Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 12

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

Thank God For New Characters

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

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

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

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

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

Old Mystery, New Mystery

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

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

Revision

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

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

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

Research

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

Next Time: Finishing Act I!

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

Moving Toward The Mountain

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

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

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

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

My Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

Getting My Bearings

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

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

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

Evaluate, Plan, Execute, Repeat

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

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

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

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

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

The Experiment is Ongoing

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

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

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

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 11

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

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

Combo!

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

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

Hints

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

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

Parallels

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

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

Next Time

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 10

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

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

Emotional Arc

This is the first time God-Speaker really feels like a leader. He doesn’t jump into it, he just steps up when nobody else wants to. (As an introvert, this is usually how I find myself in leadership positions as well. It just takes a small step forward when nobody else is willing.)

This entire chapter is a situation going from bad to worse. The rock slide starts it off with a bang, and then the entire landscape is set up to get in the tribe’s way. While things are looking up at the end of the chapter, the entire tribe is worn down. And even if everyone else is feeling better, God-Speaker still intuits that their troubles aren’t really over.

Making a Poultice

This felt like one of those writer rabbit holes that non-writers wouldn’t even think about. I was certainly aware of the idea of a poultice (medicinal herbs and sometimes other stuff pressed into a wound to help it heal). It’s a very old form of medicine. However, I didn’t know whether this was technology that ice-age Beringian people would be likely to have. I also didn’t know what particular plants would be available and useful.

Most of the information I found on poultices and their ingredients were Euro-centric (or at least included originally-European ingredients that were brought to North America much later. I settled on willow bark, which is fairly well-known for containing pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory chemicals similar to aspirin. Having never consumed it, I was surprised to learn that it can have a mildly minty smell. Along with that, I added Devil’s Club, a plant that apparently grows like a weed in parts of Alaska and has long been used in native medicine.

Officially a Novel?

This chapter finishes just shy of the 40,000 word mark, so while we still have a long way to go, it’s at least up to NaNoWriMo length. It also tells me I’m writing at about 1/5 of NaNoWriMo speed.

After some adjustments I made to the outline, the next God-Speaker chapter will be the last one in the first act. Everything is about to get turned upside-down for God-Speaker.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 9

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

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

Internal and External Plot

I started writing this chapter by focusing on the physical journey that Christopher takes. He has external problems in the form of the tent and the heavy snow and the poor visibility and all of the various difficulties of surviving and navigating in the wilderness without any sort of training.

I had to remind myself partway through that where Christopher is going and all of the external problems he has along the way are important, but only as they relate to his own internal state. He’s gone out of his comfort zone, and he feels the need to accomplish something, but he’s also in a dangerous situation. The circumstances of his arrival were already bizarre, and he has growing evidence that there is someone around. All of it seems outlandish. He can’t come up with any good reason why he would be in this situation. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to do. But stagnating in the bunker seems like giving up.

This chapter is all about Christopher’s deteriorating emotional state. He’s torn between pushing forward and going back. His actual journey moves him where he needs to be for the purposes of the story, but it’s his emotional journey that will actually drive the plot, and (hopefully) keep things interesting.

Being Believably Bad

Christopher is not a great outdoorsman. His tent situation is a disaster. He’s having a hard time travelling through the snowstorm. He is certainly not an expert navigator.

Christopher is going to have failures and setbacks. However, I don’t want him to be annoyingly incompetent. He needs to be challenged, and his mistakes and failures need to come from who he is and what he knows (or doesn’t know). What I don’t want is for it to feel like he’s screwing up because it’s convenient to the plot. I want him to fail because he’s out of his depth in difficult situations. Then, when he succeeds, it will be that much more satisfying.

Most of his camping issues are reasonable, considering his lack of experience. These are things that I thought I wouldn’t have been prepared for, having never camped in cold weather myself. They came at least partly out of my research and all of the advice from veteran campers on what to watch out for.

His poor navigation is more about his mental state. He is careful, right up to the point where he thinks he’s made contact with another person. When that happens, he stops thinking about all of his carefully laid plans. When he isn’t able to actually find the person he’s chasing, it makes matters worse. He questions himself and his own mental state. He sinks further into depression.

