted races are forced into millennia-long servitude to the race that gave them the gift of sentience, and the races providing “Uplift” have a higher social position. Of course, the top dogs of the galaxy aren’t excited to see the newcomers, humanity, get that kind of respect, let alone the servitude of multiple freshly uplifted species.

Again, we have a fictional world that is too big for its characters. Hell, even the entire human race (and super-dogs/chimps/gorillas) is just trying to keep from drowning in a galaxy where almost everything is out of their control. I think, as a child, I was fascinated by the idea that everything we know and have ever known on planet Earth might be utterly inconsequential in the wider universe.

Overtime?

I have to admit, when I started writing this article I thought I might not have that much to say. Now I’m almost 2,000 words into this, everyone has probably stopped reading, and I only made it through half the books I intended.

I’m going to call it here. I found this to be a really fun exercise, but I’m curious if anyone else will be interested. I got more out of it than I thought I would, not the least of which is the desire to go and re-read the entire Uplift series. If anyone enjoys this, I might make it a regular feature. I have a lot of books, shows, and movies on my list.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 16

This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

The Times They Are A-Changing

A lot of things are different in this chapter. It starts with a big time jump that is potentially disorienting. God-Speaker is still in the same place, but years have passed. I needed to settle the reader as quickly as possible, so I start the chapter with God-Speaker feeling older. Then he goes out to the village, and we see that things have completely changed.

I also wanted to make sure that I addressed how God-Speaker feels about how his situation has changed. The way he deals with the young hunter in the group of newcomers stands in contrast to his interactions with the hunters in his old tribe. He’s in charge, and he’s comfortable with that.

The way this chapter is told is also different. God-Speaker is more sophisticated. He’s thinking in more complicated ways thanks to his interactions with the voices in the mountain, and this is reflected in the overall language of the chapter. In previous God-Speaker chapters, I used Simple Writer to check for complex language and tone it down. Here, I let myself go a little bit in the opposite direction.

I was initially happy to be done with the simplification, but I decided that God-Speaker would still use more straightforward speech when he’s talking with the newcomers. I did end up using Simple Writer to check those particular pieces of dialogue.

Process Notes

For a change of pace, I wrote this entire chapter by hand before typing it up. I’ve hand-written drafts in the past, but this was the first time I’ve done any for Razor Mountain.

I have terrible handwriting, so I’ve gotten used to writing in all-caps for clarity. Unfortunately, this means writing by hand is very slow for me compared to my fairly fast typing speed, and my hand gets worn out. It’s a different experience, and it changes the flow of the process.

Because I’m writing slowly, my perception is that it will read more slowly than it actually does. I have to keep this in mind for pacing. I suspect this might have been a slightly longer chapter if I had typed it from the start instead of writing by hand first. This chapter ended up being short enough and continuous enough that I didn’t feel there was a good place to insert a break, so this was the first chapter in a long while that I’m putting up in a single post.

I had a very detailed outline for this chapter, which made it relatively easy. There were not a lot of problems I had to solve as I went. One of the things that was not in the outline was minor characters. I’m starting to notice that this is a flaw of mine — I often don’t think quite enough about minor characters. I don’t usually give them names in the outline, and I end up having to spend some time thinking through their personalities when I get around to writing the chapter.

Up Next

Next chapter jumps back to Christopher, whose life is about to get even more exciting in more terrible ways.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 15

This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

Blocks

This was a slow and painful one.

I started writing this chapter three weeks ago. I wrote a couple paragraphs, then it sat. I write a couple lines of dialogue, then it sat some more. I felt that vague guilt that I should be writing, but I went and did something else. I even wrote some other things, but I just couldn’t seem to get back to the chapter I was putting off.

Then I had to ask myself, is this because I’m in a mood where I don’t want to write this thing, or is there something wrong with my outline or my plan? Is there something blocking me that I need to figure out to make this easier?

In this case, my outline had Christopher talking with this group of people (who I think of collectively as “the exiles”), but didn’t have any detail around what they would talk about. I hadn’t thought through what mysteries I could advance here, or what new mysteries needed to be defined. So I spent some time thinking about that, and soon enough I was able to write.

