Razor Mountain Development Journal #28

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

Last Time

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

A Little Characterization

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

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

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

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

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

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

God-Speaker’s Act II

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 19

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

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

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

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

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

Cliffhangers:

  • Will he die, or be reborn?

Mysteries:

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

Episode Arc:

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

Notes:

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

Chapter 20

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

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

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

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

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

Cliffhangers:

  • Will they be shot on sight?

Mysteries:

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

Episode Arc:

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

Results

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal #27

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

Last Time

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

Chapter 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cliffhangers:

  • What are they going to do with him?

Mysteries:

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

Episode Arc:

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

Chapter 18

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

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

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

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

Cliffhangers: No

Mysteries:

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

Episode Arc:

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

Notes:

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

Results

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal #26

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

Last Time

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

Chapter 12

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

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

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

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

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

Cliffhangers: None.

Mysteries:

  • 12.1 – Who left the rabbit?

Episode Arc:

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

Notes:

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

Chapter 13

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

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

Cliffhangers:

  • Will he find his way back to his tribe?

Mysteries:

  • None

Episode Arc:

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

Notes:

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

Chapter 14

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

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

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

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

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

Cliffhangers:

  • Will he be shot?

Mysteries:

  • 14.1 – Who is shooting at him?

Episode Arc:

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

Notes:

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

Chapter 15

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

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

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

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

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

Cliffhangers:

  • What will the reaction of these people be?

Mysteries:

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

Episode Arc:

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

Notes:

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

Chapter 16

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

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

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

Cliffhangers:

  • Will he die?

Mysteries:

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

Episode Arc:

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

Notes:

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

Act I Done

That’s Act I finished!

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

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

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

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

Results

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

Next time, I’ll dig into Act II.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #25

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

Last Time

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

Chapter 9

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

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

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

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

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

Mysteries

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

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

Notes

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

Chapter 10 (Previously 11)

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

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

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

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

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

Mysteries

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

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

Notes

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

Chapter 11 (Previously 12)

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

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

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

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

Cliffhangers – No

Mysteries

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

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

Notes

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

Results

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

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

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal #24

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

Last Time

I made some adjustments to the chapter two summary and expanded chapters three and four.

Chapter 5

God-Speaker and his tribe are traveling through rough, mountainous terrain. He carries the stone god in a carrier on his back, and the weight is hard on him. It has snowed, making travel more difficult.

The tribe reaches an outcrop where there are two paths. God-Speaker consults the god to determine which way to go. He is still grieving Makes-Medicine, and he has a hard time hearing the voice of the God over the cold wind. He doubts himself. He thinks the god is telling him to take one of the paths, because there will be animals to hunt.

The tribe goes that way, and soon finds animal tracks. They find a shallow basin, like an empty pond, surrounded by trees. The tracks are everywhere. It seems like the perfect place to lie in wait for animals. They set up here for a few hours, but only catch a pair of rabbits(?).

Another group of hunters suddenly comes out of the woods on the other side, and there is a tense stand-off. The groups can barely understand each other’s language. After an attempt at communication, everyone lowers their weapons. The other hunters return the way they came.

They find shelter along a cliff wall for the night and cook the meager amount of meat, supplemented by dried food they brought with them, but nobody is satisfied. As it gets dark, they see shooting stars. God-Speaker interprets this as he was taught: as an ill omen. Soon after, there is a small earthquake. Everyone is unsettled.

Cliffhangers:

  • Will the tribe find food?

Mysteries:

  • Are these omens real?

Episode Arc:

  • God-Speaker guides the tribe, but is worried that he isn’t up to the task. He leads them to food, but it is little. Climax: the stand-off with the other hunters. Resolution: things look bleak, and there are bad omens.

Notes:

  • Research a bit about wildlife in Alaska near the end of the last ice age. What animals might they hunt?
  • God-Speaker just suffered the trauma of losing his mentor. He is grieving and looking for reassurance, but not finding any.

Combining Chapters 6 and 7

These two chapters are doing similar work. Christopher is working up the courage to go out and explore, fighting his own fears. To work himself up to it, he needs to practice a bit, and gain confidence in himself. The way I wrote the original chapter summaries, chapter 6 had him making the decision, gathering supplies, and trying winter camping. Chapter 7 had him hiking a half-day out and doing the same thing, with a few more difficulties getting back.

I think this will be tighter and more interesting as a single chapter. As much as I love the completely consistent 2:1 ratio of chapters between the two POV characters, I need to break it. For now, I’ll leave the updated chapters where they fall, and re-evaluate ordering between Christopher and God-Speaker chapters later.

I also noticed that the original chapter 7 summary builds up to a good cliffhanger, where it’s late, and he’s tired and lost, then throws it away by letting him get back to the bunker at the end. I’m going to leave it on the cliffhanger.

