Tower of Strength
As is typical for me, I didn't have any idea for a story or characters when I began my research into the Manti Temple for the book that would become Tower of Strength.
For my historical fiction, the location, events, and time period play as much a role as the actual story and characters—the location almost becomes another character itself. As a result, I can't know what the book will be about until I get to know the setting.
I found two theses written about the settlement of Manti and about the Manti Temple itself. I found other resources as well, such as the book published for the temple's centennial celebration, among others. For my fourth foray into temple research, I learned less about the construction of the temple I was studying and more about the settlement of the city it was in.
I read about the struggles the early Saints had in just surviving their first winter in Manti. I learned how they nearly starved the following year because they'd lost so many farm animals to starvation that plow enough ground to plant crops was nearly impossible.
I learned about activities on Temple Hill and how the site was selected. I learned about games kids played and what the people ate and the creative things they did to survive.
But with all that information, I still didn't have a story. Even though I'd reached the same point with other books, I panicked. Would I find a story this time? Would I have characters I love? What about an interesting plot?
A few weeks into my reading, as I was drying my hair, Tabitha appeared in my head fully formed. I knew her background. I knew her wounds. I knew what nickname she liked and which one she hated. I knew she was coming home and why.
I didn't know much more than that—yet—but I knew I had my main character, and I knew the rest would follow. I couldn't wait to get to work.
What I didn't expect was for the next character to prance onto my mental stage to be a horse
Let me clear one thing up right away: I am not a horse person. I don't know horses. I don't really LIKE horses.
Ironic, I know, because a horse became a major point of the plot in Tower of Strength—a main character, even. When I discovered that bit of information, I groaned, knowing that it meant doing more research . . . MUCH more.
The horse scenes ended up being the hardest ones to write. Many were revised over and over again, especially after I ran them (more than once) past friends who were horse people. They'd kindly correct my errors.
"Um, no, Annette. That would a halter, not a bridle. And the body part you mean here is a flank." Those were the easy fixes. Others were tangles messes that had me thinking, "Oh, great. Horses don't do that? Then how can I keep the plot and make it realistic, too?!")
Some people might ask why I went forward with the horse story when it was so hard to figure out. I was the writer, wasn't I? So why didn't I just change it? Cut the horse.
The problem is, novel writing doesn't work that way. For this writer, anyway, the story unfolds itself, and while I do have a lot of say in how the story is presented and there are elements (and even subplots) I can change and tweak all I want, a lot of the time, major elements like the main conflicts and main characters just happen, and I have to follow along.
That said, I really hope I don't have a horse show up as a main character ever again. As much as I ended up loving Mantia, writing about her was just too hard for me to want to do it again!