Razor Mountain Development Journal #41

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 wrote part of the first pass at chapter one, and thought about the bits I want to write and polish before I start publishing chapters.

Real Life Intrudes

I’m still trying to come to grips with the new family schedule with the kids back in school. Unfortunately, the way it shakes out, I have to get up significantly earlier than during the summer. It follows, then, that I have to get to bed earlier. I haven’t been doing that very well, and as a result I feel approximately half-dead.

As you might expect, a state of partial undeath is not particularly conducive to good writing. Or any writing, frankly. I used to do the majority of my writing at night, after the kids went to bed. Now, it’s starting to look like most of my writing time and energy will be on the weekends.

All this to say that I had hoped to get through chapter two this week, and that didn’t happen. I made some progress, but once again I spent a lot of my time doing research.

When I was thinking about getting the first couple chapters done, I would have sworn that I started with two chapters from Christopher’s perspective. Turns out I actually have chapter one in Christopher’s point of view, and chapter two in God-Speaker’s point of view. As a result, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about indigenous Alaskan groups, in order to flesh out my stone-age Beringian tribe.

How Fast Can I Write, Actually?

Stephen King famously suggests that writers should write 1000 words per day. Is that first draft? Final? Does he do his editing on the side? I don’t know.

I’ve certainly gone through more than one November at NaNoWriMo speed (1667 words per day), and even had the occasional 3-5k day. Those aren’t sustainable rates for me. I did expect that a few thousand words per week would be fairly doable. I’m reevaluating that now.


My schedule is part of the problem. I also think things may go faster once I’m a bit further in. The biggest issue may be that this is going to be a serial story. I’m going to be publishing chapters as I go, so I really want to get them as polished as possible up-front. If I were writing a “normal” novel, I would write a rough draft of the entire book, then go back to revise and edit. Now, I’m going to have to combine the initial draft and at least some revision time together, up-front, which makes each chapter take longer than my rough-draft-words-per-minute rate might otherwise imply.

I also want to be able to publish frequently and regularly enough that readers will stay interested. Since I’m having a hard time getting through a chapter of rough draft per week, I can’t really plan to publish on that schedule. That might be okay though. My chapters are generally going to be 2,000–5,000 words, but many of these serial stories seem to be broken up into smaller chunks: around 1,000 words. I assume this is a natural evolution catering to small screens and short attention spans. I should probably embrace it. I don’t intend to chop the book into a hundred chapters, but I will look more seriously at chopping chapters into several smaller parts, and posting those either weekly, or more frequently when I am able.

Results

I worked on writing the first draft of chapter two. I began to admit my own limits under my current schedule.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #40

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 wrote my author bio. I also did some research into online critique groups.

Writing is Hard

This week was an exhausting one, with work and family busyness sapping my writing energy. The weather is sidling toward the cooler end of the thermometer, and school is back in session for my kids — with a few extra pandemic complications to contend with.

After planning and outlining Razor Mountain for the majority of the year, the book still managed to sneak up on me. I find myself wishing I had sorted more of the publishing setup as I worked through the outline. However, I finally made the big leap and started writing. Not a huge amount, but as much as I could manage this week. I haven’t quite finished my first draft of chapter one.

I suppose I should be more triumphant. I started writing! Unfortunately, it didn’t feel that triumphant. It felt…tiring. I could blame the surrounding circumstances of a busy week, or the broader state of the world. And I’m sure those things deserve some blame, but not all of it.

I don’t know how it works for other writers, but for me the start of the novel is always the hardest part. When the book is entirely in my head, it exists in a bright, gauzy haze of lovely, perfect ideas. It’s not concrete enough to have rough edges yet. Even when I’m outlining, I end up squinting at it enough that it still looks pretty great. But when I start putting one word in front of another, that’s when I really have the opportunity to start doubting myself. There’s no more hiding behind the vagueness of incomplete ideas. I now have to actually perform the telepathic alchemy of sending ideas between minds using only my words.

Even with an outline, there are a million details to figure out and decisions to make during the writing process. Most importantly though, each novel has its own distinct sound, and I’m not quite sure what Razor Mountain sounds like yet.

The First and Last Chapter

This is a project full of experiments, so why not add another? Something I see authors occasionally write about — but I’ve never personally done — is writing the last chapter of the book before the rest. The idea is not to have a completed last chapter, or even a fully functional draft of the last chapter, but to have an idea of the ending that you’re aiming for as you work your way through the story.

For a while now, my intent has been to have parallels between chapter one, the last chapter (41), and God-Speaker’s last chapter of Act I (chapter 16). Chapters 16 and 41 involve God-Speaker and Christopher in the cave of the artifacts. In chapter one, Christopher wakes up on a small plane, slightly drugged, in the dark. Because of some faint trace of God-Speaker’s memories seeping in, and because of his groggy state, Christopher sees the plane initially as a dark cave. Only after he wakes up a little bit does he realize where he actually is.

The Razor Mountain Prototype

As I think about what the book should sound like, I need some pages to work with — some word-clay to shape. Razor Mountain starts with two Christopher chapters, to get the reader into his adventure, before switching to God-Speaker’s point of view for chapter three. I think these three chapters, plus the experimental final chapter, make a good selection to start with. My current plan is to write rough drafts of these chapters. Then I can begin to polish, figure out the voice, and have a three-chapter sample for potential beta readers and critiquers. I’m also hoping to get an idea of how fast I can realistically write this thing in a way that I’m proud of.

Once I have that done and have readers lined up, I just have to get through the final publishing setup. I’ll probably spend a few days updating and revamping the website. The blog schedule will change, as I’ll continue publishing development journals for each chapter alongside the chapter itself.

After that, there’s nothing to do but write as fast and as well as I can.

Results

I wrote part of a first draft of chapter one, and thought about the bits I want to write and polish before I start publishing.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #39

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 wrote the book description for Razor Mountain.

The Author Bio

Earlier this week, I discussed yet another part of the book that isn’t actually the story: the author bio. This seems like a small thing — and it is, compared to the story itself — but it’s still part of the overall package, and one more little way to sell yourself to potential readers.

If you read that post, you’ll know that I need to craft something short, in the neighborhood of 50-100 words. It needs to be third-person (“Sam is great,” not “I am great”). It should tell the reader a little bit about who I am and what my perspective is, not just where I’m from and what my job is (although these are common defaults in author bios). It should also include a link to my website or social media.

For a first draft, I started with my bio and the tagline on this blog, added a little bit of personal history, and finished off with the requisite bit about my family situation.

Sam Johnston is a software developer by day, and a writer by night. He’s been writing fiction since grade school, when a particularly morbid class assignment had him write a future obituary for himself. “Best-selling author” seemed like a nice way to be remembered.

You can find his serial fiction, ruminations on craft, and radically open writing process at www.wordsdeferred.com. Follow him on Twitter, at @DeferredWords.

Sam lives in Minnesota, with his wife, three children, and one tiny dog.

This is 79 words, right in the sweet spot. However, there are a few things I’m not entirely happy with.

