In the two and a half years it took me to write Wall of Fire, I had a lot of ideas that never made it into the final book. Most of those, as you’ll see, were better left out. Some I still have a fondness for, but they just didn’t fit and ultimately weren’t right, so they had to go.
In this post, I’m going to let you in on some of the ideas I considered along the way (including a full deleted scene where—gasp!—Emery kissed Vander). All I ask is that you not judge me too harshly for the ideas that, in retrospect, may seem a bit silly or ridiculous at this point.
Disclaimer: I’ve tried not to put any spoilers in here, but in order to point out some of the changes I made, there are some references that may result in revealing details about the characters and plot. I recommend reading this only after you’ve read the book.
The Cover and Title
Designing a cover is one of the hardest parts of creating a book. Despite the adage urging people to not judge a book by its cover, the fact is that we all do it. Here are a few of the failed concepts we experimented with.
You might notice that one of those covers has the title Burned on it. That’s another thing I considered changing just weeks before the book was released. But in the end, I stuck with Wall of Fire, and I’m glad I did.
Other titles that I used were The Game and The Sorting, but I always knew those were just placeholder titles as I worked on the book early on.
The idea of some sort of game that determined people’s actual life outcomes was the seed of the entire series that got me started on this journey. That quickly transformed from a game to what I called a “sorting” where people were evaluated and “sorted” into their proper places in society. Then eventually, it became the Burning as it is now.
In an earlier draft of the book, the Burning took place in a unique, hexagonal building. There was a large main hall in the center that had six rooms surrounding it. Each room led to a different “challenge”.
Contestants were assigned to six different color-coded teams (Emery and Eason were on the green team). The second floor of the building had six hallways, one for each team. The center of the second floor was opened to the main center room below on the ground floor.
On the first day, each team went through the challenge door that was located directly below their team’s hallway above. On subsequent days, they would move clockwise to the next door. As they moved around the room from door to door, it was somewhat like a clock, counting down their days in the Burning.
Their first challenge was still the maze (every door led to the maze), and several other challenges were similar to the Trials Emery faced, but there were six challenges originally, rather than the four that show up in Wall of Fire. In the challenges that did not make it to the final novel, Emery was chased through a tunnel by flames, nearly froze to death, and was “eaten” by a holographic tiger, among other things.
The City and the Wall of Fire
In earlier drafts of the book, The City was divided by a regular wall, rather than the Wall of Fire. On top of the massive wall, a train ran, carrying supplies through The City.
It was the idea for the wall made of fire that gave rise to the fire theme for the sections of The City. Originally, the Flame was the Inner Ward (which they nicknamed the “Winners Ward” because only people who won “the sorting” could live there), the Smoke was the Fringe, and the Ash was the Outliers. And the Sorting became the Burning.
The Safe Dome was an original feature of The City that carried through mostly unchanged throughout the writing process.
Originally, Emery had two siblings. Her brother, Whyle, and sister, Vie, were spunky, personality-filled kids. Whyle was more meek, Vie completely fearless. While the family was allowed to have three children, they financially suffered greatly because of this, and in the earliest drafts, this was the main concern that drove Emery to enter “The Sorting” against her family’s wishes.
In a later draft, Whyle became ill and needed surgery. In order to do the makeshift surgery in the ill-equipped Fringe (the name for the Smoke at that time), Emery joined the Sorting (i.e. Burning) in search of needed medical supplies and medications to perform the operation.
In a later draft, a girl who bore an uncanny resemblance to Emery died as a result of the same illness that threatens Whyle in the final version of the novel. Suddenly, Emery saw an opportunity to join the Burning using the dead girl’s identity with a plan to return to the Smoke once she had secured the medicine she needed. When Enforcers came looking for the girl who officially entered, they would find she was already dead and Emery would be free to return to her life with her family in the Smoke. That is, if she could protect her true identity.
But it turned out that the dead girl had a criminal history that Emery was now being held accountable for. Her only way to save herself was to get Eason to talk—the one person who would be most likely to recognize her true identity.
Soon, I realized that Emery would want the chance to save the girl so I changed it so the girl was only near death and Emery could bring back medicine for her, too. It seemed like a good thing, at first, but then, you start to realize that if Emery could save her then she’s also quite selfish for stealing her identity. If she does manage to save the girl, she’s also created a lot of trouble for her with the Enforcers, most likely leading to her being sent to the Ash which is, by all accounts, a fate worse than death.
In addition, the plot element became cumbersome as it quickly took over almost every scene, overshadowing most of the other challenges Emery faced. Finally I scrapped the idea, and the novel progressed rapidly and turned out so much better for it.
The original idea for what became the intercuffs was something I named the Calyx described as follows: “The device clinging to my ear is comprised of many metallic tendrils snaking in intricate patterns from the helix at the top down to the lobe. In the bright lights, it shimmers like gold and looks like an ornament fitted to my ear.”
I thought it was a cool visual, but it was also too powerful. It connected right to the wearer’s brain and could input voice commands directly into their thoughts. It couldn’t actually read their mind, but it could detect if they were telling the truth or not. In fact, one of the cardinal rules of the society was: “If you lie, you die.” The Calyx was capable of detecting a lie and delivering punishment.
It could also hear everything, unless you happened to be near an extremely loud noise (such as on a rooftop as a train whizzes by atop a wall next to you).
While a good story always has lots of challenges for the characters, the Calyx was so powerful that it soon prevented almost anything interesting from occurring, and therefore, had to be changed. The intercuffs provided just the right balance of sinister surveillance and exploitable fallibility to do the job nicely.
Emery’s Love Interest
One of the very first ideas I had for this book, which I have to admit was hard for me to finally part ways with, was a bit of a love triangle that the “Sorting” forced Emery into. The “other guy” was Vander, but in this version he didn’t already have a girlfriend. Rather, Jessamine was in love with a guy who was cut from the story altogether, and who was constantly trying to sabotage Emery’s performance.
You can read a deleted scene from an earlier manuscript where Emery and Vander first kissed. Just remember, a lot of things about the novel changed since this was written, so don’t let that confuse you. Can you spot the differences?
In the end, I feel like the Wall of Fire Series turned out exactly how it was supposed to. It just took me a while to really get to know the world and convince the characters to let me in on their stories. But all the writing, rewriting, false-starts, and final breakthroughs were completely worth it, and I would happily do it all again to get to the finished story that Wall of Fire has become.