Tag Archives: Behind the Scenes

How I Accidentally Wrote a Love Triangle [SPOILERS for Swords & Fire!]

OKAY it’s been long enough since THE UNBOUND EMPIRE came out! I’m finally ready to make my tell-all post about Amalia’s romance arc in the Swords & Fire series! WOOHOO!!!!!! GET READY!!!!!!

BUT! This is SUPER SPOILERY.

DO NOT READ THIS POST UNTIL AFTER YOU FINISH THE UNBOUND EMPIRE. I mean it! You will be SO SPOILED, and not just on Amalia’s romantic choices. If you haven’t read the whole trilogy, STOP HERE.

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(No, really, this is INCREDIBLY SPOILERY. If you haven’t read THE UNBOUND EMPIRE, turn back now.)

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(Okay, you’ve read TUE? Yes? Almost there, then, keep scrolling!)

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OKAY! SO!!!

I never meant to write a love triangle. I swear. I don’t even LIKE love triangles! (Well, mostly. I can think of a few that were pretty cool.)

I originally wrote THE TETHERED MAGE as a standalone YA novel. In those early drafts, Amalia & Marcello wound up together at the end, yay! Happy ending!

…Yeah, so, obviously STUFF CHANGED. TTM became the first book of an adult fantasy trilogy. Amalia’s arc became something completely different—about taking responsibility rather than bucking authority. It couldn’t be a simple feel-good WOOHOO LOVE CONQUERS ALL, SCREW YOU MOM, I DO WHAT I WANT ending. And her romance arc had to span three books, not just one, so it couldn’t resolve so quickly.

So, okay, no problem! When I sat down to plot out Book Two, I figured aha, clearly I must give her a serious political courtship/marriage prospect. She’ll have to weigh love against duty! It’ll be great!

But I can’t just make him some jerk she should obviously reject, I thought. That’d be too easy. This has to be  a hard choice, pitting personal preference against political necessity. And then I thought OOOOOOOH, I’LL MAKE HIM A WITCH LORD!

And then HEH, I’LL MAKE HIM THE CROW LORD, CROWS ARE AWESOME.

(Yes, I do think in all caps, in fact, WHAT OF IT?)

And then I started writing Kathe and suddenly it was WHO ARE YOU WHERE ARE YOU GOING WITH MY PLOT WAIT STOP PUT THAT DOWN!!!

So yeah, Kathe kind of took off on me, and I wound up unexpectedly adoring him. BUT it was still clear to me (and you are welcome to disagree with me, seriously, it’s completely subjective) that Amalia would be happier with Marcello.

And then as I was writing THE DEFIANT HEIR, it kind of sank in that Amalia’s arc was not really about what would make her happy.

OH SHIT, I thought, I HAVE TO TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY. I wanted Amalia’s choice to be genuinely difficult, and for readers to not know what she was going to do, or even necessarily what they WANTED her to do. Which meant the choice had to be hard and unclear for me, too.

So I made a decision, partway through drafting THE DEFIANT HEIR: I was not going to make this choice now. I had NO IDEA if she would wind up with Kathe or Marcello. NONE. I wrote and edited the whole book not knowing. My editor asked me if I knew, and I was like NOPE. NO CLUE.

Then it came time to plot out Book Three. And I had to make my choice.

CRAP CRAP CRAP, I thought.

And also HEYYYYYYYYYYY I COULD DO A POLY ENDING! NO ONE HAS TO CHOOSE! EVERYONE WINS!

But I knew (and, uh, my agent reminded me) that would be a cop out in this particular case, much as I might consider polyamory a fine solution to many love triangles. That wasn’t where this story and these characters were going. It would be me just gratifying myself (okay, and some of my readers) and letting me and Amalia dodge making our choice.

(But, you know, if someone wants to write that fanfic, HAVE AT.)