I’m hesitant about saying “it seemed like a nice way to be remembered.” It’s supposed to be a little jokey, but  it might suggest that I’m just writing for the fame and fortune, which isn’t really the case at all. (It’s kind of amazing to me how much fame and fortune the average person thinks most authors have.)

I also decided to rearrange the family bit and the website bit. I’m not sure if it’s worth linking Twitter at all, because 70% of the time I’m just using it to advertise my website. Still, I occasionally post, and it’s another avenue to get people involved. Book Twitter is still a thing, and some people live on that site.

The bio also doesn’t say too much about what I like to write about. That’s largely because I have a hard time nailing down what exactly I like to write about. I like to read a wide variety of things, and I like to write a wide variety of things too. I don’t want to be locked into a single genre (though I tend toward speculative fiction, or at least some element of the fantastic). I know I don’t much like the idea of writing a series of books, because I’d rather write more completely different books that have nothing to do with each other.

After revision, the bio looks like this:

Sam Johnston is a software developer by day, and a writer by night. He’s been writing fiction since grade school, when a particularly morbid class assignment had him write a future obituary for himself, and he liked the idea of being remembered as a story-teller. He thinks the best stories are filled with impossible things.

Sam lives in Minnesota, with his wife, three children, and one tiny dog.

You can find more of his fiction, ruminations on craft, and radically open writing journals at wordsdeferred.com. Follow him on Twitter, at @DeferredWords.

Getting Feedback

The other thing I’ve been looking at this week is pre-publishing feedback. I’m a plotter. I like my outlines and I like to be prepared. So even though I’m planning to post Razor Mountain serially, as I’m writing it, I still want to revise and polish those chapters before they go up.

It may seem a bit odd to try so hard to polish when I’m forcing myself into an inherently seat-of-my-pants process, and maybe it is odd. To me, posting these chapters as I write them just means that I want to make my first drafts as good as they can possibly be. Even if I’m posting as I go, I still want to put the best possible product out into the world.

As much as I like to write, the truth is that I really don’t have any close writer friends. One of the reasons I started this blog was to make more connections with fellow writers. My wife is always my first reader and editor, but she doesn’t write. She can give great feedback about where the story doesn’t work for her. In addition to that, I’m looking for other readers and critiquers, preferably writers as well, who can offer feedback, chapter-by-chapter, before I post.

To that end, I’m looking into a few options. One option is online critique groups. These are websites that typically involve some sort of credit system, where you submit work for critique, and you submit critiques of other people’s work. You need to keep up a certain amount of submitted critiques if you want your own work to get reviewed.

Another option is more like critique match-ups. They’re a bit like dating sites for writers. These forums or services let writers advertise their work and look for other readers and writers who want to critique it, often in a small group or “swapping” critiques.

There’s also one other avenue I’m looking at…

Who Wants a Critique?

…and that avenue is this blog. This is a blog about writing, and you’re reading it. Perhaps you are also a writer with some work that could use revision?

I’m looking for fellow writers to critique my novel, one chapter at a time, as I write them. It’s going to be 41 chapters, and I’m planning to post one per week. So, that’s a commitment of close to a year. However, I’m not looking for charity. I will happily exchange your critiques for my own. If you have short stories or a novel in the works, I’m ready for some quid pro quo!

We’re going to be most useful to each other if you’re writing something in the neighborhood of sci-fi and fantasy. I also expect to do a trial run of a couple chapters or stories, so we can decide if we’re a good fit before making a commitment.

If you’re interested, email me at wordsdeferred@gmail.com, or DM me on Twitter @DeferredWords.

Results

I wrote my author bio. I also did some research into online critique groups. More on that in the future.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #38

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

Last week I revisited my old journals, scrounging for ideas that got lost along the way. I started looking into all the miscellaneous tasks that need to be done before I actually post chapters.

The Razor Mountain Book Description

One of those miscellaneous tasks is the back-cover blurb for Razor Mountain. Earlier this week, I posted what I’ve learned about writing book blurbs, and now, I need to put those lessons into practice.

I’m starting at a bit of a disadvantage with Razor Mountain. The whole goal of the project is to publish serially, putting out chapters as I write them. I’d prefer to have a finished, polished manuscript before I tackle the description, so I’m dealing with known quantities. That’s not an option for Razor Mountain, so I have to write my book description based upon my outline and plans.

In my previous post, I suggested three main things that tend to be important in a book blurb: hooks, characters and plot/conflict. The Novel Smithy’s excellent article on the subject tries to break it down further into the following categories:

  • Tagline
  • Character
  • Plot
  • Twist
  • Threat
  • Pitch

You see all of these things in book blurbs, but I would argue that you rarely see all of them at once. Still, I like this as a little more detailed list to brainstorm with.

Brainstorming

I started by just throwing out some phrases, trying to fulfill these different categories. I didn’t worry too much about awkward wording or cliché at this point. It’s just to get ideas flowing. (Besides, I’ve seen plenty of great best-selling books with prominent clichés in the blurb. Sometimes cliché sells.)

As brainstorming often goes, I started out pretty much hating everything I wrote. But after a while I found a few turns of phrase that I liked better, and built on those. Here’s a sampling.

Opening Hook

  • A plane crash. A mysterious bunker in the Alaskan wilderness. One man’s struggle to survive.
  • The shattered peak of Razor Mountain casts a long shadow over the Alaskan wilderness, and an even longer shadow across the centuries of human civilization.
  • The shattered peak of Razor Mountain casts a long shadow over the Alaskan wilderness, and across centuries of human civilization.
  • Strange technology. A hidden, militarized city. The secret to immortality. Welcome to Razor Mountain.
  • Dark secrets lie in wait, deep below the shattered peak of Razor Mountain.
  • For thousands of years, secrets seethed under the shattered peak of Razor Mountain. Soon, they’ll boil over.

Character

  • Christopher Lamarck thought moving from a desk job to making sales in rural Alaska brought more than enough excitement into his quiet life.
  • To say that Christopher Lamarck is risk-averse would be an understatement. Whenever he has a choice, he takes the path of least resistance.
  • To say that Christopher Lamarck is risk-averse would be an understatement. When two roads diverge in a wood, he takes the one more traveled by.
  • Christopher Lamarck is no daredevil. In fact, he thinks road trips and camping out are just a little too stressful to be fun.
  • Christopher Lamarck is no hero. Despite his love of ’90s action movies, he knows he wouldn’t survive through the opening credits.

Plot/Conflict

  • First, he inexplicably survives a plane crash. Then he finds strange, abandoned structures hidden in the forest. But it’s not until he’s lost in blizzard conditions and someone starts shooting that he realizes how precarious his situation really is.
  • First, he inexplicably survives a plane crash. Then he finds strange, abandoned structures hidden in the forest. But it’s not until he gets lost in a blizzard and shot at that he realizes how precarious his situation really is.
  • When Christopher’s puddle-jumper crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, he finds himself in the shocking predicament of actually surviving. However, it soon becomes apparent that nobody is coming to rescue him. If he wants to make it back home, he’s going to have to start emulating his movie heroes.

