Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[writing|process] The outline for Mainspring

Since people seemed to like my recent post with the outline to Alternating Current, I thought I'd post the outline to Mainspring, my first trade novel, which was released by Tor in 2007. Note this book didn't sell from outline, it sold from finished manuscript, but the outline is still an important sales document even in that context. This was originally written at a workshop as part of an exercise at a writing workshop, but I returned to it later. What you see below is the revised outline.

It also occurred to me while drafting this post that I've never revised an outline after the fact to match the finished manuscript. More to the point, I've never bothered to. I find myself wondering if revising the outline (or possibly even rewriting it from scratch) after the first draft and before the revision passes would be productive. Have you ever tried that?

Note this outline comes more recently in my career than Alternating Current, and it helped sell a novel in New York. Also as discussed above, this was not revised post-drafting to match the final product, so if you're familiar with the finished book, you'll seem some variances. Another interesting exercise would be to go through several writers' outlines and look at their variances — it would tell you something about their individual processes, I think.

And the outline…
To Wind the Mainspring at the Heart of the World
by Jay Lake

God's creation is running down, and Hethor Jonobie must recover the key to world and restore things to their intended order.

Earth is but a bauble of the Tetragrammaton, God the Watchmaker, who has hung it in His heaven to wind forever around the track of its orbit. This is a clockwork universe, where the sun is an immense lamp hung in the sky, and the planets ratchet along great brass trackways set with millions of gear teeth. Sponsored by the Divine Adversary, the machinations of William of Ghent have interfered with the workings of the world, and Earth's mainspring is winding down.

Unfortunately, the key has been lost in the tides of history. The last winding of the mainspring of the world is an event lost in myth and tradition, believed only by the superstitious and the foolish. Hethor Jonobie, apprentice to a clockmaker, is visited by Gabriel, the Angel of Annunciation, and charged with restoring order.

Court wizards and priests alike have noticed increased vibrations in the motion of the Earth, though they dispute its cause, each wise man pursuing his own agenda. When Hethor brings his evidence to the Viceroy at Boston, he is laughed out of court and imprisoned before being pressed into service on an Imperial British Aeroship, the HIMS Bassett.

Britain, which contends with the Middle Kingdom for domination of the northern hemisphere, has recently begun sending expeditions over the Equatorial Wall to extend its domination southward. This is the range of impossibly high (150 miles) mountains girdling the Earth that supports the great brass cogs that mesh with the gears of Earth's orbital track.

Haunted cities of crystal and gold are rumored to lie high in the mountains, as well as mythic animals and fabulous automata. These ruins have not been occupied in the memory of men, or even civilizations, though the Roman emperors were said to have held them for a time as fortresses.

On involuntary service aboard the Bassett, Hethor finds his way to the Equatorial Wall. He has not seen or heard fromBassett Gabriel since his first visitation, and since his disastrous foray at court, Hethor has declined to discuss his worries with anyone.

Simeon Malgus, the ship's navigator, has seen promise in Hethor and is teaching him to use the quadrant, sextant, octant, pendulum clocks and other tools of the navigator's art. With these tools, Hethor is able to verify the errors in the motions of the world, but Malgus discovers Hethor's notes and bans him from the work.

They reach the Equatorial Wall, which lies in the permanent shadow of the Venusian Orbital track. [CHECK OPTICS OF THIS] Captain Smallwood, the Bassett's commanding officer, is unable to locate the expedition he is chartered to contact, and Malgus is lost, dead or imprisoned, when a shore party is attacked by winged savages who strongly resemble the archangel Gabriel. Malgus' junior navigator is killed outright in the attack, and with the officer complement stretched thin, Captain Smallwood is forced to employ the disgraced Hethor as Malgus' replacement.

Laboring over sketchy maps and notes, Hethor guides the Bassett to a great harbor-of-the-air, in a hidden valley high in the Equatorial Wall with a vertical wooden city. This city seems to be abandoned, but the shore party, this time with Hethor as a member under heavy guard, finds evidence that the prior expedition passed through.

Hethor also finds a golden tablet with kabalistic writing on it, in a chamber recently searched by ship's Marines. The tablet is warm, and there are feathers scattered in the room. He smuggles the tablet back aboard the Bassett and attempts to decipher it, convinced that the tablet is another message from God.

Captain Smallwood sends the Marines along with a company of sailors up the trails toward the crest of the Equatorial Mountains. Even from here, the brass teeth of Earth's gearing can be see glinting in the sky at dawn and dusk.

While the troops are gone, the Bassett is attacked again by the winged savages. This time, Hethor is captured by the savages, losing his partially translated tablet in the process.

