Razor Mountain Development Journal #31

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 outlines for chapters 23-25.

The Oracles in Chapter 25

There’s some information that I need to work into the conversations in chapter 25 that I neglected to note last time. I need to clarify the use of the artifacts to travel through time. This isn’t physical time travel. God-Speaker seems to be uniquely attuned to the artifacts, and is able to use them to transfer himself into another person. However, the artifacts also contain the power to send the user’s personality and thoughts into the past, to a particular moment. There, they can perform a similar trick, inhabiting the targeted person.

God-Speaker has found that children are generally a bit better at attuning and using the artifacts, but he is the only one that can use them to their full potential. However, he keeps a small group of children “trained” in their use. He calls them oracles, and it is their job to act as an emergency warning system for him.

When something catastrophic happens, God-Speaker can give one of these oracles a message, and send them back in time to inhabit his own mind and report this message. This gives God-Speaker the opportunity to do something to prevent the catastrophe. It also destroys these children. They last long enough to deliver their message, then become untethered from the host mind. God-Speaker doesn’t know what happens to them after that. They may be dead, or they may become roaming spirits, sent into purgatory from a future that no longer exists.

God-Speaker doesn’t entirely understand how this “soft” time travel works. Are there alternate universes? Does the old future disappear when changes are made to the past? There’s no way of knowing. All he knows is that he has received messages from his future self in this way, and those messages have allowed him to keep Razor Mountain secret. They have allowed him to quash potential rebellion and conspiracy against him. They have warned him of people in the outside world who are close to discovering Razor Mountain or his other secrets.

This is also how he initially learned that Sky-Watcher, his love in Chapter 25, has a degenerative disease that has no cure. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help him. The world lacks the advanced medical resources he would need to treat her, and there is no way for him to build up the necessary infrastructure quickly enough on his own.

He tries to teach her to use the artifacts to jump bodies permanently in the current time, but she lacks the capability. In the end, the artifacts do nothing. They give him a warning he cannot act on, and he has no choice but to watch in anguish as his love slowly dies.

This is important to build God-Speaker’s character, but it’s also a bit of Chekhov’s time machine. At the end of the book, this is the mechanism that Christopher will use to travel back in time to the moment when God-Speaker first entered the caverns under Razor Mountain. This is how Christopher will take control of God-Speaker at exactly the right moment to throw him off the edge and into a deep chasm, ending his machinations before he has a chance to even find the artifacts in the first place.

Chapter 26

The banging noise stops with no explanation, leaving Christopher’s heart pounding. An indeterminate amount of time passes. Christopher thinks whoever is holding him is doing this as a form of torture to wear him down. He waves to the camera near the ceiling, just outside his cell. He gets no response. He pretends to start falling asleep again, but nothing happens. Only when he really starts to doze does the noise wake him.

Shortly after, a uniformed soldier arrives and takes him out of the cell, cuffing him to the steel table in the central area of the jail room. More time passes.

Finally, a man in an officer’s uniform (Sgt. Chris Meadows) enters and sits across from him at the table. He says that they have a lot to discuss.

Cliffhangers:

  • What are they going to discuss? What are they planning to do to Christopher?

Mysteries:

  • 26.1 – Largely continuing the mysteries from chapter 23, 24, 25. What’s going on here, and what do they want with him?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher is confused and alone, as he has been since the beginning of the book. Since he doesn’t know who’s holding him, he has no way to gauge what they’re likely to do to him. By the end of the chapter, he is fairly confident that they’re willing to hurt him, if they think it will be useful.

Chapter 27

Sergeant Chris Meadows introduces himself. He makes an un-funny joke about their shared first name. He states plainly that his judgment will decide what will happen to Christopher for the rest of his life. He could rot in a cage, or be set free. There could be other, worse options. Then he asks Christopher who he is, and how he arrived at the mountain.