Twist/Second Hook

  • There’s something worryingly familiar about this place and these people.
  • He can’t help but think that he’s been here before.
  • As it turns out, the empty wilderness isn’t so empty, and the locals shoot strangers on sight.

Threat/Consequence/Conflict

  • Death may not be the worst consequence.
  • There are some fates worse than death.

Pitch/Genre Keywords

  • Sci-fi, thriller, suspense, alternate history…
  • A suspense-filled science fiction labyrinth that will keep you guessing until the end.
  • A thrilling sci-fi mystery, full of twists and turns.

Putting it Together

With this collection of sentences and phrases of varying quality, I tried putting together a blurb.

Christopher Lamarck thought moving from a desk job to making sales in rural Alaska would bring some excitement into his quiet life. But he gets more excitement than he bargained for when his plane goes down deep in the mountains.

Surviving a plane crash is only the start of his problems. He finds strange structures and advanced technology hidden on the forested slopes, and the secret society that built it is still looking down from the shattered peak of Razor Mountain. Yet Christopher is drawn inexorably into their machinations, and he begins to realize there’s something worryingly familiar about this place and these people.

A tale of life and death, obsession and control, and a conspiracy as old as human civilization, Razor Mountain is a thrilling sci-fi mystery, full of twists and turns.

I’ve been toying with the idea that Christopher loves action movies, which is fun for a character who is nowhere near action hero material. It gives me the opportunity to contrast him with these heroes and introduces some comic relief potential.

Including it in the blurb gives us a little more insight into the character, and I think this description flows a little better. I’m also trying the “In a world…”-style sentence fragments hook.

Strange technology. A hidden, militarized city. The secret to immortality. Welcome to Razor Mountain.

Christopher Lamarck is no hero. Despite his love of ’90s action movies, he knows he wouldn’t survive through the opening credits. But when Christopher’s puddle-jumper crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, he finds himself in the shocking predicament of actually surviving.

It soon becomes apparent, however, that nobody is coming to rescue him. The empty wilderness isn’t so empty, and the locals shoot strangers on sight. If he wants to make it back home, he might have to start emulating his movie heroes.

The inescapable gravity of Razor Mountain pulls Christopher deeper and deeper into a conspiracy that spans millennia. With his life in constant danger, he learns that death isn’t the worst fate that could await him under the mountain.

Razor Mountain is a suspense-filled science fiction labyrinth that will keep you guessing until the end.

And then I took the ending hook from the first blurb because I like it better.

Strange technology. A hidden, militarized city. The secret of immortality. Welcome to Razor Mountain.

Christopher Lamarck is no hero. Despite his love of action movies, he knows he wouldn’t survive the opening credits. But when Christopher’s puddle-jumper crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, he finds himself in the shocking predicament of actually surviving.

It soon becomes apparent, however, that nobody is coming to rescue him. The empty wilderness isn’t so empty, and the locals shoot strangers on sight. If he wants to make it back home, he might have to start emulating his movie heroes.

The inescapable gravity of Razor Mountain pulls Christopher toward the shattered peak, and he finds himself intwined in intrigues that span millennia. With his life in constant danger, he learns that death isn’t the worst fate that could await him under the mountain.

A tale of life and death, obsession and control, and a conspiracy as old as human civilization, Razor Mountain is a thrilling sci-fi mystery that will keep you guessing until the end.

What’s Missing and What’s Next

A book blurb is short. It will inevitably leave many things out. In this case, the most glaring omission is God-Speaker. However, Christopher’s story is ultimately God-Speaker’s story, and I think focusing my description on Christopher is a good limitation.

My next step is feedback. The blurb is an advertisement for the book. It’s only good if it helps to get people interested. If you like it or hate it, or even if you don’t care, feel free to let me know in the comments. I’ll probably continue tweaking this description up until I launch — and then reevaluate it again when I’m part way through the book and have a better understanding of what I’m writing.

Results

I created a book description for Razor Mountain.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #37

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 the chapter summaries for what is now chapters 37, 38, and 39. I finished the expanded second draft outline for the book!

Taking a Moment to Reflect

One of the interesting things about journaling my progress on this project is that I can go back and see how I got to this point. I did that this week, rereading a bunch of my earlier development journals. I wanted to look for any ideas from earlier on that I had forgotten about as the story evolved.

I didn’t find too much lost by the wayside, although there were a couple ideas that stood out to me. Early on, I talked about mirroring between Christopher’s story and God-Speaker’s story. I think this is a subtle way to make these stories feel more connected, event though they don’t actually come together until Act III, when Christopher meets the Razor Mountain cabinet members.

This mirroring could range from similar events, like a blizzard happening in each story around the same time, to turns of phrase or ideas that show up in both places, to places or things revealed in the distant past that we see again in the modern era. I don’t think I’ll plan these things out in too much detail. I’ll just keep on the lookout as I write.

The other idea I came back to is using simplified language for the Act I God-Speaker chapters, to reflect the limited language of the stone-age humans in that tribe. I think this is something worth experimenting with, but it could also go horribly wrong and just be obnoxious to read. I intent to try making it work, but I’ll throw out that idea or heavily limit it if it gets in the way of the story.

Finally, I realized that there is an opportunity when Christopher is being kidnapped by the exile brothers. He has emotional baggage related to his own brother, who died saving his life when they were children. Christopher talks with these brothers, trying to understand why Harold puts up with (and supports) Garrett, whose decision-making seems questionable at best. Harold is the calm, collected, clear-headed one, but he believes that he and his brother are a pair that absolutely need each other. They’re two parts of a whole, and he’s willing to relegate himself to the number two position in service of that.

This is an opportunity to expand on Garrett and Harold’s relationship, and also get at some of Christopher’s back-story, explaining why he’s so risk-averse.

Warming Up the Printing Presses

With a solid outline in hand, I’m digging into all of the miscellaneous tasks that need to get done before I start posting chapters.

I need a halfway decent book cover in a few different sizes and formats. I need to write a back-cover blurb to describe the book. I need to write an author profile. I need to sign up and set up the book on the services where I’m going to release it. I need to work out beta readers/critiquers to help polish the chapters before I post them.

While I’m working on all of that, I’m also reading Clan of the Cave Bear, a book from the ’80s that follows ice-age humans and neanderthals, with the fantasy conceit that humans are more naturally adaptable, but neanderthals possess a racial memory that allows them to access the experiences of their ancestors.

This book hit my radar because of the time period it’s set in, which is obviously similar to what I’m looking at for God-Speaker’s Act I chapters. I was curious how it handles the characters and their interactions. The speculative fiction elements were something I wasn’t aware of when I started reading, but the ancestral memory angle is in the same ballpark as God-Speaker’s mind-jumping memory and the memories stored in the artifacts within Razor Mountain. Coincidences abound.

Results

This week was mostly reading and planning, as I figure out some of the busy-work around serial publishing. By next time, I’m hoping to have a lot of that stuff done. I may also start drafting chapters. I want to build a backlog so I have time for critique and can still maintain a steady posting schedule. We’ll see what I’m actually able to get done by next week.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #36

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I worked through two more chapter summaries, 35 and 36. Most of the mysteries are now resolved, and we’re approaching the climax.