While the savages bear Hethor high up the Equatorial Mountains, a terrible earthquake occurs below. He sees cliff faces the size of Ireland slip loose, a city of brass and crystal towers crashing to brilliant dust. They overfly a party of men cowering from the violence of the world, and Hethor tries to attract the attention of the party on the ground, only to see them crushed by tons of stone. Hethor knows this quake is another symptom of the running down of the Earth's mainspring.

Finally he is set down next to a temple or palace built right up against the great brass wall of the Earth's gears. It is an enormous colonnaded structure, with red lacquer pillars and green-tiled roof, resembling the fabled temples of the Middle Kingdom. Stout, hairy men in white robes tend the grounds -- Neanderthals. The air is very thin and cold, paining Hethor's lungs.

The winged savages depart immediately after depositing Hethor, and he is left to find his own way into the temple. Inside, he is met by a steel automaton, that ushers him into the presence of the Abbot of the Jade Temple. As Hethor arrives, the Abbot is in conference with Simeon Malgus, the Bassett's navigator.

Hethor is astonished to see Malgus, who is considerably less surprised to see his former protégé. Malgus reveals himself to be a double agent, working within the British Aeronavy on behalf of the southern world. He describes a paradise of men and animals living in harmony, free from the evils of industrialization and warfare. The hairy men in the garden are another race of men who live there, along with the fliers Hethor has encountered and others.

Hethor asks if the Angel Gabriel, who first told him of the dangers to the world, is one of the southern fliers. Malgus explains that the fliers, while manlike in appearance, are not capable of human speech. Whatever Hethor saw, angel or otherwise, it was not one of these creatures.

The Abbot explains that up here so close to the gears, they hear the voice of God every day when the track of the world thunders by in the sky. He invites Hethor to become part of their community and take part in the daily Sacrament of Listening, but Hethor asks to be set free. He admits to the Abbot and to Malgus that he is seeking the key necessary to rewind the mainspring of the world.

Malgus laughs at Hethor, but the Abbot silences him and explains that the Key Perilous is one of the seven Great Relics left behind by Christ before He was broken on the wheel-and-gear of Roman punishment. The Abbot does not know where it might be found, but he advises Hethor that in the pagan south, where Christ's word has never found much favor, there are wise men who know where the Great Relics can be found. The Abbot offers Malgus' services in guiding Hethor southward to meet with these sages.

Malgus clearly believes this to be a fool's errand and would rather continue developing stratagems to combat British imperialism, but he is unwilling to defy the Abbot. He leads Hethor up to the very top of the brass way of Earth's gears. They must wait until midnight and the thundering passage of the track before scrambling into the deep brass valley and making their way across. It is a perilous trip, and must be completed in less than twenty-four hours, as the next passage of the track will destroy anyone still within the gears.

Partway across, Hethor finds another kabalistic tablet, another message from God, which after some argument he takes with him. Delayed by the finding of the tablet, they are late coming to the other rim of the gear and nearly lose their lives in the thundering passage of the track. Hethor is in fact deafened, as far he knows permanently.

Climbing down from the other rim, they come to another copy of the Jade Temple. This one is deserted, except for furtive little figures scampering through the withered orchards, like the hairy men of the north face but much smaller -- Australopithecines. Hethor looks down upon the lands of the southern Earth and is overwhelmed by vertigo, emphasizing his new deafness. He is so high up that he can see the blue-black of the aether surrounding Earth and the curve of the planet. He despairs of finding his way across this new half of the world he doesn't know, to meet wise men whom he can no longer hear, to find an artifact he doesn't understand because he cannot translate God's words upon the kabalistic tablets.

Malgus returns from a foray with two large backpacks that had been hidden in the temple. He straps one on, demanding with gestures that Hethor do the same. Hethor dons the pack as Malgus suddenly sprints through one of the orchards toward a sheer cliff dropping over the edge of the world. Panicked, Hethor follows Malgus to see him falling through the air, arms spread out in the x shape of the clockwork Christ.

Hethor realizes that Malgus is wearing a parachute, like the sailors had used to dive from the decks of the Bassett sometimes. He refuses to jump, but realizes he cannot cross the brass desert of Earth's gears by himself.

The furtive hairy men settle the issue, slipping through the orchard to push Hethor toward the edge. He realizes that he cannot stand against them all, turns and jumps into the void, following Malgus down through miles of atmosphere above the southern Earth.

After surfing the air for over an hour, Hethor's terror has turned to boredom. He has become separated from Malgus by miles, but can still see the navigator when Malgus finally opens his parachute. Hethor tries to open his own parachute and discovers that he does not know how. Terror quickly returns. He plunges past Malgus, deeper and deeper into the atmosphere, heading for a point somewhere just off the coast of Africa -- a continent Hethor has never seen on a map.

