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 — Chapter 8.1

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

Christopher woke up aching and parched, with vague memories of dreams where he was trudging eternally through an empty field of snow. He got up, shirtless, hobbled into the main room of the bunker and drank a glass of water in a continuous series of gulps. He refilled it and sat in one of the uncomfortable chairs. His gear from the test excursion lay damp and disheveled by the hatch. He only vaguely remembered disrobing and throwing himself into the bed.

He looked down at the paunch of his stomach and his slightly flabby arms. He hadn’t been in great shape to begin with. He worked at a computer. He sat in meetings. He watched movies. But being out here—chopping and hauling wood, pulling the sled, hiking with a heavy pack—it was building muscle and trimming fat. He was used to eating out more often than cooking for himself, and the dismal array of apocalypse-ready food available in the bunker had really curbed his caloric intake, despite his significantly increased activity.

His body was sore, and he was obviously dehydrated. He had pushed himself harder than he had realized over the previous day. His knee was bothering him, a sign that he needed to go easy on it, lest he end up undoing whatever healing had been done. Overall, he didn’t feel too bad. It gave him some confidence that he was capable of making the journey to the next dot on the map.

If there was one thing that he had learned, it was that he had to be well-prepared. He had the gear he needed. He just had to take his time, expect to make progress more slowly than he would prefer, and give himself extra time for things like setting up camp. He would need to make sure to drink more frequently, and perhaps snack more to keep his energy up.

The other concern was weather. It had been perfect, clear and sunny, on his test excursion. That could easily change. He had no forecasts, no weather app that he could consult. More broadly, he knew that it was mid-November, and it was only going to get colder. The longer he put things off, the more difficult and dangerous any travel would be. He felt like an animal trying to get its last-minute scavenging done before being trapped in some underground burrow for the winter.

“You could wait,” he said to himself, an admission of what he’d been thinking all along.

He could wait out the winter. He could wait indefinitely, until someone showed up to ask him what the hell he was doing here. Assuming that anyone actually would show up. Assuming the food would last. It was tempting. It was so much easier. Like being a child, hurt and lost, just sitting down in some corner and waiting for a parent, any competent adult really, to figure out what had happened and set everything right.

He imagined his parents, who by now had probably been told it was very unlikely that their only remaining child would ever be found alive. Imagined their long, cold winter, thinking he was dead.

Christopher took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He finished his second glass of water and set about making another dull breakfast. He would be prepared. He would take precautions and be safe. It wasn’t a trek across Alaska; just a few miles. The worst outcome would be following the map and finding nothing. Then he would have to more seriously consider staying put for a while.

He didn’t go out to chop wood that morning, and he didn’t light the signal fire. He would rest and recuperate. He examined the map again, sketching an expanded version of his little corner as accurately as he could in the notebook. On his expanded map, he marked the route that seemed to make the most sense, based on the contours of the terrain. He also marked places that might be good landmarks to check his progress against and make sure he was going in the right direction.

With his route planned, he emptied his pack and unfurled the tent to dry out. Then he set about restocking his supplies. If the weather was still good, and his leg felt strong, he could leave tomorrow.

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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.

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!

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 4

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.

Research

This chapter’s research was all about flights and preserved food.

I had to figure out more of the details of Christopher’s flight plan. I looked up flights from Minneapolis to Anchorage. There are a wide variety of airlines that make the trip, and the flights are typically about 8.5 hours, which is more than I would have guessed. The distortions of the Mercator projection strike again.

I figured if he were headed to someplace less populous, he would probably connect in Anchorage. From Anchorage, I needed it to be a long enough flight to his actual destination that he might reasonably fall asleep and also fly over mountainous wilderness areas. Fairbanks fit the bill pretty well. I haven’t gotten too deep into it in the story, and probably won’t, but Christopher was on a sales trip trying to sell products to electrical utilities. In this case, the GVEA electric cooperative.

Flying from Anchorage to Fairbanks would send him over the Alaska range and would also be somewhat close to Denali National Park and Preserve, a 6-million acre park with a single road entrance and a small airport, McKinley National Park Airport.

While I was searching for info about what it might be like to board a small plane in Anchorage, I found a plane-spotting website and then spent a while going down that rabbit hole. One of the fun things about writing is discovering these random topics and subcultures that I know nothing about. I have absolutely no desire to go somewhere to watch planes, but I love anything where I can hear (or read) someone discussing something they are intensely passionate about.