Chapter 37

Christopher meets with the Acting Secretary of Justice in his office, with Cain present. The secretary wanted to meet first thing in the morning. First, he asks Christopher whether “he’s God-Speaker yet”. Christopher explains that he thinks it is more of a gradual transition, and it doesn’t seem to be complete. He’s still missing memories.

The Secretary of Justice says that the patrols have finally captured the last of the exiles, including a young woman who cannot speak. She gave them a lot of trouble, but all the exiles have been treated gently on Christopher’s orders and locked up in a comfortable facility. He suggests Christopher could go observe the conditions and make sure they’re satisfactory. Christopher wants to go talk to them, but his God-Speaker side knows he shouldn’t. He should maintain his anonymity outside this inner circle.

Christopher agrees to go observe their conditions. He has a sudden “spidey-sense” feeling that something’s not right. He takes Cain aside and tells him to call a meeting of the cabinet in 30 minutes, then get a weapon and follow at a distance.

Christopher follows the Secretary of Justice through the mazes of halls that give them access to the rest of the mountain facilities. He hears what he thinks is Cain following, out of sight behind them. The man looks more and more nervous. Christopher probes him with small talk, asking him about family, how he came to the position, what he likes to do in his free time. The man finally stops and breaks down, explaining that he’s part of a trap, planned by Reed.

Even as he says it, Christopher hears footsteps behind him. It’s not Cain, it’s Reed coming at him with a knife. Reed isn’t a young man, or particularly adept, and Christopher is able to disarm him just as Cain comes with an armed MP. The soldier handcuffs Reed. Christopher asks if they actually captured Amaranth, and they confirm that they did not.

They walk back to the cabinet meeting. Christopher is overwhelmed by the feeling that this was all awfully easy. His God-Speaker self is a little smug. Flashes of memory come to him, from the last time Reed attacked him. They arrive at the cabinet meeting as the others are still coming in.

Christopher calmly explains what just happened, and describes what he remembers of the original attack. He questions Reed and the Acting Secretary of Justice in front of the others. The original Secretary of Justice was falsely accused. Her replacement, the Acting Secretary has been under Reed’s sway for years, but is ultimately a weakling looking for easy power. He didn’t have the guts to go through with the plan.

Reed admits that his plan was a poor one, but he had few options, given the circumstances. He thinks it was clever how he co-opted Cain’s spies on Christopher’s plane in order to crash it, but once that gambit failed, what else could he do?

He has no remorse for what he did — he sees God-Speaker as just an autocrat “with fancy toys,” and one autocrat is as good for Razor Mountain as another. Reed’s only regret was that he didn’t have centuries of practice at keeping everyone under his heel. He was never able to consolidate all the power he wanted in God-Speaker’s absence.

For a moment, Christopher considers making a bloody example right in the conference room, but he decides against it, and MPs take Reed and the Acting Secretary to holding cells.

Cliffhangers: No.

Mysteries:

  • Resolve 1.1 – Why do the other passengers on the plane disappear while Christopher is asleep? Where did they go?
    • They were supposed to be Cain’s spies, but they were actually Reed’s. They left Christopher and jumped out while he was drugged, intending the crash to look like an accident.
  • Resolve 4.2 – The passengers and pilot – something about their looks and clothes were slightly off, slightly old-fashioned.
    • They were Razor Mountain spies.
  • Resolve 31.1 – Why did Reed betray him?
    • He wanted power, and he didn’t think God-Speaker was any more fit to rule than anyone else.

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher senses that the final gambit is about to happen, and with God-Speaker getting stronger, he feels excited and prepared for it. It’s shockingly easy to anticipate Reed and stop him. With the betrayal resolved, Christopher realizes that everything is back to the way it was. And he’s miserable about it.

Chapter 38

Christopher sits on a private balcony as the sun sets, looking out over the beauty of the mountain valley. He’s not really a drinker, but he drinks something he found in God-Speaker’s rooms – he thinks it’s whiskey.

God-Speaker’s memories are washing over him like a flood, as though the memory of his own murder was a blockage, and now that it has broken loose, everything else is rushing in behind it. He remembers conversations with his wife. He didn’t realize it at the time, but she was trying to gently nudge him toward being less selfish, toward accomplishing something good in the world. She was trying to help him overcome his pathological fear of death.

Christopher thinks that that the world would be better off without God-Speaker and Razor Mountain. He watches the stars come out and thinks about her. He thinks about his parents and his brother.

Slightly drunk, he walks the back-halls of Razor Mountain to Cain’s room. It’s very spartan. Christopher pulls a chair up to the old man’s bed and stares at him. Cain wakes, and is oddly calm to see Christopher there.

Christopher asks him why he worked so hard to bring God-Speaker back. Cain explains that he has seen God-Speaker at work. He knows God-Speaker constructed this place out of nothing, and is the best caretaker of it. To him, it’s a utopia.

Christopher asks if Cain would still trust him if all of Razor Mountain was just a safeguard for God-Speaker’s immortality. Cain says yes. Even if that is true, good things have come from it. Christopher suggests that Cain is every bit as brainwashed as the ordinary inhabitants of the mountain, and he might think differently if he had lived in the outside world. Cain explains that he has seen plenty from the outside world, and it seems like they have plenty of problems out there too.

Christopher feels that God-Speaker is exhausted from this endless cycle, but also trapped by it. What’s left of Christopher is no longer afraid of death. He’s afraid of living forever. He realizes that he’s trying to justify the choice he knows he has to make – not for others, but for himself.

Cain asks if God-Speaker is almost back. Christopher says “almost.” Cain suggests that Christopher will feel better when he’s “back to himself again.”

Cliffhangers:

  • What is Christopher going to do?

Mysteries: None

Episode Arc:

  • With the external conflict against Reed resolved, Christopher is overwhelmed by his own internal conflict: Christopher vs. God-Speaker, acceptance of death vs. fear of death. He tries to use Razor Mountain and Cain to justify his desire not to become God-Speaker and go back to the status quo. Ultimately, he realizes he will have to find that justification inside himself.

Notes:

  • I decided to combine what were previously Chapters 39 and 40 into this single chapter. They’re both about Christopher working out this final conflict between himself and God-Speaker.
  • I came to a pretty important realization while revising this chapter. Christopher doesn’t stop God-Speaker at the end of the book to be the savior of Razor Mountain. He does it for himself. His conflict isn’t about overcoming external challenges anymore. It’s about overcoming his own fear of death. He has to learn to accept the time he had, and stop being trapped, effectively immortal but utterly miserable.

Chapter 39

Christopher goes to the artifacts’ chamber. He feels himself teetering on the edge between Christopher and God-Speaker.

He throws his mind back through time, in the same way he has trained “oracles” to send warning messages to his past self when things go wrong. Once he starts the process, he feels relief. There’s no going back now.

He goes back thousands of years. The hollowing of the mountain is reversed in high-speed. The population dwindles. The technology devolves. He returns to the scene where God-Speaker first entered the Razor Mountain caves (mirroring the language of Chapter 16, and Christopher’s half-dream at the beginning of the book).

