The Evolution of the War of the Realms Series


Rarely does the final version of a book, movie, television show, game, or any other media look exactly the same as it did in its conceptual form, and the War of the Realms series is no exception. You might be surprised by how the story changed before Book I: A Fallen Hero was published in 2018! Here are some of the biggest changes (and almost changes).

The Alpha Gang almost had two extra members.

Sadly, these Alpha ghosts never made it onto the page. If they’d been in the first draft, I would have had a much more difficult time cutting them out of the story, but these characters were never given life outside of my imagination.

We haven’t seen much of Kit’s life from Before yet, although Cato does mention in Chapter 18 of A Fallen Hero that “I knew she used to be a street kid in a human city before she was captured.” But in early concepts of the story, she wasn’t alone. She had a partner-in-crime named Callie, who was a young Shifter. The two made the ultimate pick-pocketing team; Callie, able to take the form of anyone she saw, distracted the target by striking up a conversation while Kit skillfully pilfered whatever she could grab.

Likewise, RC is another character we don’t know much about (yet). He was going to have a younger blood-sister named Nicole, a Ferrokinetic with the ability to control metal and magnetic fields. Giving RC a younger sister to be responsible for would have drastically altered his character.

But, alas, as I was sorting all these ideas and preparing to start writing the story, I was afraid that the cast was getting out of hand with too many characters. Since Callie and Nicole were the last two to be added to the Alpha roster and the least developed as far as characterization went, they were the ones on the cutting board.

RC was also at risk of being cut. What ultimately spared him was the usefulness of his telekinesis, which allowed indirect communication between the Alpha ghosts and the humans of Phantom Heights through the anti-ghost barrier. Still, I didn’t have as good of a grasp on RC in comparison to most of the others, which is why he adopted the “stern, silent, and mysterious” persona. Originally, this was Axel’s role, but I adapted by making Axel more of an outspoken rebel to make room for RC’s quiet and brooding demeanor. I think the change suited Axel well! RC will get a lot more development in Book III, and I’m excited to delve deeper into his story. But don’t count on Nicole making any appearances; as of now, I don’t have any plans to bring her to life.

Trey was not Madison’s original apprentice.

Although Trey has always held the title of Cato’s former best friend, he had a much smaller role in the first draft of the story. He was just a normal high school kid who had absolutely nothing to do with ghost hunting besides cheering for his friend and helping Cato maintain his secret identity.

Madison’s apprentice was a completely separate character named Matt Selman.

As the story was developing, I realized that Trey was just there for the sake of showing that Cato had a best friend in his former life. But he wasn’t all that interesting, and he really didn’t serve any other purpose. Matt also seemed to be lacking. I couldn’t quite nail down what his motivation should be for becoming a ghost hunter, and despite being about the same age as Trey and Cato, he wasn’t close with them outside of being a classmate.

But again, a big cast was a concern as the first draft was taking shape, and once the idea struck me to merge these two lackluster characters into one, I knew it was the best move. Combining Trey’s role as Cato’s friend and Matt’s role as the ghost hunter’s apprentice created a much more interesting, well-rounded character. It pulled Trey off the sidelines and made him a more integral part of Phantom’s early days, and it also gave him the motivation to train harder as an apprentice so he could try to keep up with Cato. The new Trey Selman had so much more internal conflict by testing his loyalty as a friend against his desire to be a ghost hunter and step out of the “sidekick” shadow he’d found himself in.

Merging Trey and Matt into one character was a good move for the series! However, since I wrote so much of the series all at once, I do still occasionally run into Matt when I’m writing and editing later books. I’m still having to change his name to Trey!

On a side note, I had no idea what Trey was going to look like until the first draft was almost finished. I was taking stock of the physical traits of other characters and realized I didn’t have any major characters with blond hair, so that’s what he got! I also wanted to explore the idea of being visually impaired in a post-apocalyptic setting since I myself have terrible vision and can’t function without contacts or glasses. I wondered how that might be addressed in this setting. Contacts wouldn’t be practical to be putting in and taking out of your eyes every day in unsanitary conditions, and glasses wouldn’t necessarily be ideal either if they’re knocked off in a fight. Hence, Trey’s prescription goggles to keep the lenses in place.

Azar and Cato almost had different Divinities.

I’ve recently talked about Cato’s powers, the symbolism they represent to me, and how close he came to having his sonokinesis swapped for a different ability prior to Book I’s publication. But Azar also came close to having his Divinity changed as well. I was concerned that his powers were too cliché for a bad guy and wanted to give him something that was a little more unexpected.