Christopher gives an abridged, but honest version of events. Meadows asks about his life before being dumped in the Alaskan wilderness. Christopher talks about where he grew up, his parents and brother, and his job. Meadows asks about his interactions with the exiles. Christopher explains that he has no ties to them and holds no grudges against them. He was just looking for anyone he could find, in the hopes of getting back home.

Meadows seems dissatisfied. He has the soldier put Christopher back in the cell. Time passes. They continue blasting him with noise to prevent him from sleeping. He’s brought back out to talk to Meadows again. Meadows suggests that he tell the truth this time. Christopher tries to convince him that he is telling the truth. He asks Meadows what answers he wants. He suggests that if they’re honest with each other, maybe Christopher will know something useful. Meadows just tells him “I know more about you than you know. I know you’re lying, and until you tell me the truth, this will only get worse for you.”

Lack of sleep wears on Christopher. He begins having a hard time keeping events straight. He begins to wonder if he is lying. He’s uncertain when he’s only thinking, when he’s talking to himself (or the camera) and when he’s talking to Meadows. He seems to jump between sitting at the table and sitting in the cell. He thinks he’s forced to run in circles down the empty gray hallways. Then he finds himself jogging in place in his cell. He’s fed infrequently.

He talks about the time when he was young and nearly drowned. His older brother saved him, but was taken by the riptide and drowned in the process. He talks about his own guilt from that incident. After that, his parents never let him take any risks. He internalized their fear, and avoided any risks in his own life. He doesn’t know if he tells this to Meadows, or only thinks it to himself.

He hallucinates. He shrinks, getting smaller and smaller while the cell grows huge around him. His voice is too small to be heard. He screams and shouts, slamming his fists against the bars and the concrete floor until he sees blood. Then everything goes black.

Cliffhangers:

  • Is he dead? Has he lost his mind?

Mysteries:

  • 27.1 – What information is Meadows actually trying to get out of him? Who do they think he is?

Episode Arc:

  • This is Christopher’s lowest point so far. He has no control over his situation. It’s at this low point that he takes stock of himself, who he is, and what shaped him. He remembers this incident from his childhood that has shaped the rest of his life.

Notes:

  • This is the necessary breakdown that allows Christopher to understand himself and choose to change in upcoming chapters.

Chapter 28

God-Speaker sits in his modern office within Razor Mountain. He’s in an older body, feeling aches and pains. He knows that he’ll have to decide on a vessel and make the jump into a new body soon. Perhaps after he’s resolved the current situation? He feels a bit of nervousness, but reminds himself that he’s dealt with betrayal many times before.

He meets with Reed, a member of his inner circle. He explains that he believes Cain, another Razor Mountain official, may have plans to betray him. He asks Reed to keep an eye on him. Reed expresses skepticism, but accepts the duty and promises to keep God-Speaker updated on what he finds.

After Reed leaves the office, Cain comes in. The man is full of energy and has a plethora of ideas for improving Razor Mountain. God-Speaker pushes back, suggesting that they don’t have the resources to do all of this, and the plans haven’t been vetted by others. Cain is irritated. He asks God-Speaker pointedly about their resources and what his plans are for further construction. God-Speaker becomes irritated. He likes to keep some of this information from his lackeys to maintain his power. He suggests that Cain needs to work with the others to coordinate the governance of Razor Mountain. Cain complains that the other government secretaries lack ambition or vision.

God-Speaker reminds him who is in charge here. Cain leaves, glowering and annoyed. Again, God-Speaker feels a twinge of worry and a deep tiredness. He tells himself that a new, young body will help him feel better.

Cliffhangers: No.

Mysteries:

  • 28.1 – Does Cain intend to betray God-Speaker?
  • 28.2 – What will Reed find out?

Episode Arc:

  • God-Speaker is imperial and demanding of his underlings. He sees them as tools, and he’s annoyed that they don’t just do what he wants. He’s tired and bored of having to constantly manipulate and control people. His fear of death lurks just under the surface, still driving him.