For the preserved food, all I really needed for this chapter was something portable that Christopher could bring on his hike. However, I’ve been working on a larger list of long-lasting foods to fill the pantry. Christopher’s eats are going to be an ongoing background detail. It’s reasonable for the bunker to be stocked with long-lasting, zero-maintenance foods, but from a story perspective I also want things that preserve the mystery of how long it’s been since someone last used the bunker.

The meaty stuff that Christopher took on his hike is called pemmican. I found it through survivalist websites, although it has been around for centuries. It’s basically dried meat powder mixed with tallow and sometimes berries for flavor. It’s a high-energy food and one of the few meat products that can last for many years when properly prepared.

The final bit of research I had to do was around flint and steel. I was about as familiar as Christopher is. Thanks to a million RPGs and fantasy stories, I knew that these are used to make fire, but I’ve never actually used one. I looked into several different types and how they’re struck, as well as accoutrements like char cloth.

The Breaking Point

In the first three chapters, I found fairly natural break-points where I could split up episodes. This chapter was about 3.5k words, enough that I could theoretically break it into three episodes a little over 1k words each. Unfortunately, I only came across one break-point that I liked. I tried to find a second, but I wasn’t very happy with the placement, and it still would have left me with a very short third episode. Instead, I opted to just break the chapter in half. This ended up bringing me quite close to Tapas’ 15k characters size limit. I hadn’t bothered measuring it before, but it ends up being around 2k words. So this is about as big as an episode is going to get.

This week, having only two episodes worked out well, because I didn’t get all my revisions from feedback done until Tuesday, and I wouldn’t have been able to post three episodes without pushing this post into the weekend. As you can tell, I’m still working on getting ahead of the posting schedule.

I think part of my challenge has been that my chapters are continuing to skew long. Okay, not that long, but in the past I have tended toward ~2,000 word chapters. That may just be my style changing over time, but I’ve been wondering if there are other factors. I produced a more detailed outline for this project than I usually do, so that might have had some impact. I also suspect that I’m cutting fewer words in editing than I would be if I wrote the whole book and then edited all at once, instead of writing and revising the chapters in sequence.

Finding Drama

Christopher has had a bad time so far, but the bunker seems relatively safe. He’s lazy, like me, and he has to fight his instinct to lie low if he’s going to have a chance at being rescued. I tried to get into how he’s feeling toward the end of the chapter, as he realizes that he probably needs to save himself.

It’s a lot harder to dramatize dying slowly by doing nothing than dying quickly in an attempt to escape. Christopher will be facing some of both, but I wanted to lay some groundwork and get the reader into his head space here. He’s not someone who was inclined to take low-stakes risks in life before the start of the story, and he’s finding it hard to think about taking high-stakes risks now.

Back to God-Speaker

We now have three Christopher chapters and only one chapter of God-Speaker, but we’ll be getting back to him next week. I feel more comfortable writing Christopher, so I may have to work a little harder to keep God-Speaker’s chapters entertaining. I’m a little worried that the 2:1 chapter ratio will make him feel too much like a B plot, but that structure is baked-in now, and there’s no going back. Luckily, constraints breed creativity.

See you all next time, for Chapter 5.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 3 (Redux)

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.

Since I ended up posting the Chapter 3 episodes last week and this week, I had a brief Chapter 3 journal last Monday. I wanted to wait until after the episodes were out to avoid any potential spoilers. So now we can speak freely.

Momentum

Christopher exploring the bunker has a certain element of mystery that helps propel the chapter, but I don’t think it’s not enough to sustain the momentum all on its own. The radio message and the map ramp up the mystery, while also giving Christopher some useful clues that he can use to start solving those mysteries.

The sooner Christopher can take an active role in determining his own destiny, the sooner he can start to be a compelling character. That active participation is important, even if it’s just small things. Characters who are just passive lumps, waiting for things to happen to them, are not interesting characters to read about.

Themes

There were several themes that I wanted to keep up throughout the chapter.

  • The strangeness of the bunker. A secret bunker in the wilderness has some built-in strangeness, but things like bunks, a radio, and survival gear are all reasonable things to find in that place. There are other things that are oddities, like the weird oven, the many-piped device behind the storage room, and the lights and odd decorative flourishes. I wanted the bunker to feel “off” in a few ways, to enhance the feeling that there’s a mystery here. (I also made sure to reference the strangeness of Christopher guessing the door code.)
  • Physical pain. Christopher likes action movies, but this is not an action movie. Jumping out of the plane was crazy, and it ought to have killed him. His survival is already a miracle, and he’s going to pay for it. It’s hard to make jumping out of a plane and surviving seem like a realistic thing, but I’m going to try. Christopher is thoroughly beat up, and I wanted to keep that in the forefront of the reader’s mind. He’s not going to be running and gunning by the next scene. He’s going to be hobbling and limping.
  • Christopher’s emotional state. I didn’t focus on this as much as the physical pain, but I wanted to make it clear that Christopher is someone who can work things out. He’s naturally compelled to be a puzzle solver. Even though he spends most of the chapter hobbling around, looking at things, and wondering what’s going on, he also spends some time thinking and planning. He tries the radio, even if it doesn’t work. He’s already thinking about next steps.