Christopher enters God-Speaker’s mind, a much stronger voice than the first whisper of the artifacts. Where God-Speaker previously jumped across a crack, Christopher distracts him and 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.

The artifacts are left to whisper alone, in the depths of the mountain.

Cliffhangers: No!

Mysteries: None!

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher has made his choice, now he just has to execute it. He stops God-Speaker from entering this eternal cycle, and accepts his own death. In the end, Christopher and God-Speaker are both at peace.

Results

I worked through the chapter summaries for what is now chapters 37, 38, and 39. The expanded second draft outline for the book is done!

Razor Mountain Development Journal #35

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 started tracking the resolutions to the mysteries I’ve set up, which helped me to think about how I’m going to structure all the info-dumping toward the end of the book. I added two more chapter summaries: 33 and 34.

Chapter 35

Christopher awakes, still himself, but feeling different. He realizes he cares less about returning home. His former life feels far away, like things that happened to someone else. He assumed the transition would be like flipping a switch, but he realizes that he may not even notice when he has stopped being Christopher.

He studies the voices of the artifacts that he can hear whispering. He finds a vast array of memories, strange and divorced from their context in many cases. Some are of other worlds, other beings. Some are human memories from the people who were subsumed by God-Speaker. He sees the moment when the artifacts crashed into the mountain. They are alien consciousnesses.

Cain arrives with breakfast. He explains that he has scheduled meetings with other secretaries of the cabinet. Christopher can ask questions and answer them. He explains that many are eager to have God-Speaker back, but a few are content with the stagnant state of things, and a few are just less trusting.

First, Christopher meets with the Secretary of Communications, who is clearly distrustful of him and brings a list of questions that only God-Speaker should be able to answer. Many relate to the propaganda and lies used to keep the populace of Razor Mountain under control. Christopher answers some, but doesn’t remember others. X is not entirely convinced.

Next, Christopher meets with the new Secretary of Justice, who acts completely certain that Christopher is God-Speaker. He clearly wants to curry favor. Christopher is irritated, but isn’t sure if it’s his own feeling, or God-Speaker’s. He realizes that God-Speaker was treading a fine line: trying to cultivate competent subordinates with absolutely no desire to gain more power, so he wouldn’t have to deal with attempted coups. He asks about the Exiles. They’ve been recaptured (except for Amaranth). Christopher demands that they be treated well.

Cain takes Christopher on a tour of the facilities, explaining the many ways that things have degraded while God-Speaker was absent. They eat lunch. Christopher takes some time to quiz Cain, but it seems that Cain is the perfect subordinate. He loves keeping everything going like clockwork. He wants to innovate and improve. But he does not want to lead. He doesn’t want more power. He just wants to make things, and make things better.

They visit the former Secretary of Justice, who is imprisoned, and has been since the coup. Cain has talked with her often, and believes she may be innocent. If not, she was not the only perpetrator. They talk, and she reasserts that she is innocent. She seems to have been broken, and shows little interest in anything.

Finally, Christopher meets with Reed. Reed is taciturn and polite. He says that he neither believes nor disbelieves that Christopher is God-Speaker. He will wait and see. He outlines what he is in charge of, and pushes back against Cain’s characterization that everything has gotten worse in God-Speaker’s absence. After the interview, Christopher has a nagging feeling about him. He tells Cain that he got the impression that Reed is one of those who would like more power. Cain agrees – he has been trying to block Reed’s careful little power-grabs for years.

Over dinner, Cain informs Christopher that an attempt was made on his life. Cain ordered breakfast for Christopher, and had an assistant taste it first. The assistant had a severe reaction and had to be rushed to a doctor.

Christopher is shocked that Cain would use another person like that, but Cain is clear that he essentially thinks of God-Speaker as his king. They discuss the likelihood that the killer will strike again, and1 soon. They know that God-Speaker’s memories are returning. The question is if the killer will try to make it look like an accident, or if their desperation will make them sloppy. Cain suggests that they could pretend they already know who is responsible, in an effort to flush them out. Christopher thinks it’s safer to play defense and wait for the memories to return. Cain defers to his judgement.

Cliffhangers: No.

Mysteries:

  • Resolve 2.1 – Is the stone god actually supernatural, or is God-Speaker’s interpretation entirely in his head?
    • It’s somewhere between imagination and hallucination. God-Speaker’s mind is uniquely open to external thoughts intruding, which is what allows him limited communication with the artifacts.
  • Resolve 7.1 – What is happening at the mountain? Meteor? Volcano?
    • This was where the alien ship containing the artifacts crashed.
  • Resolve 10.1 – What are the spirits that God-Speaker thinks he hears? Or does he just have a head injury?
    • They are the voices from the artifacts – alien minds reaching out.
  • Resolve 11.1 – What was the ruined building? How and why was it destroyed?
    • There was a small rebellion led by a group of soldiers who realized that the populace of Razor Mountain was being lied to. That bunker was where they made their last stand.
  • Resolve 16.2 – What are the voices/artifacts?
    • Alien minds.
  • Resolve 16.3 – What is being done to him?
    • The alien minds in the artifacts attempt and fail to move into his mind, but they cannot. He gains access to their knowledge and memories.

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher is overwhelmed by everything he is learning, and is becoming more and more God-Speaker-like. He feels God-Speaker determined to snatch victory out of decades of near-defeat.

Notes:

  • This is going to be a huge amount of dialogue. May need to be split into multiple chapters.
  • Need names for the new Secretary of Justice and Secretary of Communications

Chapter 36

Christopher researches the history of Razor Mountain through the records and computer systems in his office, trying to align what he reads with his own memories. He looks up information on the exiles and on his own interrogation.

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.

He goes to the chamber of the artifacts, alone. He tries reaching out to nearby minds, looking for possible replacement bodies. He still has trouble using the artifacts, but he’s becoming more and more God-Speaker. He realizes that the God-Speaker part of him is already back in the rut of spending all his time fending off death. As Christopher, he accepts that he may die. He is already resigned to a sort of death of himself, as God-Speaker takes over.

Cliffhangers: None.