Chapter 6 (Previously 6 and 7)

Christopher decides to investigate the closest marked point on the map. He collects all the equipment he thinks he will need. He tries camping outside the bunker to get comfortable with it. He practices using some of the equipment from the bunker: tent, camp stove, flint and steel, snow shoes, etc.

When he feels ready to do a test excursion he plans a day trip to simulate the actual journey. He hikes a half-day out, sets up a camp site, makes lunch, and tears it down, having more trouble with his equipment this time. He hikes to a high spot to look out over the trees. He hears a crack that sounds like a gunshot far away. He heads back toward the bunker. He gets a little lost. He’s tired, and it’s very late. He sees shooting stars in the sky.

Cliffhangers:

  • Will he find the bunker?
  • Are the shooting stars bad omens in this time too?
  • Was it a gunshot?

Mysteries:

  • 6.1 – What are the locations on the map?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher builds up his confidence and goes out exploring, but it doesn’t go quite as well as he expected. Climax: he’s trying to get back to the bunker, but he’s lost.

Notes:

  • Christopher needs to come away from this outing knowing that he’s not an outdoorsman, but thinking he did well enough that he’s willing to take more dangerous steps from here.

Chapter 7 (Previously 8)

God-Speaker and his tribe hike over rougher, rocky terrain, their stomachs growling. They pause for a break, and God-Speaker hears the voice of the stone god clearly for the first time since Makes-Medicine died. It tells him to bring his people to the nearest high place: a boulder-strewn hill that looks like a bald head.

They climb up. From here, they can see a path through mountains and over glacial ice to a grassland bathed in sun. They decide that this is where the god has been leading them. They also see a crater and Razor Mountain, partly encased in ice. This appears to be an evil place, and they will have to pass it to reach their destination. As they look upon it, there is another tremor, and the mountain begins to smoke.

Cliffhangers: No.

Mysteries:

  • 7.1 – What is happening at the mountain? Meteor? Volcano?

Episode Arc:

  • God-Speaker hears the stone god’s voice, and to his relief, it leads them to what appears to be a good place. Climax: they see the danger and darkness they will have to pass to reach it.

Another Cliffhanger Opportunity

Once again, I see a perfectly functional cliffhanger at the start of old chapter 10, where Christopher’s tent collapses in the middle of the night, under heavy snowfall. Easy enough to put it at the end of the previous chapter instead, where it can do more work.

Chapter 8 (Previously 9)

Christopher calms down for a few minutes, then goes to a higher place, where he is able to see the glint of moonlight on the pond in front of the bunker. He makes his way down and goes inside to sleep, exhausted.

He takes a day to recover, deciding that he did well for his first excursion, and he should make his journey, before he second-guesses himself into losing his nerve. He sets out in perfect weather, to find the mark on the map. He figures he can make it there in two days. He travels most of the first day, marking his path by tying red string on tree branches. He gets up higher, but not high enough to see his surroundings to his satisfaction.

He happens across a moose in the woods, which is a little scary up-close, but doesn’t harm him. Then he finds a strange object in a broken tree: a crude wooden carving of a person, adorned with wilted flowers and grass.

He sets up camp. The tent and fire go smoothly this time, and he feels good.

He wakes up when his tent collapses in the middle of the night. There has been a huge snowfall. He is tangled in canvas and half-buried. It is very cold.

Cliffhangers:

  • Will he get out from the collapsed tent?

Mysteries:

  • 8.1 – Who made the little wooden doll and left it in the wilderness?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher gets back to the bunker, then begins his journey, finally taking a risk to try to save himself. He finds a sign that someone else has been nearby. He feels good about his progress. Climax: his tent collapses in the night blizzard, and he is trapped and buried under the snow.

Notes:

  • This apparent success, followed by failure is foreshadowed by the smaller success and smaller failure

Results

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal #23

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 added detail to two of the chapter summaries, tracking cliffhangers, episode arcs and mysteries, and adding notes for when I write the chapter.

Chapter 2 Redux

After my last post, I kept thinking about where I had left chapter two, and I wasn’t very satisfied. The raid on his people provides some action, but he isn’t really involved. His arc for this episode is weak.

God-Speaker’s theme for most of the story is his escalating fear of death and the lengths he goes to as a result. I’m thinking the raiders attack God-Speaker directly, and he only survives thanks to the intervention of another person in his tribe. This brings fear of death front-and-center.

I also thought that this will mean more if it’s someone important to God-Speaker. I’m thinking it will be his mentor, the one who taught him about spirits and gods and other supernatural things. I’m tentatively naming this woman Makes-Medicine, and she’s something between physician and priest for the tribe. When she dies protecting him, God-Speaker feels guilty that he didn’t somehow do more to save her.