Hethor rolls over, facing back toward the Equatorial Wall, and uses the golden tablet he has been carrying as a heliograph, flashing messages for help high up toward the wall. Just before he strikes the water, a pair of winged savages seize Hethor in mid-plunge and bear him upward. The golden tablet tumbles loose, falling into the sea -- Hethor has a second time lost the words of God, though they have saved his life.

The winged savages bear Hethor to a massive earthen work fortress amid the jungles at the foot of the Equatorial Wall. Making the trip, he passes over beautiful meadows, vast herds of animals, bucolic villages in little clearings. This is the paradise that Malgus describes.

Landing on the fortress walls, Hethor is greeted by a European, William of Ghent. Ghent provides food and wine and gracious hospitality, eventually explaining in gestures and writing to Hethor that he has a plan to save the world. Hethor's new-found deafness is becoming a terrible impediment to his success.

As the archangel Gabriel had warned Hethor about William of Ghent, Hethor attends with a concealed mistrust. William argues that Earth is in thrall to a mechanistic Divine plan, and that the only way to free the world from stagnation and achieve man's ultimate destiny is to throw off the tyranny of the clockwork of God. "Let the mainspring of the world wind down," writes William on a sand table, "and see what new sun will rise in place of this imperfect lamp the Creator has set in our skies."

Hethor cannot yet decide whether it is more important to find the Key Perilous or try to stop William of Ghent directly, so he assents to William's offer to join in the great work. William takes Hethor deep into tunnels beneath his fortress, to an enormous door much like a bank vault. This is the beginning of Hethor's initiation into the true ways of the world.

William opens the vault door and shows Hethor onto a high balcony. They are just at the roof of a vast cavern, that goes on into darkness farther than Hethor can see. Spread out below him is a spinning field of brass, moving so fast it can barely be seen. Still communicating through signs and writing, William tells Hethor that this is the first of nine shells that lie within the Earth, powered by mainspring of the world, and these are what keep the Earth rotating on its track.

As they stand there, another earthquake happens. The brass plain below Hethor stutters almost to a halt. In the confusion of the moment, Hethor shoves William over the balcony and onto the brass plain, which then groans back into motion, bearing the other man away into the darkness of the world.

Hethor flees back to surface, getting lost upon the way and having several run-ins with William's servants. Exiting the front gates of the fortress, he finds a third golden tablet on the path in front him. This, Hethor resolves, he will not lose.

It now only remains for him to find the Key Perilous and restore order to the world. Carrying the tablet, he walks into the tropical jungle, striking for the coast and figuring to eventually find the southern wise men, and though he does not care much for Simeon Malgus, he must find the navigator as well. As he fights his way through the jungle, Hethor finds that he can once again hear, but now there are rhythms he has never before known. Hethor realizes that he is hearing the ticking of clockwork of the world, and the brassy music of the spheres.

After days of struggle and attacks by wild beasts, Hethor arrives in a jungle village of Australopithecines, still carrying his tablet. Because he can now hear the music of the spheres, he hears the little hairy men click and whir when they move, as if they are but automata as well. Since these are the first people Hethor has encountered since his hearing changed, he isn't sure if this is true of everyone.

The Australopithecines see Hethor's tablet, and bow down to worship him. He has no language in common with them, but eventually convinces them that he needs a boat, and transport to the coast. He is taken down the river in a fleet of canoes, decked with flowers, the headman's daughter Orilla in attendance on him.

Riding along, Hethor is finally able to again work on the translation of the tablet. Though his books and references were lost on the Bassett, Hethor finds he is more readily able to read the kabalistic signs -- perhaps an extension of the same new power that changed his hearing.

Even translated, the tablet is cryptic. "The heart of God is the heart of the world," it reads. "As man lives, so lives God. As God lives, so lives the world." This is scandalously heretical, comparing man to God, and fairly nonsensical to boot.

Orilla and the Australopithecines bring Hethor to a megalithic city built of impossibly large standing stones. It sits at the mouth of a great river, the greatest Hethor has ever seen, with rings of walls within walls and high towers reaching toward the sky, topped with orrerys and great wheels of brass in imitation of God's design of the cosmos.

The city is inhabited by impossible tall folk with skin the color of the darkest coffee -- Hethor has never before seen such people. They are more alien to him than the hairy men. Every man seems to be a sorcerer, every woman a witch. Hethor hears the click music from each of them, just as he does from the hairy men. He walks the streets, trailed by his hairy followers, but no one will acknowledge him.

