Red Adept is the nom de plume of a popular book review blogger. She recently posted my response to her recurring feature about books by their authors, asking: Which came first, the characters or the plot?
“My aim with ‘Knoxville, 1863’ was to write a historical battle novel about the seldom-chronicled Confederate siege of the East Tennessee city. So the plot definitely came first. The Battle of Fort Sanders, the siege’s culminating event, dictated the timeline and came with its own historical characters. Then I was free to invent fictional ones. I used the available memoirs, diaries and letters of the survivors to create composites.
“The plot drove the development of the characters, since my intention was to write of the battle ‘in the round,’ i.e. in a mosaic-narrative similar to Shelby Foote’s classic battle novel ‘Shiloh.’ So I needed characters to represent the units in the attack on the fort and its defense. There was some serendipity involved when I decided that to make the narrative truly round, I needed a civilian who could oversee the military aspects, and represent the city’s bitter division between the Union and the Confederacy. My Union-sympathizing Confederate widow Parthenia Leila Ellis was perfect for the role.
“All of the fictional characters changed in unplanned ways once I began moving them through the historical plot, but that’s always the case, isn’t it? Writing wouldn’t be much fun if nothing deviated from the original plan.”