Notes:

  • This is the penultimate chapter from God-Speaker’s perspective. His arc is pretty much complete. He is a shell of a human being. He feels his incredible age. He’s worn down. But his fear of death is too entrenched. This is what drives him.

Results

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

Razor Mountain Development Journal #30

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

Last Time

I worked through two more chapter summaries. I also admitted that I’ve learned how terrible I am at cliffhangers. Luckily, it’s easy to fix, because it turns out I have a tendency to put the cliffhanger bit at the start of the next chapter. All I have to do is pull it back to the end of the previous chapter.

The Big Three-Oh!

It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this thing for thirty weeks. I tend to underestimate how long my novels are going to take, and this one is no exception. When I started working on Razor Mountain, I thought I’d be posting chapters by now.

Part of this is the result of choices I made. I decided to expand and revise my outline when I could have done one pass and started writing. I decided to do more up-front in hopes that it’ll make the actual writing easier. There are also a few things outside the text of the book that I’m going to have to address as I work on finishing up the outline. I need to decide what services I want to post to, and figure out things like cover art, blurbs and author bio.

Characters as Adjective-Nouns

Connie J. Jasperson had an interesting post recently about delving deep into characters by selecting key nouns and verbs to describe them. This reminded me of Fallen London, the darkly whimsical literary browser game. In Fallen London, hardly any of the characters you encounter have proper names. Instead, they have “adjective-noun” monikers, like the Ambitious Barrister, the Captivating Princess, the Jovial Contrarian, or the Gracious Widow.

As a fun little aside, I tried to come up with evocative “adjective-noun” names to describe my characters.

  • Christopher – The Melancholy Wanderer
  • God-Speaker – The Thanataphobic Despot
  • Amaranth – The Accomplished Trailblazer
  • Ema – The Despairing Rebel
  • Garrett – The Reckless Captor
  • Harold – The Obedient Brother
  • Strong-Shield – The Traitorous Lieutenant
  • Sky-Watcher – The Ailing Lover

Try it – it’s an interesting exercise. I tried to come up with a noun that describes the character’s role in the story and an adjective that describes a key personality trait. And check out Connie’s post for a more in-depth exercise in a similar vein.

Chapter 23

The soldiers swarm Christopher, Garrett and Harold. The three are pressed into the snowy ground, disarmed and have their possessions taken from them. Then they’re shoved, stumbling, across the rough terrain. They come to a metal door, cleverly hidden in the mountainside, and are pushed through.

On the other side is a maze of hallways, where they’re immediately split up. Christopher hears Garrett trying to say something about bringing them an enemy spy before he’s whisked out of earshot. Christopher tries to tell the soldiers that he is just someone lost in the wilderness, trying to get back home. He’s not a spy, he’s harmless and this is all a big misunderstanding. The soldiers tell him to be quiet, and give him a solid punch in the gut when he tries to keep talking. After that, he’s quiet.

They haul him to a gray-walled room with a metal desk. Adjacent to it are four empty jail cells. The soldiers put him inside one of them, remove his cuffs, and leave him.

Cliffhangers:

  • What will happen to him in this jail?

Mysteries:

  • 23.1 – Who has captured him? What do they want?

Episode Arc:

  • The chapter starts with Christopher feeling that his life is completely out of his control, but he quickly realizes that the exile brothers may have been far kinder and safer captors than the efficient, silent soldiers that grab him and bring him to this underground jail cell in the mystery complex.

Notes:

  • After half a human lifetime away, Christopher/God-Speaker is finally back at Razor Mountain. There should be one or two things in the bunker and the abandoned building that the exiles inhabit that give Christopher a strong sense of deja-vu. He can’t quite bring those memories to the surface of his mind, but they feel like vague bits of something important. As soon as he’s under the mountain, even though it’s all gray walls and nondescript doors, that feeling of not-quite-remembering really ramps up to 11.