Sometimes, the hardest part about overcoming a block is realizing you have one, and identifying what the actual problem is. I find that it often comes down to whether I have enough information to start. There are always some things that I end up deciding or changing as I write, but I need enough confidence in the scene I’m embarking on to get started.

Dialogue

After all this time with Christopher having no dialogue, this chapter was almost entirely dialogue. I tried to use these conversations to flesh out the secondary characters and reveal more information. I also wanted to reenforce the idea that Christopher still doesn’t entirely know what’s going on, and his situation may not actually be improving.

You can think about dialogue as a form of conflict, with each character trying to direct it a certain way, trying to get the information they want, and sometimes trying to make things more difficult for their conversational partners. That framework worked well here, because both the exiles and Christopher have a lot of questions, while the exiles are hesitant to reveal too much to Christopher. Amaranth, as a sort of outsider among outsiders, is Christopher’s only foot in the door.

While the exiles’ reticence makes sense within the story and the situation they’re in, it’s also useful to me, because it allows me to limit how much I reveal about what exactly is going on. If we find out too much in the middle of the book, there won’t be as much drive for us to keep going to the end.

I’m finding that one of the challenges as I get into the middle of the book is walking that line of revealing new things, but not revealing too much. In some ways, the beginning of this kind of story is easy: just pose a lot of interesting questions. The end will be the real fun, revealing all the answers. But the middle is tough because it needs a little bit of both to keep the story going.

Up Next

Next chapter, we jump back to God-Speaker, where I’ll need to lay out the structure of his chapters for the entirety of Act II.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 14

This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

So Many Characters

This chapter felt strange. Suddenly it’s not all about Christopher, and we have brand new characters. I have to think about how other made-up people might talk and think and walk around and point guns at people.

Just when Christopher thinks all his problems might be over, he discovers some brand new problems. These people are weird, and they definitely don’t trust Christopher. They aren’t eager to put him on a plane back to the Midwest. They apparently live in a run-down underground office building in the middle of nowhere.

This new group is big, and it’s not really practical (or necessary) to introduce everyone, so I tried to give the impression of a larger group while focusing on only a couple of characters that will actually matter going forward. This is always a balancing act, because I want to set the scene clearly, but I don’t want to waste too many paragraphs describing people that will never show up in the story again. Firstly, that slows down the story, and secondly, it sometimes gives the reader the impression that they’re going to need to keep track of these characters, only to find out later that they don’t.

Maintaining Tension

I often worry that I’m not making things awful enough for my characters. A lot of characters in fiction are well and truly miserable. Characters need problems to push against, or the story just doesn’t have enough tension. On the other hand, tension needs to ebb and flow throughout the story for it to feel meaningful. A book that mercilessly beats the protagonist the entire time can wear you out. Slowing down before throwing in new problems can make the next big bad thing feel bigger and badder.

At the end of Act I, some of the sources of tension were relieved. Christopher didn’t die in the wilderness (yet). He no longer has to wonder if he’s all alone. In this chapter, the tension comes mainly from not knowing the intentions of these strange new people and the interrogation Christopher receives. So I was a little worried that it would be too easy for him when they let him off the hook at the end of the chapter and don’t keep him at gunpoint.

On the other hand, this doesn’t immediately solve any of his bigger problems, and those are still hanging over him while I set up some new mysteries and resolve or provide breadcrumbs for other mysteries. Plus, I know that there are new problems on the horizon.

Up Next

Next chapter is another Christopher chapter, and it’s going to be another relatively low-key one where a little more info is revealed. If I learned anything from Locke and Key, it’s that mysteries can keep the story interesting even when it’s slow.

After that, we get to return to God-Speaker and do a little bit of jumping through time.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 13

This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

The End of Act I

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

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

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

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

Into The Middle

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

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

No More Simple

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 12

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

Thank God For New Characters

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

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

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

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

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

Old Mystery, New Mystery

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

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

Revision

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

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

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

Research

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

Next Time: Finishing Act I!

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

Moving Toward The Mountain

I was recently talking with my daughter about her writing goals, and it got me thinking about my own. I started this blog because my writing life had stagnated. I had an abundance of dreams and aspirations for my fiction. I had ideas. I just wasn’t doing any of it.