Chapter 3

Christopher wakes in the bunker, injured, but alive.

He finds room with ten bunks, the beds made up, but dusty and long unused. He finds a storage room with shelves of canned and boxed food bearing labels with a mountain symbol he doesn’t recognize. The storage room also contains camping and wilderness gear, and rifles and ammunition. Everything looks old. In the back corner is a strange machine that looks like a 1950s science-fiction version of a geothermal heat and power station.

In the main room, there is a dining table, couches, and a writing desk with a radio. He turns it on, and finds only static. He checks his injured leg, then eats an MRE from the storage room.

As he’s finishing his meal, a voice comes on the radio and speaks a series of numbers, followed by a set of beeps. Then static. He returns to the desk and cycles through frequencies, but the voice is gone.

Next, he goes through the drawers. He finds a folded map with several locations marked, but no legend for the markings. The voice comes back for a few more seconds. He cycles frequencies again and finds it once more. It seems like the voice is constantly jumping frequencies.

Christopher opens the bunker door and looks out across the lake. All he can see beyond are dense pines and mountains. He writes down a message at the desk that tries to describe where he is. Then he reads it out over the radio on several frequencies.

Cliffhanger: No.

Mysteries:

  • 3.1 – Who built the bunker and stocked it so thoroughly. What is the geothermal technology that seems to power it?
  • 3.2 – What is the numbers station signal on the radio?
  • 3.3 – What are the landmarks on the map?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher wakes up and takes care of his injury and hunger. Climax: he hears the numbers station. Resolution: He sends out a radio message to try to get rescued, but it doesn’t seem hopeful.

Notes:

  • After the first two action-filled chapters, this one is a little slower. I need to build tension through the mysteries of the bunker.
  • Research what sort of food is likely to be in a mid-century MRE.

Chapter 4

Christopher wakes up late in the morning, from dreams of hiking through snowy mountains. He gets an unexciting brunch from the store room and eats it at the table. He plans his day in a notebook that he found in the desk.

It is day four at the bunker. He plans to make a signal fire and scout the area around the lake. He thinks his leg may feel slightly better. He reviews notes that he made previously, trying to remember all the details of his ill-fated flight. He remembers two other passengers and the pilot, but no details that offer any explanation for his bizarre situation.

He collects slightly oversized boots, warm clothes, and a hatchet from the store room. He goes outside and chops pine boughs. Then he uses a flint and steel to light a fire on the shore of the lake and burn green branches to create a column of smoke.

He hikes slowly around the shoreline. It is incredibly beautiful, but he sees nothing apart from empty wilderness. There are no signs of people, no planes overhead. After a couple hours, he stops to snack and just take in the beauty of his surroundings. It’s cloudy, and it begins to snow heavily. His leg hurts. He makes his way back as it’s getting dark. His fire is burnt out and covered in a layer of snow.

Inside the bunker, he eats dinner and lays out his notes and the map. He has notes on the numbers and how they cycle through frequencies. He has his notes on the airplane passengers. He has his cell phone, dead after the plunge into the lake.

Having been in a foggy daze since arriving, he suddenly feels panic. He may be trapped in this little bunker, in the wilderness. Eventually, the food will run out and he will die. He lays down in the bed, but he can’t sleep.

Cliffhanger: No.

Mysteries:

  • More building on mysteries from chapter 1.
  • Reveal some additional information about the passengers and pilot. Something about their looks and clothes were slightly off, slightly old-fashioned.

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher has settled into a routine. He is trying to figure out what happened to him and get rescued, but so far has had little success. Climax: the numbness wears off and he panics over his situation.

Notes:

  • This is the first time in the book where I get two chapters in a row for Christopher. At this point, I can really start to build him up as the protagonist. The setting and situation have been set, and this chapter can really focus on his thought process, and how he’s going to react.

Results

I made some adjustments to the chapter two summary and expanded chapters three and four.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #22

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

Last Time

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

Improved Chapter Summaries

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

Expand the Summaries

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

Calling out Opportunities for Cliffhangers

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

Mysteries and Resolutions

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

Arc

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

Notes

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

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cliffhangers:

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

Mysteries:

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

Episode Arc:

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

Notes:

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

Cliffhangers:

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

Mysteries:

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

Episode Arc:

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

Notes:

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

Results

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

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal #21

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

Last Time

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

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

Reviewing Chapter Summaries

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

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

The Fear of Death

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

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

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

The Artifacts

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

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

Specific Chapter Improvements

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

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

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

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

Results

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

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal #20

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

Last Time

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

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

Outlining in Greater Detail

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

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

Setups, Payoffs, and Cliffhangers

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

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

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

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

General Structure

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

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

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

Results

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

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal #19

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

Last Time

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

The Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Summaries

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

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

Results

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

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