Character Wear and Tear

Tigers in Blue is under construction. It’s the third volume in the Shire’s Union trilogy. I’ve talked in the past about how writing a second novel compares to writing your first, so what’s it like to be setting sail again? Do I want to change my approach or adapt my style? What themes might I want to draw out for this final instalment? To what extent does what has gone before steer what I’m yet to write?

A lesson re-enforced when working on The Copper Road with my editor, Patrick Lobrutto, was to make sure that all of the characters have story arcs were complete and satisfying within that novel. In order to ensure that for Tigers in Blue, I’ve had to revisit their wants and needs, understand their motivations, both conscious and subconscious. Getting going has been a little like a family reunion, a wedding perhaps, where you may not have seen everyone for a while and need to catch up, remind yourself what they’ve been doing, what makes them tick. Perhaps they’ve found something, or someone, new to wind their clock. Of course, all my characters are several years into a brutal and murderous war. It’s unlikely their circumstances will be on the up. So maybe the wedding analogy isn’t a good one. More a like a wake where we see who’s still alive and kicking.  For a trilogy you have the added challenge that there are story arcs that span the series and not just one book. The stuttering on-off, love vs friendship relationship between Shire and Clara being the prime example.


To get into their mindsets, I’ve done a lot of free writing. A campfire is always a good setting (readers will know I do love a good campfire scene). Just get a bunch of characters together, pick a big theme – love, home, death - give them all a shot or two of whiskey and let them talk it out. There’s no need to use the end product, but it’s surprising how much your characters will share if you get them nice and relaxed and use your god like author powers to switch off any reserve they might naturally have. First person is excellent for this, so writing a letter from a character perspective, or a diary entry. It’s a sneaky way to prize out their secrets.


Shire being my main character, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him. His conscious and subconscious want is what it’s always been, namely Clara, but his experience of America and the grim war that he can’t escape have changed him. When he arrived in New York in Whirligig, he was almost twenty-two, naïve as to the wider world and almost laughable as a soldier in his early days. Two years later he would be considered a veteran in the Union Army. He’s fought many battles, combat and personal. He carries physical and psychological scars from the men he has seen killed or who died because of his decisions and actions. What would this do to his character? How much of that naïve Shire, the boy who left England, is left? Consciously or not, I think Shire wants some of that boy to survive. There’s a tension between trying to preserve some vestige of himself and the changes the war imposes on him. It's the same for his squad and for the characters outside of the armies. For those who survive, in a sense that survival is only partial; they will all be changed people after the war.


Ultimately, you have to leave the exercises and pen the novel. That remains the biggest adventure for a writer. I know the history and the setting. The time comes to let my characters back into the world and see how they fare. Wants and needs will clash. Not everyone can be there at the end.


Whirligig - Shire's Union Book I

The Copper Road - Shire's Union Book II

Battle Town (a short story)

Write a comment

Comments: 8
  • #1

    Jeff Houston (Saturday, 26 September 2020 00:57)

    Well said, Pard. But I'm used to that. Can't wait for the rest!

  • #2

    Virginia Charlton (Friday, 01 January 2021 02:27)

    Sadly, we know Tod Carter doesn't survive. He's mortally wounded in the Confederate charge during the Nov. 30 Battle of Franklin and dies two days later in his family home. My great-grandfather was in the 104th Ohio and fought at Franklin.

  • #3

    Richard Buxton (Friday, 01 January 2021 11:30)

    Hi Virginia,
    That's a great Ohio regiment and well decorated at Franklin of course. Happy New Year.

  • #4

    Virginia Charlton (Thursday, 07 January 2021 22:22)

    Hi Richard,
    Happy New Year to you. I liked your books and am looking forward to Tigers in Blue. I'm more interested Shires' Civil War experiences than in the love story. I'm a Civil War buff and think you did a great job creating Shires' "mess". I hope Tuck and Mason and Ochs survive but the Civil War was brutal, as you know. I had seven ancestors who fought in Ohio regiments (3rd, 78th and 104th). Two KIA, one died of disease, one wounded (my great-grandfather) and three survived.

  • #5

    Richard Buxton (Friday, 08 January 2021 16:58)

    Hi Virginia,
    Great to hear you enjoyed the books. People read them for different reasons but always particularly nice when a Civil War buff enjoys it. That's a lot of ancestors to have involved! You must be very proud. I've re-enacted with the 5th Ohio when last I was in America. Tigers is coming on!

  • #6

    Virginia Charlton (Saturday, 09 January 2021 01:52)

    Hi Richard,
    I'm very proud of my ancestors and "my" regiments. All my guys but one were volunteers, not draftees, and four were volunteers of 1861. They were all from Columbiana County (north eastern Ohio just south of Youngstown). I don't know why they fought but they were on the right side of history. There was a stop on the Underground Railroad in Columbiana County.

  • #7

    Virginia Charlton (Sunday, 10 January 2021 00:34)

    Hi Richard,
    One small point. If the picture above is going to be the cover of Tigers in Blue, I would suggest removing Fort Donelson. That battle's Feb 11 -16 1862, before the 125th was organized.

  • #8

    Richard Buxton (Sunday, 10 January 2021 09:31)

    Hi Virginia,
    Thanks for your interest. This is representative of the second battle of Donelson (also known as the battle of Dover) February 3rd, 1863. The 125th didn't fight there, but arrived the day after the battle and, according to letters from the regiment, some of the 125th toured the battlefield and saw the dead. I portray it as a sobering experience for Shire in Whirligig, so it contributes to the character Wear and Tear discussed this post and the image was intended to support that. This will not be the cover. If you want to email me using the contact sheet, I can send you more information if you're interested. Many thanks.

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