Hethor finally makes his way to an enormous square in the center of town to find Simeon Malgus there, chained to the top of a stone pillar. Hethor indicates his distress to the Australopithecines, who swarm up the pillar and free Malgus, though they are not strong enough to carry him down, so Malgus falls and is mortally injured.

Dying, Malgus tells Hethor that he is a fool to believe in anything. There is no God, only an uncaring mechanistic universe, no divine plan for the world. The gears and trackways of the heavens are just a grand illusion, one that William of Ghent will dispel with his powers. As Malgus finally expires, a small brass spring pops from his mouth.

Hethor leaves Malgus' body at the base of the pillar, realizes that he will get no help from the Jade Abbot's wise men of the south, and decides that he must find the mainspring of the world for himself. Being a one-time clockmaker's apprentice, Hethor knows perfectly well the mainspring must be in line with the poles. He heads for the harbor, and with his loyal Australopithecines, battles to steal an airship from the city of the proud sorcerers.

Bound for the South Pole, Hethor's airship is shadowed by the winged savages, but they do not approach too close. In the passage, he and Orilla become lovers, Hethor losing his virginity. Between nights of passion and days of worry, Hethor studies the message of the tablet, and realizes that even the wind sounds like clockwork to him now. Another earthquake happens below him, sending titanic waves crashing into the African coast Hethor is following.

Hethor arrives over the Antarctic continent to see great, towering cities of ice below him. He does not dare touch down, preferring to push onward. Earthquakes continue below him, and the days are getting longer out of proportion to the change of seasons -- Earth's rotation is in fact slowing. The moon has vanished from the sky as well, interrupted in its motions so that even the tides have been lost. He can only imagine the chaos back in America and Europe.

Flying across the southern ice cap, the airship is finally attacked by the winged savages. They bring it down, killing most of Hethor's Australopithecine crew and injuring him. He loses the last tablet in the wreck, but the message about the heart of God is graven in his own memory.

Ill-prepared for the conditions, crippled by the wreck, attended by Orilla and a last few of his servants, Hethor treks southward across the ice. They are all close to dying when Hethor sits down and prays to the Archangel Gabriel to save them. He reaches for a voice that matches the clicking music he now hears, straining above the howling wind and the freezing pain of his body to send his voice toward Gabriel and God.

As he prays, the physical world becomes less substantial, everything around Hethor waving to clockwork. He reaches out, touching that clockwork, and resets some of the local escapement gears. Coming out of his trance, Hethor finds himself in a field of brilliant poppies, howling snow still a quarter mile away. A sunlit path of flowers stretches before him, southbound to the pole.

In extremis, Hethor has become a sorcerer in his own right.

Hethor and his party finally reach the South Pole. A titanic brass shaft towering a mile or more erupts from the ground, now surrounded by blooming flowers, though it has frost on its side further up. Great balancing weights whirl around the shaft, which is supported by a four-footed frame grounded in the ice and snow around them. Hethor approaches the shaft, finds a spiral metal stair that descends into the Earth winding around the course of the shaft.

He turns to bid farewell to the Australopithecines. They cannot follow him into the dangerous depths of the Earth. Key Perilous or not, Hethor must find the mainspring of the world and set things right.

The hairy men make a camp to await his return, all but Orilla, who insists on accompanying Hethor. After arguing fruitlessly, he relents. They rest a while, then descend into the whirling depths of the clockwork Earth.

The stairs spiral through layers of rock, brass and crystal, past veins of gold and silver and enormous gearwork. Partway down, Hethor and Orilla are attacked by automatons like those he had met at the Equatorial Wall -- servants of William of Ghent.

Still injured, Hethor cannot fight them physically, but he uses his newfound powers in a terrific battle on the stairs. Orilla is injured as well, so that when the fighting is over, Hethor must carry her on his back like a child.

He limps onward, only to meet the Archangel Gabriel again. Gabriel urges Hethor to turn back, tells him that without the Key Perilous, there is no hope of winding the mainspring. Orilla whispers in Hethor's ear, in her language of which he has learned a little, warning him that Gabriel is playing him false. Hethor pushes the Archangel aside with his magical powers, only to have Gabriel explode in a cloud of wheels and gears, slashing Hethor's skin in dozens of places.

Bleeding, still carrying Orilla, Hethor stumbles forward until he meets the third guardian of the stairs. This time it is William of Ghent, bruised, battered, and a man at the height of the powers Hethor has only begun to discover.

William is both angry and sorrowful, treating with Hethor as if he were a wayward child. God, William explains, has abandoned His creation and man must free himself to find his own way.

