This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.
You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.
God-Speaker’s chapters throughout Act II have been jumping through time, showing key moments in God-Speaker’s evolution. They’ve also shown the evolution of Razor Mountain and its people. In this chapter, the narrative is finally approaching the present day. For the first time, we can start to see the same things from both God-Speaker’s and Christopher’s perspective.
This gives me the opportunity to set up some narrative tension by revealing things in God-Speaker’s chapters that will pay off in Christopher’s chapters. Sometimes tension comes from not knowing what will happen next. Sometimes it’s more exciting when the reader can guess what’s happening, but the characters don’t know.
The two new characters introduced in this chapter are Reed and Cain, and they are both members of God-Speaker’s cabinet. However, I looked through my notes and I had no record of what their actual positions are. I was certain I had thought about this when I was first developing the story, but it turns out that writing a book is a messy process, and I either lost those notes or never wrote them in the first place.
Internally, to the citizens of Razor Mountain, the cabinet is a secret arm of the US government that handles the day-to-day operations in the city. Only God-Speaker and the secretaries themselves know the truth about who runs the city. The populace “knows” that the secretaries report to a higher authority, but they’re told it’s the President of the United States and the military. God-Speaker doesn’t need to worry that the population will try to overthrow their autocratic king, because they don’t know that they have a king.
When deciding what positions there should be in this cabinet, I looked at the US presidential cabinet for inspiration. Razor Mountain is a sort of city-state, so a lot of those positions make perfect sense. Others are completely unnecessary (ambassador to the UN) and a few just need to be tweaked.
I wanted a large enough group to seem like a reasonable governing body, and to allow for interesting interactions between members.
These are the positions I ended up with:
- Secretary of the Treasury – Responsible for overall budget, accounting, and income and outflows across all departments. Administers local banking system.
- Secretary of Agriculture – Responsible for local farming and food processing. Works with the Trade Coordinator for food imports from outside.
- Secretary of Commerce – Responsible for most non-food businesses internal to the mountain. Works closely with Secretary of Labor and Trade Coordinator.
- Secretary of Labor – Responsible for labor conditions, allocation of labor across industries, work safety, etc.
- Secretary of Housing – Responsible for maintaining and expanding housing supply within the mountain as needed for the population.
- Secretary of Energy – Responsible for generation and distribution of electric power, lighting, and certain energy-related trade (batteries, generation equipment, etc.)
- Secretary of Education – Responsible for the school and university system.
- Director of Media – Responsible for producing local media, importing external media, censorship.
- Director of Intelligence Operations – Responsible for gathering internal and external intelligence, as well as most external interaction with outsiders for trade.
- Secretary of Science and Technology – Responsible for science and tech R&D, manufacturing, and external trade. Collaborates with Intelligence Ops for external hacking.
- Director of Military Operations – Responsible for military within the mountain and the area around the mountain. Collaborates with Intelligence Operations for external military and espionage ops.
- Trade Coordinator – Responsible for import/export and maintaining trade. Collaborates with Intelligence Operations for external negotiations and obfuscation.
I decided that Cain is the Secretary of Energy. He is very focused on his particular field, and is especially excited about developing and constructing new electric generation and distribution technology.
God-Speaker would be constantly thinking about how to balance power between the cabinet members, and play them off each other so that nobody can ever feel secure or think about turning against him. To this end, I thought he would avoid involving the Secretaries of Intelligence Operations and Director of Military Operations when it comes to investigating their fellows. Instead, he turns to Reed, the Secretary of Labor, who naturally collaborates with the Secretary of Energy on his big building projects.
Resolving Mysteries and Emotional Catharsis
My goal throughout most of this book has been to draw the reader in with a series of mysteries. However, it’s not structured like a classic “who-done-it.” It’s not building up to a revelation that wraps up the plot. Instead, in Act III I will be trying to rapidly resolve most of the open questions that have given the story momentum so far.
Unraveling these mysteries will reveal more about God-Speaker and Christopher, and those revelations will leave Christopher with some difficult things to do, and some difficult choices to make. The end of the story will not be about big mysteries, it will be about the choices Christopher decides to make and why he decides to make them.
This whole structure goes back to one of the big lessons I learned from Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story: the big, world-shaking stakes should be tied directly to the main character’s “smaller” but more relatable personal stakes.
It will be up to Christopher to decide what the outcome is, for himself and for the world.
Next chapter, we go back to Christopher as the two narrative worlds begin to collide.