Mysteries:

  • Resolve 17.1 – Why do the exiles seem to have strange ideas about the outside world?
    • They’ve been fed false information through systems engineered by God-Speaker and his Secretaries of Communications.
  • Resolve 18.1 – What is Razor Mountain? Why do the exiles seem afraid of it?
    • It’s a closed-off city with strict restrictions on coming and going, enforced by a small standing army.
  • Resolve 20.1 – Who is up on the mountain? What is the 550th?
    • An entire city of people. The 550th Infantry is the fake army regiment housed there.
  • Resolve 20.2 – What is the situation between the Razor Mountain people and Garrett and Harold’s people?
    • They attempted to escape without permission.
  • Resolve 21.1 – What was the conflict between Razor Mountain and exiles? What lies are they feeding their population?
    • They are told that they cannot leave the city. It is supposedly a US Army group that operates almost completely independently, under special laws. The exiles only know enough to believe they have been deceived.
  • Resolve 23.1 – Who has captured him? What do they want?
    • The 550th has a policy of capturing anyone found within the perimeter they patrol around Razor Mountain. They believe foreign spies are constantly trying to find the place and gain information.
  • Resolve 24.1 – Who are his captors and what are they planning to do with him?
    • The intelligence officers of the 550th. They suspect he is a spy and are trying to get information out of him.
  • Resolve 25.1 – What exactly is he building under the mountain?
    • A self-sufficient city.
  • Resolve 27.1 – What information is Meadows actually trying to get out of him? Who do they think he is?
    • They suspect he is a spy and are trying to determine who he works for and what information he knows about Razor Mountain.
  • Resolve 29.1 – What is this city and who’s in charge here?
    • The 550th Infantry is in charge at a lower level, but they are directed by the city secretaries. The citizens and soldiers believe these positions are assigned by the US Army leadership and the president. They are actually assigned by God-Speaker.

Episode Arc:

  • The God-Speaker part of Christopher is becoming more and more obsessed over the threat of death. The part of him that’s still himself is less and less concerned about it, however. As he learns more and more about Razor Mountain, he decides that it’s a terrible place, full of people whose motives and entire lives are warped around God-Speaker’s goals.

Notes:

  • The most expositiony chapter in the book?

Results

I worked through two more chapter summaries, 35 and 36. Most of the mysteries are now resolved, and we’re approaching the climax.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #34

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

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

Resolving Mysteries

As I move into Act III, I’ve built up a nice backlog of mysteries. It’s time to think about resolving them. One of the most annoying problems with “mystery box” plots is when mysteries are set up or unexplained things happen, and then they’re never explained or resolved. Even if the ride up to that point was fantastic, the audience will sour on the whole thing as soon as they realize that a bunch of that stuff that seemed cool and important just didn’t mean anything or matter.

As I’ve gone through the outline, expanding these chapter summaries, I’ve been trying to call out mysteries in almost every chapter (and numbering them by chapter when I remember to). That way I can call out where the resolutions happen, and make sure I’m not missing anything.

I realized this week that I haven’t been noting when the resolution of these mysteries occurred, so I went back and fixed that where I could:

  • 6.1 – What are the locations on the map?
    • Ch. 11 – At least one is a burnt ruin, but it looks like it was similar to the bunker he came from.
  • 8.1 – Who made the little wooden doll and left it in the wilderness?
    • Ch. 15 – Amaranth. (Show her carving something similar)
  • 9.1 – Was there a person in the woods?
    • Ch. 14 – Amaranth was watching him.
  • 12.1 – Who left the fresh rabbit for him to eat?
    • Ch. 15 – Amaranth. (She carries more rabbits for her fellow exiles)
  • 14.1 – Who is shooting at him?
    • Ch. 23 – Soldiers from Razor Mountain
  • 15.1 – What is the place that Amaranth has brought him to?
    • Ch. 17 – A bigger building in the style of the bunkers, where the exiles are hiding.
  • 15.2 – Who is the girl who can’t speak?
    • Ch. 18 – Amaranth, one of the exiles
  • 15.3 – Who are these other people?
    • Ch. 17 – The other exiles, who left the mountain compound for some reason.
  • 16.1 – What is this place inside Razor Mountain?
    • Ch. 25 – The chamber of the artifacts.
  • 28.1 – Does Cain intend to betray God-Speaker?
    • Ch. 31 – No. Reed is actually out to betray him.
  • 28.2 – What will Reed find out?
    • Ch. 31 – Nothing interesting about Cain.

This work (along with trying to figure out which mysteries should resolve in the next couple chapters), led me to an unexpected problem. I’ve been focused on building up questions for most of the book. Now there aren’t many chapters left. Trying to lay out all of the necessary information may feel like too much of an info dump. So, I may need to try to seed some more hints and answers in earlier chapters, just so there’s a little less to explain as we approach the end.

Chapter 33

Cain leads Christopher to the artifacts’ chamber. It is a cylindrical room of some gray stone or metal, etched with faint markings. There is no ceiling, just darkness above. Cain asks Christopher what he feels (he’s not sure if he has to do something to kick off the process).

Christopher hears whispers, sees ghostly faces, then the chamber fades to blackness around him. He senses the long line of all of God-Speaker’s past selves, and a murky lineage beyond even that: millions of minds foreign to human thought. Finally, Christopher realizes that he is the terminating point of God-Speaker’s lineage.

Christopher opens his eyes and finds himself lying on the floor of the chamber. Cain sits next to him, trying to look patient, but clearly excited. Christopher asks what Cain did to him, even though he’s already beginning to understand. Cain tells him he is God-Speaker, and the chamber has renewed his memories, though it will take some time. Christopher wants to ask more questions, but he keeps having flashes, like visions.

Cain brings him down a zig-zag of hallways. They pass occasional people here and there. One older person looks oddly familiar to Christopher. Cain talks to himself as they walk, apparently debating whether to keep Christopher hidden or not. He seems to come to the conclusion that there will be no way to keep him hidden for long, and it’s better to just move forward with courage.

Cain takes a deep breath and leads Christopher into a locked room. Inside, there is a teardrop-shaped table with many people already sitting around it. They complain about Cain being late, then ask him who Christopher is. Cain just leads Christopher to the empty seat at the rounded tip of the teardrop and tells him to sit. There is a clamor around the table.

Cain tells these people that after many years and much effort, God-Speaker has been restored to his seat as the rightful ruler of Razor Mountain. He says that Christopher has only just undergone the process of retrieving his memory. Meanwhile, Christopher is still trying to sort out his head. The members of his council shout questions (and other things) at him, Cain, and each other. Many of them demand proof.

Christopher feels something stirring inside him. He wonders if this God-Speaker is waking up. He addresses several of the disbelievers by name, but he doesn’t remember others. Some want to quiz him. He answers one person with detail, but doesn’t remember what the next person is talking about.

Cain cuts them off. He says that Christopher needs some time to complete the process, but Cain will be the go-between and make sure any who want to can talk to Christopher one-on-one. Nobody is satisfied, but Cain whisks Christopher out of the room, to God-Speaker’s office.

Christopher studies the office and asks Cain what the hell is going on. Cain explains that Christopher has within him all of the memories of God-Speaker, the immortal ruler of Razor Mountain. He explains that God-Speaker was nearly murdered. Now that he’s back, whoever was behind it will likely try to strike again.

Cliffhangers:

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

Mysteries:

  • Resolve 1.4 – What are the strange thoughts that seem to be guiding Christopher?
    • The minds that reside in the artifacts and provide their knowledge to God-Speaker.
  • Resolve 31.2 – What happens to God-Speaker?
    • He went into baby Christopher.
  • Resolve 31.3 – What happens to Razor Mountain with God-Speaker dead?
    • It falls into slow decay.
  • Resolve 32.1 – How does Cain know him? Is Christopher actually God-Speaker?
    • Yes.

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher starts out mildly confused, hoping to convince someone to let him go home. Instead, he finds out that there’s an immortal mind living in his own brain, along with the faint voices of a whole lot of aliens. He has an inkling that he might be about to cease existing.

