Sunday, 31 May 2009

Stuck with Jesse James, Part 1

On another blog I contribute to, I was talking about how I dealt with weaving fictional characters into a historical background in my Civil War novel. One unanticipated problem I had was what to do with America's most famous outlaws.

I wanted one of my fictional protagonists, a Confederate guerrilla, meet up with Bloody Bill Anderson, a very real and very bloodthirsty guerrilla leader who terrorized Missouri. The book takes place in 1864 when Bloody Bill was on his deadliest rampage. He's an interesting character and the events surrounding him in that year make for good fiction.

The problem was, riding in his guerrilla band were two brothers from Clay County named Frank and Jesse James. At this time they hadn't achieved fame; they were just better-than-average guerrillas. But any fan of Civil War or Wild West history (i.e., my core readership) would know that they were riding with Bloody Bill at this time.

I didn't want them to dominate the plot, but I couldn't ignore them either. So I decided on a happy medium and put them in a few scenes (such as the Centralia Massacre, which may have been their first train robbery) and then gave them one kick-ass gunfight. Being who they are, they tend to dominate any scene they are in, but by limiting the number of scenes I keep the focus of the book from shifting to them. Rather, I use them as foils to compare with the morals and abilities of my protagonist.

And since Frank James liked to quote Shakespeare, I got to throw in some telling quotes from the Bard that illuminate my protagonist's condition. I lifted them from a handy website. There's nothing like a quick bit of Internet research to make you look more educated than you are!

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Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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