Once again… the hard task of outlining a novel

Mike Staton
This column written by Mike Staton.

My Civil War novel – Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep – remains in the hands of my publisher, with an October release still on schedule. In the meantime, I’ve been brainstorming the plot for my Civil War tale’s second book.

In recent days, I’ve freed my plot scheming from the jail bars of my brain and let the threads settle down on paper. Well, not paper… on my computer screen. I just finished outlining chapter 26. It’s gone surprisingly well considering how lost I felt when I began chapter 1.

I had the big picture, I just didn’t know how to get there. Of course, book 2 had to pick up where Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep left off. Franny Neale, Private Bill Stamford’s true love, has made a risky wartime journey to win his heart. She has also used her family’s connections with the Confederacy’s political and military elite to secure a job for Bill at the War Department in Richmond. So that was the starting point of Bill’s book 2 journey.

Rose Greenhow in Europe
Early on I decided I needed to have Bill and Confederate spy Rose Greenhow to meet up again. He’d have to go to Britain for that to happen.

Like the first novel, this one must be built around action and romance – and a strong adherence to real-McCoy American history. I went with an idea percolating in my head for several weeks. Bill and Franny needs to get married, so that’s how the novel starts – a wedding in Bill’s hometown, Kenansville. As I started writing the scene, I decided to shock readers with something unexpected. I’m happy how the chapter’s outline turned out.

As I progressed chapter by chapter, I brainstormed other action ideas:

* A fierce skirmish of Union cavalry with Confederate Home Guards protecting a train bound for Virginia. My gut feeling tells me to have Bill gather up a wounded militiaman’s rifle and join the fight.

* A near-riot of desperate Richmond housewives enraged over high prices and speculators making money at the expense of the women’s young ones. A real bread riot occurred in Richmond in April 1863. The one I’m contemplating is fiction, since I won’t get Bill and Franny to Richmond until October 1863. But the scene will reflect the genuine angry emotions of the wives of rebel soldiers on the front lines.

* Holiday scenes where Bill and Franny help out these desperate women, holding a Christmastime party for Richmond’s children.

Evacuation fire
I think I’ll end book 2 with the Confederates retreating from Richmond. By the way, Yanks didn’t do this. The retreating Rebs set those fires.

* An emergency mission to Britain by Bill, carrying out the secret orders of President Jeff Davis. This is an effort to inject Bill in the affairs of Rose Greenhow, an actual Confederate spy. In the first book, Bill meets Rose in Wilmington, North Carolina. Their visit ends with Bill seeing a halo flare around Rose, a sign she’ll soon die. In real life, Rose voyaged to Europe with her daughter to try to gain political and monetary support for the Confederacy. On the voyage back to Wilmington, she drowned.

* A chase by Union ships trying to bring to heel a fast, sleek blockade runner transporting Bill to Europe.

* An alleyway attack on Bill as he sets off to meet with Rose and forward President Davis’s secret message. Bill gets mugged and then knifed, requiring nursing care by Rose and one of Bill’s ex-girlfriends, Becky Powell.

Ruins of Richmond
This is what Richmond looked like after the Yanks put out the fires after entering the city.

In my outline, I’ve managed to get Bill to London where he runs into Becky and her new boyfriend, a British aristocrat. I’ve yet to plot out the alley ambush. That’s next.

I’ll need to get Bill back to Richmond for the last weeks of the war. Bill and Franny will have to navigate the chaos surrounding Richmond’s fall as the Confederacy disintegrates. I’m brainstorming but have not come up with any specifics for Bill and Franny.

I’m mulling a title too. No epiphany, though. I want to use the shadows metaphor in the second book. So far none of the possible titles stir me. I named the outline Home Front Shadows. I don’t like it; it’s not catchy. Another possibility: The Shadows Within. I won’t complain if someone offers a suggestion.

# # #

I’m an author with three fantasy novels to my credit – The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. The books make up a trilogy titled Larenia’s Shadow. A fourth novel, this one a historical romance set during the Civil War, is scheduled for publication in October. It’s called Blessed Shadows Dark and Deep. All my novels can be purchased via the website of my publisher, Wings ePress, as well as the websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


16 thoughts on “Once again… the hard task of outlining a novel

  1. Mike, I’m glad the story is on track. Now this second one seems to be going along nicely, and what a plot you are weaving. Best of luck and awaiting October. Doris


  2. Shadows Within Dark and Deep sounds good to me. I can’t wait to read the first book, and so I am doubly anxious for the second. It sounds wonderful. If you need a Beta Reader, I’m here. I’ll be glad to read it and give you a review in October. Happy writing. Cher’ley


  3. Wow, sounds intriguing, lots of ways you could go with this book, and the title. How about Reaching Shadows? Am sure you will come up with one that zings as well as your first book. Anxious to see that.


  4. I’m terrible with titles and rely on my writer group to help me. I never have a title until I’m done writing the story. I’m assuming it must have “shadow” in the title. I envy you for being able to outline and to actually enjoy outlining! It sounds like you’re right on track with Book 2 and maybe even ahead of schedule. Happy writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m totally impressed with you advance planning, Mike. I made a brief outline for the story I’ve been writing for ages but what I’ve got now is nothing like that original one and I’m still no where near the end. The ‘surprise’ at the wedding sounds very intriguing… Happy planning and writing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I am going to enjoy springing the surprise that takes place at the conclusion of the wedding. I just finished outlining the chapters that show Bill in London with Confederate spy Rose Greenhow. They are going to be fun chapters. Now he’s back in Richmond, with some explaining to do to his wife Franny (he sometimes partied too hardy in London).


  6. Mike, I’m SO EXCITED for you!! Your second book sounds like it’s coming along wonderfully, and I, too, look forward to both books. I thought of “After War Shadows,” or “Shadows After War,” or even “Shades of War” instead of ‘shadows.’ I also like Neva’s thought of “Creeping Shadows.” I know the right title will hit you. Thank you for keeping us apprised of your work and blessings and all my best to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Gayle. Yep, I’m still wrestling with a title for book 2. But the outline continues to proceed. Bill’s having some interesting encounters in London. But he’s now back in the South — and has to deal with the war, and it’s not going good for the Confederacy.


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