Chapter 34

Christopher talks with Cain. Cain explains how Christopher was found murdered, and the imprisonment of the previous Secretary of Justice for the crime. Cain believes there may be another involved, who will want to kill him again before his memories fully return.

They talk about how Cain used what little connection he could make with the artifacts to see Christopher, and the years of work that went into tracking him down. Then he tried to bring Christopher to the mountain, only to have something go terribly wrong in the plane crash. Cain had thought Christopher dead, until his picture came across the desk a few days ago.

Cain suggests Christopher sleep, and gives him a little phone/walkie-talkie device to call Cain when he wakes. He shows him how to access electronic records and a library of paper records. He shows Christopher an attached bedroom, then locks the place up and leaves.

Christopher looks inside, at the process that’s happening in his own mind. He feels God-Speaker “waking up,” but also starting to pull Christopher into that much older, much larger blob of thought and memory. He feels the dread of understanding that he is going to cease to exist.

He is exhausted. He sleeps, even though he’s not sure he will be himself when he wakes up. He dreams of people and places past. He sees glimpses of the mountain compound as it’s built out; of the bunkers and buildings hidden for miles around it. Of patrolling soldiers receiving coded orders and maintaining a perimeter, all to protect God-Speaker. He dreams of the first time he entered the cave and came to the chamber of the artifacts.

Cliffhangers:

  • Will he still be Christopher when he wakes up?

Mysteries:

  • Resolve 1.2 – What is the bunker and why is it here in the wilderness?
    • It was built as a perimeter around Razor Mountain.
  • Resolve 1.3 – How does Christopher know the door code to the bunker?
    • He had access to all the information about Razor Mountain, and an very good memory.
  • Resolve 3.1 – Who built the bunker and stocked it so thoroughly. What is the geothermal technology that seems to power it?
    • God-Speaker’s workers built it, using technology that combines the alien knowledge and tech from the outside world.
  • Resolve 3.2 – What is the numbers station signal on the radio?
    • Coded orders to the soldiers that patrol outside Razor Mountain.
  • Resolve 3.3 – What are the landmarks on the map?
    • The bunkers and out-buildings (like power generation and comms) of Razor Mountain.
  • Resolve 19.1 – Can the artifacts actually make him immortal?
    • Yup, in the body-hopping brain kind of way.

Episode Arc:

  • Things are finally beginning to make sense.

Notes:

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

Results

I started tracking the resolutions to the mysteries I’ve set up, which helped me to think about how I’m going to structure all the info-dumping toward the end of the book. I added two more chapter summaries: 33 and 34.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #33

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I updated two more chapter summaries — 29 and 30 — and looked for potential plot holes that might trip me up.

Chapter 31

God-Speaker tours Cain’s latest project, a new geothermal borehole that provides more heat and energy for the city. God-Speaker suggests they put more resources behind it, and move up the project timeline. Cain apologizes for overstepping his bounds in their previous meeting. God-Speaker realizes that the man isn’t a threat, just passionate about his projects. God-Speaker advises him to focus on projects with the most impact, and avoid getting distracted doing too many things at once.

God-Speaker returns to his office and calls in Reed. He asks for a report on Cain, but Reed has nothing of interest to report. God-Speaker tells him to call off the surveillance and go back to focusing on his regular tasks. He notes (without much interest) that Reed’s projects have recently fallen behind while he’s distracted with this extra task.

Reed unexpectedly attacks him with a knife. God-Speaker is injured and taken completely by surprise. He fights Reed off and flees to the chamber of the artifacts. Reed catches him there, and he frantically sends his fading consciousness into a random person: baby Christopher.

Cliffhangers:

  • Does he “survive”? (I think it should be unclear whether he succeeds in sending out his consciousness, and not clear that he’s gone into baby Christopher.)

Mysteries:

  • 31.1 – Why did Reed betray him?
  • 31.2 – What happens to God-Speaker?
  • 31.3 – What happens to Razor Mountain with God-Speaker dead?

Episode Arc:

  • God-Speaker is mildly pleased to discover that Cain really isn’t a threat, and may be a useful person to mentor. He is distracted, and completely blindsided by Reed’s attack. He is used to being in control, and can barely believe that he might die from this danger that he completely overlooked. It is in this state of disarray that he sends out his consciousness in a last-ditch attempt to survive.

Notes:

  • Once Reed attacks, this should feel like horror. God-Speaker is hurt, trying to get away. Reed appears emotionless, following slowly and steadily to finish the job. Maybe even play into it a little with something like the doors to the artifact chamber closing, only to have Reed’s hand come through, blocking them as he forces his way in.

Chapter 32

Christopher is still confined, but comfortable. He wonders if being trapped here is any better than being trapped in the bunker. He decides it is, because he has the hope of being able to improve his situation. He also realizes that being around people, even if he can’t interact much, makes a difference in his mental state. He also knows now that he can adapt to a lot more than he would have believed before this ordeal started.

Gabby visits him for the first time in several days. He asks why she hasn’t been interviewing him anymore. He wonders if he’s stuck in administrative limbo. She explains that it took some time for his case to work its way up through her superiors. Sgt. Meadows, Christopher’s former interrogator, has also been fighting every step of the way, making his own unsubstantiated claims about Christopher. Gabby clearly considers him slightly deranged.

Gabby takes Christopher out into the city. She explains that once her report reached a certain level, there was suddenly a great deal of interest in him. Now, he’s going to be moved yet again. He’s out of her hands.

He asks if this means he’ll have any more freedom or opportunity to leave. She doesn’t have that information, but she was allowed to escort him, rather than armed soldiers, so that’s probably a good sign.

She takes him through the facility to an elevator. They go up. At the top, she hands him off to a pair of silent soldiers and wishes him luck. They escort him to an empty room and leave him alone. A camera in the corner watches him. He is reminded uncomfortably of his arrival at the facility, and how he was treated.

Then, a hidden door in the wall opens, letting him into a hallway (the inner council’s private facilities). There, he is greeted by Cain (now old), who tells him, “Welcome home.”

Cliffhangers:

  • What does Cain want with Christopher?

Mysteries:

  • 32.1 – How does Cain know him? Is Christopher actually God-Speaker?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher is physically comfortable, really for the first time since being in the bunker. He’s still dissatisfied with his life being largely out of his control, but determined to make the most of what control he does have. Immediately, the ground shifts under him again, and he’s brought to Cain, whose greeting tells him that once again, he has no idea what’s going on.

Notes:

  • This is the moment when the story starts to “wrap around,” introducing a character from God-Speaker’s story into Christopher’s. Some readers will realize at this point that Christopher is God-Speaker in some form or another.
  • This is the end of Act II. Everything should be pushing toward the ending from here.

Finding Christopher

I’m typically a character-oriented writer, but Razor Mountain is built around plot. This particular story evolved from my ideas about structure and making a “mystery box” story that leaves the audience satisfied instead of irritated. Christopher is thrown into bizarre circumstances that he doesn’t understand. He does have agency, and his decisions matter, but I still don’t feel like I have as good a grasp on his character as I’d like.

