*NOTE: The following post contains The Mercenary and the Mage duology SPOILERS* (for both books)

If you’ve spent much time in writing circles, you’ve probably heard the terms “plotter” and “pantser” used as shorthand to refer to writers who do extensive plotting before they begin drafting, and discovery writers who find the plot as they draft.

Most writers actually fall somewhere on a spectrum. I lean heavily toward plotter, but things always, always change from initial plot ideas to finished first draft to finalized book. I find that flexibility in writing as you get a better feel for the characters, the story, and the pacing, is vital.

I was poking through some files today, looking for junk to clean up, and stumbled across a couple of documents with early notes from planning both Prince of Shadow and Ash and Staff of Nightfall. It was amusing to see how things changed, and I thought it could be fun to share them as an example of my writing process.

First, some amusing points from a document in which I had written a full, four thousand word rough plot outline. I had started the document in January of 2018 and apparently hadn’t changed it since February of 2018. In that month or so, I developed the basic plot–and overall, it actually didn’t change a ton, although the beginning got fleshed out a lot more. But, a few amusing differences:

Original plot point:

Nolan sent a messenger to Lord Belanger asking for permission to court Adelaide, and Lord Belanger was unimpressed, but he trusts his daughter, and basically tells Nolan, “if you can convince her, try asking me again in person.”

Plot point in final book:

Nolan is focused on winning Adelaide’s affections with the assumption he can convince her father once she’s agreed to marry him. Explaining letter sending between two characters without POVs was too complicated, and didn’t fit Nolan’s entitled personality.

Initially, I tried to keep Regulus a lot more mysterious–the things he has done, his bond to the sorcerer, the sorcerer’s ability to control him–were revealed late in the story.

This proved confusing, bad for the pacing of the novel, and resulted in too low of stakes. Revealing more of Regulus’ situation earlier vastly improved the story’s flow and Regulus’ character development.

Nolan didn’t initially threaten Adelaide or Regulus at the tournament, and the tournament was planned to be much shorter.

I don’t even know, the tournament took on a life of it’s own–and Nolan proved he was much pushier than I’d realized.

Initially, Nolan and Regulus both invited Adelaide to dinner after the tournament. Nolan also called on Adelaide at the Drummonds and asked for her hand, and she refused. He issued a vague threat.

Superfluous plot points were ruthlessly eliminated. Nolan is uninterested in such a slow progression, and jumps on the first signs of weaknesses that can be exploited to his ends.

Adelaide accidentally revealed her magic to Nolan after she agreed to marry him to spare Regulus.

Nolan finds out at the tournament and uses the fact as leverage against her.

Adelaide ran away from Arrano after Regulus admitted the sorcerer needed to use her magic, but then felt sorry for Regulus and went back.

The biggest changes from plot to book usually occur as I get a better feel for the characters and their personalities–this was not in character for Adelaide at all.

The outline had no mention of Adelaide’s magic being taken, and the planned final scene was the sorcerer with the reforged staff (at the time, nameless) watching them run away and thinking Dramatic Thoughts about everyone serving him.

Now, if you’re not a writer, this might sound weird, if you are, you’ve probably been there–I was innocently writing along, and the sorcerer grabbed Adelaide’s wrist and stripped her magic. A crushed, magic-less Adelaide and scared Regulus running from a sorcerer reforging a staff that came with dire warnings was dramatic enough, and adding the sorcerer’s POVs felt clunky, melodramatic, and unnecessary.

I also found a document that had deeper notes on two scenes ideas. I often get flashes of scenes when planning a novel. I’ll have a dialogue exchange or a situation or a plot point pop into my head, and I’ll jot down the general idea.

Finally, I found the notes from when I was attempting to decide how Kirven/the sorcerer attacking at the masquerade would go down. Figuring out the masquerade, climax, and resolution was the hardest part of plotting Staff off Nightfall. I usually know how a story will end before I start writing it–I didn’t with Staff, and it led to me nearly stalling out halfway through as all the possibilities for where the plot could go and how it could develop where like a tangle of complicated, multi-layed interstate exchanges, and I couldn’t figure out what my exit was. The final form the book took ended up being very different from my initial ideas.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse inside the often meandering and strange road from initial idea to finished book!

If you’re a writer, are you more of a plotter or pantser? And if you’re a plotter, how close are your final books to your original plots?



Selina R. Gonzalez

Selina R. Gonzalez is an author of medieval-inspired fantasy. Her romantic fantasy duology, The Mercenary and the Mage series, is available now.


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