Chapter 24

Christopher paces in his cell, verging on a panic attack. His mind is frantic with ideas that these people are really going to do bad things to him. He was foolish to leave the bunker, and even more idiotic to let the brothers drag him to this place as a goodwill gift that won’t even help them.

He tries to calm himself down by assessing his surroundings. The cell has a hard bed with no sheets and a dented-up stainless steel toilet. He finds himself squinting, and realizes that the lights are abnormally bright. He becomes aware of a faint, high-pitched sound that immediately irritates him.

He sits on the bed, back to the concrete wall. The temperature, which initially felt warm compared to the outside, soon drops. His panic fades, replaced by misery. He feels childish to admit it, but he just wants to go home.

He thinks about everything that has happened, and is a little surprised to realize that the very real possibility of death doesn’t scare him as much anymore. He remembers how he felt in the wilderness, when everything had gone wrong and he decided to keep going. He tries to channel that inner peace. Despite his discomfort, he is exhausted and begins to doze.

Just as he’s losing consciousness, he’s jerked awake by violent banging just outside his cell.

Cliffhangers:

  • What’s that banging?

Mysteries:

  • 24.1 – Who are his captors and what are they planning to do with him?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher’s situation feels like it’s slowly worsening over this chapter, but his emotional state is slowly stabilizing. He is beginning to understand that even though he can’t control his external situation, he can still control his own internal response.

Notes:

  • Yet another cliffhanger pulled from the following chapter to make this one more interesting!
  • This is another important point in Christopher’s overall arc. When he decides to persevere in the wilderness, and again here when he starts to accept the inevitability of death, he’s growing beyond God-Speaker’s limited, “stuck” perspective, which is constantly driven by fear of his own mortality.

Chapter 25

God-Speaker waits on the balcony of his home, which is now within a city inside the mountain. He’s “wearing” a middle-aged body. He watches excavations underway, expanding the underground space. Sky-Watcher comes out. He asks her how she’s feeling, and she says she’s better. They go to the chamber of the artifacts. God-Speaker treats her a bit like she’s made of glass, and she acts mildly annoyed, but is clearly feeling weak.

In the chamber, God-Speaker guides her in listening to the voices and accessing their power. It’s clear that they’ve been practicing for some time. She has little success, and is quickly worn out. He helps her up a flight of stairs, and they lay outside and look at the stars. This is where she is happiest. They talk about the stars, and about the future. While she talks, he is distracted, worrying about her illness. He half-dozes, and when he wakes, he discovers that she is no longer breathing.

Cliffhangers: Nope.

Mysteries:

  • 25.1 – What exactly is he building under the mountain?

Episode Arc:

  • God-Speaker is quietly desperate. He loves her, he knows she’s dying, and he knows he doesn’t have the technology to cure her. He wants to use the artifacts to let her do what he does, transfer bodies. But they only seem to work well for him. He is used to being in control, but he senses that he’s running out of options. At the end of the chapter, he has failed, and she dies.

Notes:

  • This is the last time we see God-Speaker in any meaningful connection with another person. After this, he begins to pull back from others. He begins to use people solely as means to his own ends.

Results

Three more chapter outlines complete. I’m now about 3/4 of the way done.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #29

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 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 to the reader.

Chapter 21

Garrett, Harold, and Christopher take a break in the forest to rest and eat a little. (They have a paltry amount of homemade jerky. They offer to share with Christopher, but he declines.)

Garrett warns Christopher that they will be approaching the main facility shortly, and they need to be very careful or they will be shot. He does his best to scare Christopher, telling him that now is the time to give them any information he might have about the outside world – anything they can use to negotiate with the 550th Infantry.

Christopher tries to explain that they have a strange and skewed view of the outside world, and that he has been open and honest with them. Garrett doesn’t like this answer, and tells Christopher that their blood is on his hands if things go poorly. Harold seems more sympathetic to Christopher, but follows his brother’s lead in everything. Christopher tries to ask questions about the people in the “main facility.” All he gets from the brothers is that it’s where the exiles came from. They left because they thought they were being lied to, but being lied to is better than dying of starvation.