Next Time

The next chapter brings us back to God-Speaker, and I need to make some difficult decisions about consolidating chapters. I’ve been reevaluating my outline, and I’m thinking I may be able to combine two Christopher chapters and two God-Speaker chapters to tighten up the plot and move everything along a little faster as we approach the end of Act I.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 8

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

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

Landscape Writing

As Christopher and God-Speaker spend time traveling, I’m working on building my repertoire of geographical descriptions. This sounds simple, but it can actually be challenging. First, it requires that I get the lay of the land clear in my own head, then I have to describe it succinctly, but still make it clear to the reader. Spend too much time describing the geography, and the story slows to a crawl. Spend too little, and it’s hard to clearly picture the characters’ surroundings.

I recently re-read The Lord of the Rings for the first time in years. Tolkien has a reputation for being meandering and long-winded by modern standards, and it is a reputation that is occasionally deserved. But I was really struck by his mastery of this kind of “landscape painting” through words. I was able to see the sights of Middle Earth as the fellowship traveled.

Modulating Discomfort

Over the past few chapters, I’ve been thinking a lot about my characters’ discomfort levels. One of the key ingredients to build suspense is to put characters into uncomfortable, dangerous or difficult situations. On the other hand, it’s important that the tension actually build over time, and not just max out at extreme levels too quickly. I’m trying to measure the larger story arcs and modulate the tension accordingly, so it ramps up into key story beats.

The other challenge is that my main characters are timid. They need to be carefully led into more challenging situations if they’re going to build up a tolerance and overcome them. My characters are frogs that I’m slowly boiling. By the time they fully realize the danger, it’ll be too late.

I debated whether Christopher’s camping trip should be more catastrophic, but this is the first chapter where he’s really purposely going out of his comfort zone. And it’s uncomfortable, but not so bad as to send him running scared. Yet.

Act I Planning

As I mentioned last time, my outline called for sixteen chapters in Act I. Having reached the theoretical halfway point, I wanted to reevaluate the next eight chapter outlines in light of what I’ve written so far. I haven’t deviated wildly from my outline, but there are tons of tiny decisions that happen in the act of writing, and those can add up to unexpected changes in the direction of the plot, or a crystallization of themes and ideas. Pacing is also something I have to get into writing to feel.

My general feeling is that Chapter 8 should be more than halfway through Act I. The next eight chapters look to be shorter, so that checks out. However, because they’re shorter, I could also consider combining a couple of them together. I’ll keep that option in my back pocket and make the decision as I’m writing those chapters.  That would also affect the spacing between Christopher POV chapters and God-Speaker POV chapters. That’s not a major concern, but it does affect the pacing a little.

Next Time

That’s all for this chapter. See you in Chapter 9, where we’ll look at continuing to ramp up the tension on Christopher.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 7

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

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

A Big One

This was a long chapter, clocking in at 5,100 words. It was also  split into several short scenes, which is not something I typically do very often. A side-effect of this is that I have more convenient places to split the chapter into blog posts, and this results in a bunch of smaller posts rather than a couple large posts. I don’t have a ton of metrics, but I suspect people will generally prefer bite-sized pieces when reading online.

I’m still using Simple Writer as a guide to make these God-Speaker chapters feel different in tone and style to Christopher’s chapters, although I can’t bring myself to cut all of the “less simple” words. One of the interesting side-effects of using this tool is that it tends to highlight adjectives and adverbs as naturally less common words. I end up cutting words that I probably ought to consider cutting anyway, even if I weren’t trying to simplify the language.

Wildlife Research

I continue to research wildlife from thousands of years ago, and bits of it creep into almost every chapter. Did you know that there were ice age giant beavers? Yeah, there were ice age giant beavers. Six to seven feet long. Mammoths are neat and all, but there are all these other cool kinds of megafauna that nobody really talks about.

Accidental Inventions

It’s interesting to realize that I didn’t really map out any of the interpersonal relationships between God-Speaker and other members of his tribe when I was outlining. They didn’t even have names until the point where I needed to write them. So much for outlining making the writing trivially easy. Even with an outline, you have to invent some aspects of the story on the fly, and they might still surprise you.

I think these chapters would be a lot duller without that interplay between people, even if I did lean more heavily on the people vs. nature conflict that is pretty natural for prehistoric people in a hostile environment. Besides, the people vs. nature conflict is already present in this part of Christopher’s story, and it’s good to have variety.

It also turns out that these relationships and conflicts help develop God-Speaker’s character in useful ways. They make sense of his background as we progress further into the story, and help to explain why he does what he does, and why he is who he is.