Christopher starts as someone who’s afraid of taking chances. This mirrors God-Speaker, who progressively becomes this immortal who needs to completely control his surroundings due to his utter fear of facing death. Christopher’s arc involves becoming less afraid, partly because he’s thrust into danger and confusion, and partly because he chooses to move forward into uncertainty rather than move back into stagnant safety. Christopher has to be the one who ultimately overcomes the fear of death, because God-Speaker isn’t able to.

Christopher has backstory. His fears stem from the childhood trauma of losing his brother. He carries guilt, though it wasn’t really his fault, and this is compounded by the way his parents treat him, as they are afraid of losing their only remaining child.

All of that is useful, but a bit cold and clinical. What I’m trying to find is Christopher’s voice. He should be likeable, and while this background might add up to sympathy from the reader, I don’t think it gets to likeability. I think humor may be the key to a likeable Christopher.

I don’t see Christopher as a sarcastic person. God-Speaker is self-important enough that he might go for a bit of sarcastic or even mean humor at someone else’s expense. Christopher is much more likely to be self-effacing, and to use humor as a defense mechanism or a way to process being way over his head in an unexpected situation. He’s the sort of person who might lead with a joke about the situation when meeting someone for the first time.

I’ve never really figured out how to work humor into an outline. For me, it feels like something that has to happen organically as I’m working on description or dialogue. However, I think having an idea of Christopher’s sense of humor can at least point me in the direction of where some jokes might be. He’s willing to make fun of himself, especially when he’s in a ridiculous situation. He’s also liable to joke as a nervous habit. He won’t have other characters to bounce dialogue off of in Act I, but he may crack a joke to himself.

I’ll have to continue to work on understanding Christopher as I wrap up these last few chapter summaries. Ultimately, some of his personality will come out in the writing, but I’m a planner, and I’d love to understand as much as I can up-front, especially for this project.

Results

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal #32

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I finished chapter summaries for 26, 27, and 28, as well as digging into God-Speaker’s “oracles” and their structural purposes in the story.

Chapter 29

Christopher awakes in his cell, on his bed. The lights are now dimmed. It’s warmer. The irritating noises are gone. He realizes that he has had a restful sleep, and savors the uncomfortable bed while trying to piece together what happened to him.

He vaguely remembers getting fed up and refusing to speak to Meadows any more. He delivered some sort of ultimatum, demanding to speak to Meadows’ superiors.

After some time, a woman in uniform arrives and enters his cell, bringing a chair to sit on. She shows some cool interest in his well-being, but he doesn’t trust her. She says that he has been deemed non-threatening, but that they still need to get as much information from him as they possibly can, and she has been tasked with doing it.

She takes him out of the cell and into Razor Mountain. They walk along streets lined with homes and businesses, all clearly inside caverns within the mountain. In some ways it seems like science fiction. In others, it all looks oddly outdated. He tries to ask about things, but she deflects, explaining that she has no authorization to tell him anything.

She leads him to a small but comfortable apartment, then sits him down and tells him that this is where he will probably live out the rest of his life. Then she asks him to explain everything to her all over again.

Cliffhangers:

  • Is he now trapped here forever?

Mysteries:

  • 29.1 – What is this city and who’s in charge here?

Episode Arc:

  • Despite being inhibited by days (weeks?) of torture, Christopher realizes that he has apparently stood up for himself, and it seems to have worked. However, his situation only seems to have improved incrementally. He’s still a prisoner of sorts. He wants to trust Gabby, but suspects that there’s some sort of “good cop, bad cop” going on here.

Notes:

  • I need to think about the layout of the parts of the Razor Mountain city that he sees.

Chapter 30

Christopher wraps up an interview session with Gabby, and they go on a little outing into the city. She asks him questions about what he’s told her, and she allows him to ask her a bit about the facilities (it’s not clear if she has gotten new orders or is exercising her own discretion).

He asks when the mountain was colonized. She gives the “party line” explanation – early in American history, but also notes that some people think the mountain was found this way, mysteriously, and construction dates much further back.

He asks what the people of Razor Mountain think the outside world is like. She relates the basics of the mythology that the mountain’s inhabitants have been indoctrinated with. He asks if anyone disbelieves, and she talks about recent and older mutinies. He asks her what she believes, and she demurs.

He asks if there’s any way for him to leave. She’s unequivocal that it’s very difficult to leave because of the clearances involved. The governance of Razor Mountain is outside normal constitutional constraints because of the supposed special secret amendments that have been made over the years.

She seems genuinely kind and curious, and Christopher wants to let his guard down, but he trusts nobody at this point. He feels jaded. She writes everything down in a little notebook.

Cliffhangers:

  • No.

Mysteries:

  • More of the same questions about Razor Mountain. It’s time to start resolving more mysteries than I’m adding.

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher senses an opportunity to start looking for ways out of this place. He also finds that he craves some kind of human contact, and he has to fight that because he distrusts Gabby.

Notes:

  • This is an opportunity to deliver some sneaky exposition about Razor Mountain from the inhabitant’s point of view.

Filling Plot Holes

I posted recently about the process of finding and filling plot holes, and I’ve been trying to preemptively do that in Razor Mountain as I go through the outline. As usual, I’m trying to get as many problems fixed in “pre-production” as I can, because I won’t have the opportunity to draft and revise when I’m releasing weekly episodes. I do really wonder if this will end up paying off in the long term…

One of the things I’ve done to mitigate plot holes is call out the mysteries set up in each chapter –– places where information is not available for characters and for the reader that would explain what’s going on. This ramps up the tension (hopefully), but I need to make sure they all get resolved.

For this project, since I’m outlining in detail and should have a good grasp of the plot before I start writing, my biggest risk is failing to properly explain something because I’m so used to it that I take it for granted. I’ve gone through the outline to look for plot points that I need to make sure I explain.

  • The people who disappear from the plane in the first chapter were supposed to be agents sent by Cain to bring Christopher to Razor Mountain, but they were planted by Reed, who wanted Christopher killed in a way that couldn’t be traced back to him.
  • The abandoned bunker by the lake and the burned bunker are the result of rebellions and breakdowns in the Razor Mountain hierarchy that have happened in God-Speaker’s absence. Patrols have been pulled back closer to the mountain.
  • The artifacts are revealed to be a crashed ship from beyond Earth. They contain many alien consciousnesses. The machinery of the ship provide certain powers to God-Speaker, and the consciousnesses provide a huge amount of knowledge. I’m inclined to be a little circumspect about this one.
  • Amaranth is responsible for most of the mysterious signs of life that Christopher encounters in the woods around the mountain.
  • The people of Razor Mountain have been fed a story that the city is a secret offshoot of the US military –– a backup in case of some apocalyptic event. They also believe that there is ongoing cold (and sometimes hot) war between US, Russia and China, so apocalypse is always a real possibility. Some residents have come to disbelieve parts of this narrative in the years since God-Speaker disappeared, including the exiles. People like Sgt. Meadows believe it fervently.

Results

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