But Azar’s abilities were not chosen by accident; they were a reference to the very first novel I wrote, Shadow Rider. One of the themes addressed in that story was the idea that not everything hiding in the dark is evil. The darkness is simply a hiding place, and there can be good forces taking advantage of it as well. Azar, despite his faults and actions, does not see himself as evil. He is the hero in his own story. The theme from Shadow Rider is especially apparent in this statement he makes to Captain Hassing in Book II:

“Ironic, isn’t it, Hassing, that people fear the darkness because they can’t see the monsters that lurk in it. People always choose the light with the misconception that it will illuminate the danger. Instead, they allow themselves to be blinded. Soon enough, they’ll see it’s in the darkness where their salvation lies.”

He even goes on to note later in the book that Cato and his lab-family have thrived in the shadows: “You took shelter in my darkness when your enemies hunted you. You covered yourself in my shadows to hide from the searchlights. You’ve always felt safest in the dark, haven’t you? And now the Dark offers you sanctuary, and you reject it?”

In the end, I left his netherkinesis as it was originally intended, although I did give him a power boost by extending his abilities to shadow manipulation. One beta reader, after learning that Azar almost had this major power adjustment, expressed relief that I hadn’t changed his abilities; she said Azar personified that primordial fear of the dark that almost every child has. He’s the moment of terror that makes your heart skip a beat when you swear you saw a shadow move suddenly in the corner of your eye but nothing is there when you turn your head. He’s the boogeyman who ventured into your room when the lights went out.

Phantom’s name was originally Shadow.

This was another throwback to Shadow Rider. But the name didn’t last too long; I quickly noticed that the word “shadow” was becoming tedious with the Shadow Guard and Azar frequently referred to as “the shadow ghost” or “the ghost of the shadows.” In the first draft, the power of eclipsing, or taking over a person’s body by becoming intangible and stepping inside of them to seize control, was called shadowing.

Instead, Cato’s alter-ego became, as Axel puts it, “The Phantom of Phantom Heights. That’s original.” Cato snaps back that he didn’t come up with the name. And while the title may be a tad redundant, it does genuinely feel like something a small-town news reporter like Caslynn Swan would come up with!

Wes had kálos powers when he was a wolf.

The idea behind this was that weir would be polar opposites of Amínytes. When Kit and Rayven shift into their animal forms, they lose their basic powers of invisibility, intangibility, and ectoplasm production. Because of this, ghosts can’t sense them in this form, making them ideal spies.

By reversing this, Wes and other weir (yes, there are other types besides werewolves in Avilésor) would essentially be a powerless human in one form but have ghost powers in animal form. It was my personal spin on the traditional werewolf concept.

But, when A Fallen Hero had the first few chapters professionally edited by the Inkwell Council in early 2017, the editors weren’t a fan of this idea. All three expressed blatant confusion with Wes’s abilities. Was he a ghost, or was he a werewolf? They all agreed that he should either be one or the other for the sake of clarity, and so Wes was stripped of his kálos abilities in his wolf form. This required some problem solving for a few scenes throughout the series where Wes had taken advantage of his ghost powers. One such instance happened during the kidnapping in Book I. When Vivian was pulled through the floor, Wes had been able to dive through the floor after her. Instead, he had to find a staircase.

Cato’s scenes were told in present tense.

This ended up becoming a major headache for me. Because the story is told through so many different points of view, I wanted to ensure that readers would be able to clearly identify Cato as the protagonist. This is his story; even if he’s not directly involved in every scene, his actions, both present and past, drive the plot forward and affect all the other characters.

Cato’s scenes are told in first person point of view, whereas other characters are told in third person. But in the original draft, Cato’s scenes were told in present tense while the other scenes remained in past tense to further divide them.

But once again, the Inkwell Council raised red flags with this model. They interpreted the verb tense change to indicate two different timelines, meaning Cato’s story was currently happening, but all the other scenes were flashbacks to events that had already happened. That was not my intention, and it was clear that I needed to address the issue.

Updating all of Cato’s scenes to past tense ended up being an extremely tedious and time consuming task, and to make matters worse, his scenes were written this way in all six books. That means a lot of extra editing for me, and it will definitely slow me down with Book III, which has many scenes in need of the verb tense shift.

It’s hard to imagine the series with Callie, Nicole, and Matt, Azar losing his command of the shadows, and werewolves being kálos! And the climax of Book II certainly would have had a much different ending if I had changed Cato’s Divinity.

But a lot of thought goes into writing a series, and that involves trial and error as well as conscious decisions to make cuts and change direction. Editors and beta readers definitely have an influence on the books, although I do have to look at the big picture and take into account the cohesiveness of the entire series since the ending is already planned and partially written. If I deviate from the laid roadmap due to an editor’s feedback, I have to find my way back with a different route. Oftentimes, one seemingly little change has a domino effect throughout many scenes.

Did any of these changes to the War of the Realms series surprise you?

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I'm an award-winning fantasy author, artist, and photographer from La Porte, Indiana. My poetry, short fiction, and memoir works have been featured in various anthologies and journals since 2005, and several of my poems are available in the Indiana Poetry Archives. The first three novels in my Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series have received awards from Literary Titan.

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