A Connection

It’s exciting to note that this is the first of God-Speaker’s chapters where Razor Mountain comes into view, and the mountain is the first thing that links God-Speaker’s story to Christopher’s (since it was also mentioned in passing in Chapter 3). Appropriate for the name of the book.

Thoughts Going Forward

According to the outline, I’m only about halfway through Act I, but it feels like I should probably be a little further along. I’m going to look into trimming from the act so it doesn’t feel overly drawn-out. I often find it easy to cut chunks out of chapters in editing, but I find it harder to make broader cuts that might affect whole chapters. However, it’s been a little while since I finished the outline, so now is probably a fine time to revisit it and see if it still makes sense now that I’m decently far into the book and have a little better idea of what it wants to be.

That’s all for this chapter. See you after chapter 8.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 6

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

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

A Little Rewrite

I knew what I wanted to do in this chapter and I didn’t deviate too much from my outline. I initially wrote the first couple pages of this chapter as a summary of what Christopher had been doing for the past week or so, but that was too dull. I rewrote that section from the perspective of a single day, while layering in little details of what he has been doing along the way.

This is something I catch myself doing occasionally. It almost always turns out better to have a scene where a character is actively doing something, instead of paragraphs of exposition describing what they already did. While I think “show, don’t tell” is one of those rules that people worry about far too much, this is a fairly classic example of “show, don’t tell.”

I caught myself (much more quickly) doing the same thing in the second part of the chapter, as I summarized Christopher’s thought process leading up to his test excursion. Once again, I adjusted it to start with him taking action, and interspersed his thoughts and details of his preparations.

Winter Camping and

For this chapter I had to research a topic that I knew was coming: cold weather camping. Some things are fairly obvious: you need to wear multiple layers and warm outerwear. You need a fancier sleeping bag and tent. Other things were less obvious to me, like watching out for sunburn or dehydration from sweating.

Here’s a selection of links, if you want a taste:

Tents for cold-weather camping come in a few different types, ranging from under 3 lbs. to over 20 lbs. Single-person tents designed for mountain climbers can be impressively light and sturdy. The larger ones are more for basecamp or for recreational camping, because they’re a hassle to carry.

Some are double-walled, but not all. They’re typically a waterproof fabric with additional coatings, and require stronger poles (e.g. carbon fiber). Even with waterproofing, water in the tent can be a concern – a person’s breath can create condensation on the inside.

I made a rough list of the things Christopher might want to bring with him. Estimating the weight of all of this, it could come to 50 lbs. or more, so the sled really becomes necessary to carry a good chunk of that weight.

  • Food
  • Fresh water (need 1 liter / 2 hours of hiking. 3.78L = 1 gallon. Snow can also be melted.)
  • Sleeping bag + pad
  • Hatchet
  • Flint and steel, dry kindling
  • Snow shoes
  • Small snow shovel
  • Spare clothes
  • First aid kit
  • Rifle
  • Camp stove & fuel
  • Utensils, Knife, misc.
  • Lantern

Everything is Harder Than It Looks

Things are still not easy for Christopher. He has supplies, but he has no expertise. He’s not in particularly good shape and was recently injured.

I think pop culture has trained a lot of us to accept that protagonists can just step up and do whatever needs doing and end up being just fine. The supposedly average character effectively gains super-powers when the plot calls for them to do hard things. I really don’t want Christopher to be one of these action heroes. Even something that might sound fairly straightforward, like hiking and camping in cold weather, can actually be fraught, especially when completely cut off from civilization.

Christopher’s just taking baby steps, but soon he’s going to have to get riskier. Things are going to get harder for him. We’ll see how it goes in Chapter 7.

Reblog: The Memex Method — Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow is an opinionated activist, technologist, futurist, and insanely prolific writer of novels and short stories, essays, speeches and Twitter threads. He’s also been blogging for more than two decades. To say that he gets a lot done would be a gross understatement.

Interestingly, Doctorow suggests that blogging hasn’t taken away time from his other projects. He believes that the blog is just a commonplace book (or better yet, a memex) that’s made available to the public, giving the writer a natural incentive to be a little more organized. It’s a tool for kicking around thoughts and opinions, assembling and tending to them until they’re ready to become a story, an essay, a book. It’s an idea generator.

