Reflections: Cara’s Evolving Journey

A month ago, I wrote about my completely abandoned ideas for The Lantern-Lit City. Today, I want to examine the story changes that Cara went through before the final manuscript.

Before that, though, some good news: I have finished the first draft of Part 1 of The Enduring Flame (approximately 65,000 words)! Unlike The Fading Glow, which had three parts, The Enduring Flame will be like the first book with only two parts. As I draft the second half of the book, I’ll be simultaneously editing the first part while submitting to a critique group, hopefully shortening the process and involving beta readers faster than usual. If all goes well, the book will be ready for release by the end of the year.

Now, onto Cara. I’ll admit, she’s the character I struggled with the most throughout the entire writing process. As one of the two chief protagonists, it was essential to get her story just right…and that proved a chore.

In the earliest drafts, Cara was a student of a school founded by Earl Hawk. As she drew close to graduation, she discovered that the Archmaster and other teachers wanted to recruit her to the Nightcats, an organization of spies.

In these early drafts, Cara actually leaves the school to return home to her ailing “father,” a nobleman who would have later been revealed to not be her biological father. At home, she reunites with her brother and his family. When Jagger comes to collect her, there’s a mixup, and the brother’s wife is killed while wearing Cara’s cloak. This leads into a whole mystery that sets up one big question: who wants to kill Cara and why? 

After this, Cara and Jagger return to the school, and Sandu is assigned to help Cara with a mission in Riverfen. They travel there, the Masque happens, and Cara learns more about being sulpari.

In subsequent drafts, Cara was demoted from noble’s daughter into watchman’s apprentice. Renna, rather than dying in a fire at the school, was kidnapped, spurring Cara into action. While the shape of her story was firming up, the details had to be constantly amended up until the very end.

After Renna’s kidnapping, the next major event was Merick’s death. While I knew it had to happen fairly early on, the “how” and the “when” kept tripping me up. At one point, he was killed by Mavian’s soldiers on the road after Cara makes a stupid decision to attack them. At another, I think he was killed by prowlers after escaping the infested tower.

As Cara’s journey progressed, I found that she was sort of being strung along by events rather than making choices that shape her own journey. In one draft, Cara and Sandu come across Alex’s destroyed caravan. Then, she falls down a ravine, breaks her leg, and faces the prowler child while alone. In the Cascade Palace, Cara is aimlessly wandering about when she stops the attack on the queen, and it’s another aimless wander through the city that leads her to discovering Alex’s secret.

A lot of small tweaks had to occur in order to give her more agency: rather than finding Alex on the road, Cara goes directly to Mott and meets him while pursuing her own goals (e.g. finding a cure). On the road, Cara kills the prowler to defend her team. At the palace, Cara is actively searching for the Hooded Man and Renna, and so is placed with the queen during the attack rather than stumbling upon it. She also learns about the tavern and seeks it out.

There are a lot more changes that were made for her, but all of them contributed to a much stronger character. Of course, those were all for Book 1. Book 2’s events came much easier to me, and I knew where Cara was headed even before I published Book 1.

Another Bonus Drawing: This is, again, from when I was writing the very first draft in 2012. Cara was much more outwardly edgy. This isn’t at all how I picture her anymore. How do you imagine her?

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