So anyway, I did what any reasonable writer would do: I TOTALLY PANICKED. I wrote my agent an email basically going HELP I WROTE MYSELF INTO A LOVE TRIANGLE AND NOW I HAVE TO GET OUT OF IT WHAT DO I DOOOOOOO.

My agent (Naomi Davis, who is awesome, by the way) gave me all sorts of incredibly good advice about stuff like tying the romance arc inextricably into the story, upping the stakes, doing something unpredictable, and generally being REALLY MEAN…but ultimately threw the decision RIGHT BACK INTO MY LAP. (Where, to be fair, it belonged.) I wasn’t getting out of this one. I had to figure this out myself.

I knew I wanted to pull Marcello back into the center of the plot. I knew I wanted to up the stakes and make Amalia’s choice EVEN HARDER. And I knew that ultimately, what happened with the romance arc had to be an important part of Amalia’s overall character arc. It couldn’t be, like, her fun little dessert plotline where she just has to choose which delicious flavor of ice cream she wants today.

Aaaaand that’s when I got the horrible idea of turning Marcello into a chimera. I was actually partway through a draft where that was TOTALLY NOT A THING, and suddenly here was this idea which would CHANGE EVERYTHING. The whole focus of the book, Amalia’s arc, the ending, everything.

Part of me was like NOOOOOOOO! THAT’S TOO MEAN! I LOVE MY CHARACTERS AND WANT THEM TO BE HAPPY! DON’T DO THIS!

So of course, I knew I had to do it.

And that made it EVEN HARDER to decide who she’d wind up with at the end, and I waffled for a long time. But ultimately, I knew that Amalia’s entire arc was about growing into her role and accepting her responsibilities and everything that came with them. And that meant going with the political choice after all (who, HEY, happened to be a hot Crow Lord, so COULD BE WORSE!).

I also wanted to show that complicated intersection of life and romance we face in reality, and to reinforce that you absolutely can love multiple people but have to make complicated life choices about who you can be with. That it isn’t all about finding your One True Love and having that magically fix all your problems (though it can be nice to escape into that fantasy). I never meant to write a love triangle, and I still honestly don’t quite think of it as a love triangle—more like a love/duty/politics/look-it’s-complicated POLYGON of some kind. And when I started thinking it all through, I realized that just as Amalia couldn’t achieve her full growth if she backed down from political duty and chose Marcello, Marcello couldn’t achieve his full growth with Amalia. He has his own important goals and ambitions, his purpose and career, and ways he wants to shape the world into a better place. He has more to become than just Amalia’s shadow.

It was really important to me to show that Marcello would be okay, though. And that’s where the scene with Istrella poking him in the eye came from. (Also because SHE TOTALLY WOULD DO IT—THANKS, ISTRELLA.) I didn’t have any room at the end of the book to show more than that, but I really hope to at some point write some epilogue short stories or something (or maybe more books someday, you never know, but at LEAST some short stories or vignettes) giving you more of a glimpse into how things pan out for all the core Swords & Fire characters!

In the process of plotting, I considered so many options. Having Amalia wind up with Marcello, with Kathe, with both, with neither. Killing off one or both of them. I went with the story that felt the most true to me—the most satisfying, if not necessarily the happiest (but TOTALLY NOT THE SADDEST OPTION either, I assure you). But all those alternate endings were possible—they could have happened—and if you prefer one of them, I totally encourage you to have that headcanon or write that fanfic!

And if you’re hoping to find out more about how things wind up going for Kathe and Amalia, well, I didn’t want to drop too strong of a hint in THE OBSIDIAN TOWER (which takes place 150 years later), because I want people to be able to read the trilogies in either order and I don’t want to spoil anything. But there MIGHT be a super subtle hint in there as an easter egg for Swords & Fire readers, and I MIGHT be hoping to add more such hints in the rest of the new series.

(PS: I totally don’t know where the romance arc is going to wind up in the new trilogy, either, for entirely different reasons. WHY DO I KEEP DOING THIS TO MYSELF?!)

Happy reading!