Like those family trip-logs, a web-log serves as more than an aide-memoire, a record that can be consulted at a later date. The very act of recording your actions and impressions is itself powerfully mnemonic, fixing the moment more durably in your memory so that it’s easier to recall in future, even if you never consult your notes.

The genius of the blog was not in the note-taking, it was in the publishing. The act of making your log-file public requires a rigor that keeping personal notes does not. Writing for a notional audience — particularly an audience of strangers — demands a comprehensive account that I rarely muster when I’m taking notes for myself. I am much better at kidding myself my ability to interpret my notes at a later date than I am at convincing myself that anyone else will be able to make heads or tails of them.

Writing for an audience keeps me honest.

Read the rest over at Cory Doctorow’s Medium page…

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 5

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

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

God-Speaker’s Goals

After two chapters starring Christopher and a holiday hiatus, it feels like it has been a long time since we got to hang out with God-Speaker. His tribe is on the road now, and we get to see a glimpse of what life is like for him in the wake of his mentor’s death.

It took a long time and quite a few drafts to write this chapter. Much longer than the previous chapters. Part of that was real life, but a lot of it was the story itself. It’s an important lesson that’s easy to forget: if writing something seems especially hard, you may not be writing the right thing.

My initial outline for this chapter mostly just had the tribe moving from point A to point B. My primary beta reader (the wife) confirmed that the chapter felt like filler, or “waiting for something important to happen.” I was thinking and writing about story threads and character goals at that time, it became pretty obvious that God-Speaker needed better-defined goals and clearer challenges to overcome.

This chapter is still about the tribe going from point A to point B, but that is now the backdrop for God-Speaker’s own struggles. It turns out he’s not good at the things that are important to a pre-historic tribe, like hunting, so his status has never been very high among the tribe. When he was taken in by Makes-Medicine to train as a shaman, and when he found and bonded with the stone god, his social status became murkier.

Now, Makes-Medicine is gone, which removes some of his social “armor.” The people of the tribe still aren’t too sure about this stone god thing, and some of the hunters still clearly have a low opinion of God-Speaker. The expectation for a shaman is to prove himself wise and capable, and become an important leader for the tribe. This is one goal.

Another goal becomes clear in this chapter. Makes-Medicine couldn’t bring the tribe out of the mountains to someplace warmer and more hospitable, but God-Speaker might. God-Speaker has no idea how to find snowless lands, but again, this gives him some direction.

Secondary Characters

I really didn’t have secondary characters fleshed out for God-Speaker’s part of the story, which probably should have been a red flag in the outlining process. However, this chapter forced me to build some of these characters. They’re directly tied to God-Speaker’s goals and obstacles.

I had to come up with more names for members of the tribe (both in this chapter and for later use). The interesting thing about this style of descriptive naming is that it automatically gives the character a bit of back-story. I need to come up with something that they’ve done or that they’re known for, to figure out what they should be named.

Far-Seeing and Finds-the-Trail are two of the best hunters of the tribe, representing everything that God-Speaker aspired to, and largely failed at. They see him as beneath them, and would be happy to see him fail, maintaining the current social order.

Braves-the-Storm is a more ambiguous figure. He is a rival for leadership. He has status as someone wise, brother of the former shaman, and a great hunter in his youth. However, he also reveals Makes-Medicine’s prophecy to God-Speaker, suggesting that he could bring the tribe to a better place. He quietly stands up for God-Speaker and begins to act as a possible replacement mentor figure in this chapter.

Research

I did a bit more research on the kinds of game animals that the tribe might find. There are a lot of good resources that talk about animals in the modern day, their habitats and ranges. But it’s much harder to find information on what was around thousands of years ago.

For example: pages about Alaskan hares.

Serial Writing

As writing this chapter dragged on, I had to admit that I just can’t consistently hit a schedule of one chapter per week with any consistency. Writing and publishing chapters as I go is honestly more of a challenge than I expected.

I could have put out this chapter a couple of weeks sooner, but the extra time has improved it quite a bit, and will also improve the rest of the story going forward. Rather than being beholden to a tight schedule, I decided that I’d rather try to put out good fiction and adjust the schedule as needed.

Of course, I’m still never completely happy, so I’m still planning to do another pass of revisions and improvements once all the chapters have been released. (If you have any thoughts or suggestions, feel free to leave comments!) But I’d like the story to be as good as possible for the readers that are reading it now.

Thanks for reading. See you next chapter!