Poor Bill… a soldier with two women on his mind

1-Mike Staton
This post was written by Michael Staton.

So now I’m wondering if I need to tweak the personality of one of the women my Confederate soldier falls in love with in my novel Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep.


Here’s why. One of my reviewers thinks the two women in Bill Stamford’s life are too similar, especially when it comes to sex. The reviewer wrote: It’s easier for me to swallow a single female character that seems uncharacteristically forward, but two in a row just starts to feel contrived. Especially during this era, women who are this forward would be scandalized by a moralistic society. Both Fanny and Becky are upper-class girls who would have been taught they’d burn in hell for fornication and adultery – they’d believe that their virtue was their most valuable possession, once lost they’d be worthless. So, to have Becky seduce Bill, then to have Fanny lure Bill into a closet and propose that they have sex, it just feels uncharacteristic for the era despite our modern lens.”

A stroll through Pinterest turned up this photo of a woman in a 19th Century dress that resembles one of Bill’s loves, Becky from Duplin County, North Carolina.

So I’m debating… do I need to tweak Becky’s personality, make her more prudish to set her off from Franny and her more aggressive ways. There are two flirtation scenes in the novel’s early chapters. In the first scene, Bill and Becky are at a church picnic where they walk hand in hand past folks playing croquet, then slip into a grove of trees where they share kisses. A bit daring, yet not shameful, not with a war being fought. The reviewer remembers the second scene as one where Becky seduces Bill. That’s a faulty memory… she sneaks into his bed, but they go no further than some kissing and fondling.


I’m going to leave the picnic scene alone. Its innocence doesn’t need tweaked. The fondling bed scene… that one I’m going to revise. Nervy Becky, fearing her straitlaced father might hear them, will stop the proceedings and flee to her room.

I’ve profiled both girls to be George Sands rebels, avant-garde females suffocating under the constraints of Victorian times. That’s why Bill is attracted to them. The devastating losses in the Civil War, though, relaxed those constraints as many soldiers and their girls willingly broke the rules, knowing the war could cut short lives. In Wilmington, North Carolina, one of the settings in my novel, the war casualty lists not only grew, but a Yellow Fever epidemic also claimed hundreds of civilian lives. When life was so cheap, why not ignore the stern stares of old biddies and seek out private spots to make love?

The Victorian Era woman in the summer dress could very well be Bill’s other love, Franny of Fredericksburg, Virginia. 

Bill’s girls will differ on how they cope with the war’s mounting destruction and losses. Becky will wilt and choose to sail to England to flee the war’s misery. Franny stays, nurses the wounded, and decides whatever the war’s outcome her life will be lived in America. Frankly, I think those differences in the two girls are strong enough to keep readers’ interest to the end of the novel.


It took a world war in the early 20th century and millions of dead to topple the Victorian Age. No more ankle-hugging, bosom-covering dresses. No more elaborately chaperoned dates. No more “sorry, young lady, you can’t be trusted with the vote.” Welcome to the Flapper Age, the Roaring Twenties, the Age of Jazz. I’ve always wondered why the Civil War didn’t shatter the Victorian Age. Maybe all the nation could handle was Emancipation, and even now that’s not finished, as the turmoil in 21st Century America shows.

So that’s how this column ends… a tweak to Becky, Franny survives unscathed.

So what do you think? Will readers accept my rebellious Southern belles, one a bit demure, the other unruly?

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Ready for more ready enjoyment? Three of my novels have been published by a small ebook publisher. A fantasy trilogy, they’re titled The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. Intrigued? They can be purchased at the websites of Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.


26 thoughts on “Poor Bill… a soldier with two women on his mind

  1. I hope folks will accept your characters however you create them. You’re the one who’s done the research. You would know better than most if these characters are plausible. I have a similar situation with my new book. I’ve had a couple of folks say they didn’t enjoy the amount of romance between my main characters and that it detracts from the story line. They’re husband and wife. I don’t want to argue with them, but the point I’m trying to make is that the mystery isn’t the entire story line. I don’t want my book to be the completely typical detective fiction. I want it to be part a story of detectives solving a mystery and part about a happy couple struggling with learning how to raise their foster daughter. In some ways, the fact that they’re detectives is almost beside the point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree 100 percent with you, Joe. Romance helps attract more readers, especially women. I’m revising chapter 5 right now and will see what I can do to have Becky cut short their foreplay. People have said they really like this innocent ‘petting’ scene and I don’t want to chance ruining it.


  2. You have to live with these two ladies. It’s the empathy we feel for the characters, good and bad, that keeps the reader reading. There will always be critics, but if each character is strong enough to stand on their own, in a story of their own, then wow, do you have some great people. I know you will do what the story calls for, it’s your world and your ‘family’. I wish you the best. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Doris. I’ve already made my chapter 5 tweak to Becky’s personality, and I’m happy with it. Now, instead of lots of foreplay fun, she cuts things short and hurries back to her room, not wanting to risk discovery by her father.