This blog has been great for me. Not because of incredible readership or acclaim; but because it got me writing regularly again. I write almost every day. I devote much more of my time and thoughts to writing. Writing has become much more  exciting.

In a lot of ways, this blog is the locus of my writing. Razor Mountain is my biggest writing project right now, and I’m posting it to the blog. I’m doing storytelling classes with my daughter, and posting about it on the blog. I’m reading fiction and books on craft and writing advice blog posts. Those are all great things to do for the pleasure of it, and as ways to become a better writer. But those things are also fodder for blog posts.

Objectively, a blog has no hard deadlines. Nobody’s paying me to write it or yelling at me if I don’t. Even so, this blog has worked as an excellent external motivator for me. For a while, that’s been enough.

My Mountain

A bit of Neil Gaiman’s writing advice has stuck with me.

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain

If you want to follow this advice, the first thing to figure out is what exactly the mountain represents for you. It will change over time. For me, it means finishing novels and short stories, and submitting them for publication. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but traditional publishing still holds an allure for me. (Mainly the allure of an editor who reads hundreds of stories each month saying “this one is special, and I want to pay you for it.”) And when I say “finishing,” I mean polishing to a standard that I can be proud of; to the best of my abilities today.

Once you know where you want to go, the next question to ask is “how do I walk towards the mountain?”

Getting My Bearings

When I started this blog, just writing something (anything!) several times a week was a big move toward the mountain. Now that I’ve been doing it for over a year and a half, it’s starting to feel like stagnation.

The blog is still valuable as a way to reflect on my work and organize my thoughts on writing, as well as a place where I’ve met other writers and readers. It will continue to be the home of Razor Mountain—my dedication to that project hasn’t changed.

So, how can I walk towards the mountain? I’ve been thinking about that for a while. The strategy I’ve come up with can be boiled down to a few steps.

Evaluate, Plan, Execute, Repeat

Right now, I have a full-time job, and I treat my writing as a hobby. I don’t do a lot of planning. I write what I feel like writing, when I feel like writing it. I don’t really keep track of what I’ve worked on in any organized way. However, my gut feel for how much time I spend writing and what I spend time on are not very useful metrics. Gut feel is usually pretty inaccurate. So my first step is to actually track what I’m writing.

I’ve been evaluating project planning tools, which is annoying because most of them are focused on big business, not on individual creators or freelancers, and most of them have the kind of pricing where you need to call a salesperson to get a quote.

I know plenty of creative people will hear a phrase like “project planning” and immediately go into fight-or-flight mode, but it really is valuable to get all your projects (and potential projects) out of your head and onto paper, or at least a screen. My goal is to get a better view of all the things I could be working on, prioritize them, and then track how much I’m actually working.

Once I have some data, I can make a plan. Maybe it will show that I write less than I thought I did. In that case, I can plan ways to sneak in more writing time. Maybe it will show that I spend too much time on some things, and not enough on others. In that case, I can re-order what I work on, or set limits on certain things.

Once I have a plan, I have to actually try to follow it. It’ll go well, or go poorly, or go somewhere in-between. Then the process starts over again: re-evaluate, make new plans, execute again.

The Experiment is Ongoing

When I write the process down like that, it looks neat and tidy. Real life never quite works out that way. I’ve been working on this for a few weeks, and I’m still trying to find a free tool that I’m happy with. I’ve tried several tools. I stuck with Monday.com for a while, but it’s one of those big enterprise tools, and their free plan removes all the interesting features as soon as the initial trial is over. I’m currently trying ClickUp, which seems good so far. Fingers crossed. It’s an unfortunate amount of work to get projects loaded into a tracking tool, only to discover that it doesn’t do what you want it to.

My initial takeaways are that I do spend less time writing than I thought I did, and that being able to look at a list of projects and decide what’s important to work on next helps me a lot. As a procrastinator, assigning due dates to projects is extremely useful. A project just doesn’t feel real until it has a dangerously fast-approaching due date.

Ultimately, my goal is to treat my writing less like a hobby and more like a job. It won’t be a simple one-time process change. It’ll be more like continuous evaluation and improvement.

I’ll probably have further posts as I make progress. For now, it’s enough to once again be moving toward the mountain.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 11

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

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

Combo!

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

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

Hints

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

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

Parallels

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

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

Next Time

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