Editing Out Weak Language

One of the stylistic errors that I continue to fight is hedging language. I always find a few points in every chapter where things “seem” or “feel” or “are like” something, and I have to delete those words so they just are. I think this is a symptom of uncertainty while writing. If I’m not sure I have the right words or I am going in the right direction, this hedging slips in as a symptom. All it does is make the language weaker. On the upside, I’m developing a pretty comprehensive list of these problematic words, so I can catch this stuff quickly during revision.

Getting Back on Track

I started publishing Razor Mountain with a little more than one chapter already written, to give me a buffer. (The second was done, but not fully revised.) I intended to publish one chapter per week, fully knowing that would be a stretch for me. It only took until Chapter 3 for me to start to fall a little bit behind.

With Chapter 3 spread out across two weeks, I have a week of buffer again to get ahead on writing and keep going with the chapter-per-week cadence. I’m trying to stick with that plan for a few reasons.

First, it ends up being a nice amount of posts each week. Most chapters are going to split into two or three short episodes in order to fit the word count limits on the serial services. Filling Tuesday – Thursday with Razor Mountain fits neatly between a Monday craft post and this Friday development journal. If I ever have a really long chapter, I have the flexibility to split it between two weeks and maybe throw in some short posts or re-blogs.

Second, it feels like a stretch that is still achievable. One of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was to acclimate myself to writing more, and doing it on a regular schedule. I have to say, it’s been a resounding success. Having to write for my blog schedule (even though it’s self-imposed) has gotten me to write more, and write with consistency. I used to write in fits and starts. Now I write almost every day.

Writing on a tight schedule has forced me to be a little less precious about my writing. Posts can always be improved, but I’ve started to get a good sense of when I’m better served by expanding this week’s upcoming article, and when I should just let it go and think about next week’s post. I’m juggling Razor Mountain and blog posts, and I prioritize now, instead of putting things off and only writing what I feel like, when I feel like it.

I think I need to cultivate a little bit more of that attitude for Razor Mountain. I want it to be good, but there’s a limit to how much I can revise when I’m publishing serially. That’s okay. That’s the nature of the project. I console myself with the idea that I might go back when it’s all finished and clean up every little part I don’t like. Razor Mountain: The Director’s Cut. Whether or not I end up doing that, it helps keep me going.

I’ll keep trying to hit the chapter-per-week. If I find myself consistently getting behind, then I’ll reevaluate that and adjust the schedule. For now, let’s plan on Chapter 4 next week.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 3

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.

Deadlines

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.

Douglas Adams

This week, I did my Douglas Adams impression, finishing up Chapter 3 a few days behind schedule. It ended up being another 3-part chapter when I split it up for Wattpad and Tapas, and by the time I got through editing and beta feedback, I didn’t have three slots in the middle of the week to schedule it on the blog.

Instead, I put out a reblog on Wednesday, and episode 3.1 on Thursday. I’ll publish the other two parts next week, giving me a little buffer to get ahead again. I’d prefer to publish a full chapter every week, but failing that, I can at least publish something Razor Mountain each week.

I don’t know if anyone cares as much as I do about the scheduling, but my goal is transparency here, whether the process goes smoothly or not.

Taking Inventory

A lot of the work of this chapter was envisioning the layout of the bunker and all of the things inside. I debated what the technology and furnishing should be like. It had to be things that are made to last without maintenance. Geothermal? Strange, tiny oven? Water pump? All of it, as much as possible, with minimal moving parts. The people who made this place understand how to build for very long term use.

In a classic video game level design blunder, I forgot to include a toilet in the first draft. Then I debated leaving it out anyway, and forcing Christopher to go in the woods. It may technically not be necessary for livability, but that was a little too silly a thing for the builders to do. I put it in the most logical room: the one where nobody would be living, sleeping, or figuring out what to have for lunch.

As I researched the best ways to preserve food, survival gear, etc., I discovered that doomsday preppers have websites with great info on pretty much all of these things. Which shouldn’t have been surprising. Just another internet subculture rabbit hole you can get lost in.

More Next Week

I’m cutting it a little short this week. I’ll pick up next week to talk about the whole thing when the rest of Chapter 3 is out.