Garrett makes a flag from a branch and a white shirt. They continue walking. As the sun rises, they walk out into a treeless area at the food of the mountain. Garrett directs them to hold their hands up, while he holds the flag high. They walk out slowly.

The sounds of small animals, birds, and pebbles under their feet seem menacing. Christopher half-expects the sound of gunshots. Instead, just as he’s beginning to let his guard down (and his tired arms), there’s shouting, and fully-equipped soldiers swarm from the boulder-strewn slopes above.

Cliffhangers:

  • What will the soldiers do to them?

Mysteries:

  • 21.1 – What was the conflict between Razor Mountain and exiles? What lies are they feeding their population?

Episode Arc:

  • Christopher has been kidnapped and his captors seem interested in him only as a bargaining chip. Still, he feels sorry for them and the bad situation they seem to be in. As they approach the mountain and he sees them get worried, he starts to seriously worry that he may just die here.

Notes:

  • Yet another chapter where I had an easy cliffhanger available! I just had to pull the exciting bit from the start of the next chapter to the end of this chapter.

Chapter 22

God-Speaker is in a new body, in excellent shape in the prime of life. He stands in a carved cave-chamber, with six other people, around a stone table. This is a war council, and they are his military leaders.

They describe the movements of a small war party that is approaching the mountain. He lays out a very conservative defense. His friend, Strong Shield, complains that they have better weapons and better tactics, and this approaching army stands no chance of defeating them. God-Speaker agrees, but explains that he wants as few casualties as possible, and the best possible defense. Becoming overly-proud and lazy will lead to their destruction.

Strong Shield suggests that once they have destroyed the attackers, they should mount a counter-attack to prevent any future threat. He suggests they send a permanent military presence, and essentially begin to build out an empire. God-Speaker dismisses the others so they can talk privately.

When they are alone, God-Speaker explains that he is thinking about stopping all interaction with outside groups, faking the destruction of the village at the base of the mountain, and hiding their knowledge and wealth from the rest of the world to avoid conflicts like this.

Strong Shield says this is a path of weakness. He thinks he would be a better leader for their people. He tries to kill God-Speaker, but God-Speaker is ready for him, and kills his friend. He weeps over the body.

After a few minutes, he composes himself and calls the others back in. He tells them that this is a man he loved like a brother, and he was betrayed. He makes it clear that if anyone else is thinking of betraying him, they’ll meet a similar fate. The gods of the mountain make him unstoppable.

Cliffhangers:

  • Nope

Mysteries:

  • 22.1 – What are the voices/gods/artifacts? What power do they really give him? (Really a continuation of 16.2)

Episode Arc:

  • The imminent attack doesn’t worry God-Speaker, but he is hyper-vigilant anyway. He fully believes the doctrine he’s espousing – laziness and pridefulness will lead to mistakes and failure down the road. This also applies to his friend, Strong Shield. He loves the man, but the artifacts whisper to him that he’s not to be trusted, and they turn out to be correct. He has taken precautions, and he’s ready, but it still crushes him to be betrayed like this. He’s determined to close off his heart to avoid this emotional pain in the future, and immediately begins to erect walls of fear between himself and his other close lieutenants.

Notes:

  • This is the first big lesson for God-Speaker, teaching him that his fear of others is justified. Only by constant awareness can he avoid death from unexpected directions. The voices from the artifacts can help him.

Results

I worked through two more chapter summaries. (I’d still like to get more done, but I’m slowly coming to accept that this is the average amount I’m likely to get done on this project in a typical week.)

Expanding the original, bare-bones chapter summaries has been a useful exercise, but what I’ve noticed most of all is how frequently I throw away opportunities for cliffhangers! There have been so many places where I put an exciting event with an uncertain outcome at the beginning of a chapter. Pulling it out of that chapter and putting it at the end of the previous chapter gives me that extra suspense without even having to rearrange the plot.

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!