Hethor counters with message from the tablet -- The heart of God is the heart of the world. As man lives, so lives God. As God lives, so lives the world." How can God have vanished when man lives on in the world?

William argues that Creation is a fraud, the horofixion of Christ on the Roman gear-and-wheel is a fraud, and that Hethor is a fool who stands in the way of progress.
They finally come to blows, both physical and metaphysical, and Hethor is quickly bested. William of Ghent stands over him, ready to plunge a brass rod into Hethor's heart, when Orilla attacks him from behind. The two of them plunge over the railing of the steps to fall screaming down the shaft leading to heart of the world.

Heartsick and wounded, Hethor picks himself up. He doesn't know about the key anymore, he doesn't know about God, Gabriel was a fraud, but he goes onward to find the body of his beloved Orilla, in hopes that his new powers can work a miracle and save her.

After a hellish descent through fire, ice and brass, Hethor finally arrives at heart of the world. The shaft around which he has been winding plunges into a vast coiled spring, that must be a thousand miles wide, Hethor realizes as he stands on a catwalk at the foot of the spiral stairs. Even if he did have the Key Perilous, how would he wind such a monstrous thing?

He finds no trace of William of Ghent, but Orilla's body lies on the spring just below the catwalk. It is a great metal coil edge-up to him, and the bands are loosening even as he looks down. Orilla's body will still plunge between the bands to be lost in black depths of the spring. Hethor prepares to drop down to her when William calls to him from further down the catwalk.

"You will not pass me," William says. "I am the guardian of the winding shaft."

Hethor sees that William, injured in his fall, has become a horror of flesh and metal. He only recognizes William by the voice, and the pale eyes that blaze with a fierce hatred. William again challenges Hethor, inviting him to battle.

Hethor's anger flares, and he again summons his powers. But then he looks down at Orilla, lying dead upon the widening spring, and thinks on the words of the tablet. "As man lives, so lives God," he tells William. "I will fight you no more. I follow my heart."

Hethor drops from the catwalk to the surface of the spring. He balances on the narrow edges even as they spread apart, while William attacks from above, hurling gobbets of flesh and metal fragments. Hethor picks up his beloved, cradles her tiny body in his arms, then is driven to his knees by William's attack. The spring yawns wider before him, a metal-lined crevasse into which he could simply tip forward and die with Orilla.

"The heart of God is the heart of the world," Hethor tells himself. "As man lives, so lives God. As God lives, so lives the world. I choose to live the way I will."

He reaches into his powers to restore life to Orilla. William has begun to fling sorcerous bolts along with junk and offal, but Hethor takes the blows. He pours his own heart into his beloved, trying to restart the clockwork hum that powers her and restore her broken body.

In a rattle of gears, God touches Hethor then, very briefly, and Orilla is restored. The mainspring of the world snaps shut onto itself, trapping Hethor's right leg as he slips with the motion. The pain is excruciating, but his beloved is whole.

On the catwalk above, William of Ghent bursts into flames, becoming a creature of fractals and random motion -- the Divine Adversary in person, the opposite of the orderliness of God's world. Hethor smiles at the Adversary and opens up his own heart, plunging his hand into his own chest to pull out a small crystal key.

"The Key Perilous," Hethor tells the Adversary. "Love is the heart of God."

Bleeding, broken, trapped, he collapses into a blessed darkness while the Adversary crackles in flame and Orilla sobs out her own heart's pain.


Hethor awakens to see the jeweled Earth hanging before him, the great brass gear around her equator sparkling in the sunlight. The flickering lamps of the stars are clearly visible, and when he looks around, he realizes that he is on the Moon -- he is surrounded by silver forests of bamboo and lakes of quicksilver, pale deer darting through the brush while albino swans wing overhead.

The Archangel Gabriel is seated on a gray boulder nearby, the real Archangel, not the winged savage Hethor defeated on the stairs. Gabriel asks Hethor if he is ready to be with God. Hethor says no, he has a life and love on Earth. Gabriel warns Hethor that if he returns, he will be a powerless cripple.

"Send me back to Orilla," Hethor says, and finds himself in Orilla's jungle village.

Though Orilla's people tell time by the clattering gears in the sky, Hethor sets to making clocks, and takes his new wife as his apprentice. He hangs the wheel-and-gear of the horofixion in his little hut, but without the usual Christ figure. Enough people have died for enough sins, Hethor tells himself. It is time to get on with, well, time.

Hethor knows that the mainspring at the heart of the world ticks on, though he can no longer hear the clicking music of the spheres.

# # #

Tags: books, mainspring, process, writing

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