  3. The tweaks you’re making seem sensible, but so do your reasons for having the women behave as they do. I agree about leaving the picnic scene as is–it sounds innocent and is probably realistic.


  4. I frequently have problems with buying characters who act out of step with their times. The mores were so strong and the restrictions so binding. The picnic scene sounds right, but you’ll have to really establish why a Southern belle would step so far outside propriety for me to accept her sneaking into a man’s bed. The other way around would play better for me. Your story, your world, of course, and I’m sure you can make it believable. Good luck with it.


  5. Enjoyed the post, Mike. In my estimation you should keep your characters as is. We all know that even though the women of the era are depicted as demure, not all were and it is truthful to write their characters as so. I’ve had the same types of problems with my writing, but I always go with what I feel – after all, it’s my novel, isn’t it? Good luck!


    1. Thanks, Linda. Just doing some comparatively minor tweaking. If one’s going to have romance, there has to be more than hand holding with the woman’s father looking on with a frown on his face.


  6. All of the above advice sounds good, Mike, but what occurs to me is that when war really does loom I think women have been known to take steps they would never dream of doing in peacetime. It certainly happened in WW2. I don’t know much about the American Civil war for southern belles but the chance that men might not be returning must have altered the perception for some of the women. Seizing a chance at a fleeting relationship might have been very tempting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s my take as well, and how I handled it for both girls. Both now I am making Becky a little more reticent. In an early chapter, she draws back from more intimacy, afraid she’ll be found out by her stuffy father. Later, though, toward the end of the novel, she’ll go to bed with him.


  7. Mike, thanks for sharing a part of your story with us. I think making a slight change as you describe will help make the characters “different enough” as your reader/reviewer mentioned and I think possibly more readers will enjoy because there will be two different female characters to which to relate. One thing to keep in mind, too, I think, is that if a woman became pregnant out of wedlock all those years ago, it was a virtual death sentence — and they didn’t have the “protection” as prolific as there is today. So, there’s another reason why at least one of the women would “stop short” of lovemaking back then. I’m looking forward to your book! Best to you as you continue this journey!!


  8. You really got lots of options it seems, but I think what you decided about similar personalities yet handling it differently seems interesting. And I also think while cultural influences change, temptations and personalities haven’t, so desires could be great yet following more’s will bend those desires, yet war has great influence on more’s. We had a bachelor neighbor who went to WW II and came back to find he had a daughter, and parents prevented a marriage. Yet he left all he owned to the daughter when he died. Emotions run high when war is on the horizon. Love the title of your book. Intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting story about the World War II neighbor… sounds like a good man. In regard to the book’s title… it refers to the shadows that Stonewall Jackson and his staff rode through on the night he was accidentally shot by his own men.


  9. I enjoyed this post, Mike. I feel you should go with your gut – do some minor tweaking with Becky’s character if that’s what you feel would work best. It makes sense to me the way you describe it. When I get feedback, I take it in and then ultimately have to go with what my gut says and what my characters are telling me. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What my characters are telling me… good way to put it. One of my reviewers, a retired career army officer, told me that he didn’t have a problem with Bill being attracted to two women with similar personalities. He said that’s realistic. He also said quickie affairs of the heart during wartime is common. So I’m not going to make drastic changes.


  10. Okay, here’s my 2 cents. You have critique partners or beta readers for a reason. Even though you have to consider their offerings, you don’t have to do them. In my opinion, I would much rather read a book that has suggestions, and flirtations, without anything, actually happening. I do agree that a woman would have to be very brazen to enter a man’s bedchambers during this era. Usually, a stolen kiss from a lass was a show of forwardness. I’ll be glad when you get this novel finished, I’m ready to read it. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, the hanky-panky action of Bill and Franny will take place in a bedroom of the Yerby Plantation’s small, unoccupied overseer house. The overseer fled when all the Yanks and Confederates appeared around Fredericksburg… wanted nothing to do with the coming fighting. If they were courting in the 1850s or 1870s, the Victorian rules would definitely come into play. They’d have to run off to France for a bit more freedom, but they’d definitely scandalize their parents. But when you are a soldier — North or South — in a land with a population of just 32 million and where 600,000 would ultimately die, “War is war and people’s sense of mortality, and thus urgency, is always heightened during hot conflicts.” The words inside the quotation marks are from a reviewer of mine who is an Army veteran. He makes sense.


  11. I agree with the reviewer. You need to tweak Beckys character just a bit. Bill neds to be more of the aggressor in their relationship. I think the challenge of wooing Becky would add to the story line. Have her Victorian upbringing come into play just a bit more.

    Liked by 1 person

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