Watch Out! I See Mary Jane!

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During your writing, have you ever stumbled upon Mary Jane? Who is she? Why, she’s an absolutely beautiful character (forgive the unnecessary adverb). Everything about her is flawless – her hair, her makeup, her clothes. She’s so smart, she never makes a mistake. Because she’s the epitome of perfection, she always gets along with other characters. Why, she has the answers for every situation.  I suggest we all watch out for her. Why’s that? It’s simply this. Mary Janes are so perfect, readers cannot identify with them and, worst of all, they’re boring.

A Few Tips on How to Avoid Mary Janes

Give Characters Weaknesses/Flaws/Fears

One of my favorite authors is C.S. Forrester. In his series about the fictional Napoleonic War naval hero, Horatio Hornblower, Hornblower sometimes gets seasick. This adds to his humanity. One wouldn’t expect a naval hero to get seasick, but Captain Hornblower does. Although I’ve never been seasick because I grew up on the Gulf Coast and did lots of saltwater fishing in my younger years, my friends who do get seasick can identify with him.

Let Our Characters Make Mistakes

If they’re our story’s protagonist, mistakes go a long way toward gaining reader sympathy for him/her. If they’re the villain, readers will rejoice at the villain’s error.

Hercule Poirot may be one of the mystery genre’s greatest detectives. Want to know how he died in Agatha Christie’s last Poirot novel, Curtain? He made a mistake many people, unfortunately, make. He died of a heart attack because he didn’t take his heart medicine

Give Our Character a Unique Physical Appearance

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A character may walk with a limp due to an old injury. Or, perhaps, he’s missing a finger from a chainsaw accident.

Mary Janes may wear petite size dresses and always promenade in designer clothes. However, although a more believable female character may wear a size petite dress in our story, she might also wear lots of frumpy clothes and battered tennis shoes.

A Final Word

It’s important to spend quality time thinking about our characters. Make an outline of their strengths and weaknesses and portray them as original, and believable, as we can.

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And hey, watch out for Mary Jane! She lurks everywhere within manuscripts and in the pages of certain books.

The Creek War (1813-1814), Part 14, Horseshoe Bend

Tohopeka, a Creek village consisting of three hundred hastily built cabins, sat on the toe of a sharp bend in the Tallapoosa River that resembled a horseshoe. The village was temporary, meant to protect Red Stick women and children. Some one-thousand warriors guarded it under the leadership of a fearless chief, Menawa.

Across this peninsula’s four-hundred-yard-wide neck, the Red Sticks had erected a log barricade five to eight feet high, with loopholes for muskets. It was built in such a way that their guns could catch the Americans in a cross-fire if, and when, they attacked. These warriors were the Red Sticks’ best, the last great hope for victory over General Jackson.

With his army now reinforced with regular soldiers—the Thirty-ninth Infantry, Tennessee militia, friendly Cherokees and Creeks (under the command of William McIntosh) and two small cannon. Jackson left his base on the Coosa River on March 21, 1814. To get to Horseshoe Bend, his men cut a road over fifty miles long across ridges. His force consisted of 2,000 infantry, 700 cavalry, and 600 Indians. Lieutenant Sam Houston, later of Texas Revolution fame, was an officer in the Thirty-ninth. Also, Major Lemuel P. Montgomery, for whom Alabama’s Montgomery County would be named.

By March 26, Jackson’s army camped within six miles of the Bend. On March 27, he gave his orders and his men prepared for their attack.

Jackson’s Battle Order

  1. Coffee’s Cavalry and Indians: positioned three miles below Tohopeka, surrounding it to cut off the Red Sticks’ retreat.
  2. Jackson’s artillery: positioned on a hill to pound the breastworks. 
  3. Jackson’s infantry: make a frontal assault after the artillery’s bombardment.

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend

By 10:30 A.M. Jackson arrived at the Horseshoe. Soon after, Coffee’s troopers and Indians positioned themselves across the Tallapoosa.

Some Cherokees under the command of Colonel Gideon Morgan swam across the river without orders and stole the enemy’s canoes. To compensate for this, Coffee shifted part of his force to the tip of the Bend and kept other men in reserve.

Using the stolen canoes, the Cherokees and friendly Creeks began crossing the Tallapoosa in increasing numbers. Three hundred men, including some Indians, attacked Tohopeka during Jackson’s artillery barrage. Fierce fighting ensued. Tohopeka was burned.

Meanwhile, for two hours, Jackson’s cannons kept roaring and pounding the barricade to no effect. Then he ordered a frontal assault. The Thirty-ninth Infantry led the attack, Lemuel P. Montgomery and Sam Houston running toward the barricade ahead of everyone else. Montgomery scaled the barricade and was shot down. Houston scaled it next. An arrow flew into his thigh, two rifle balls smashed his shoulder later.

Although the Thirty-ninth did most of the fighting, the Tennessee militia supported it. It was a brutal battle—hand to hand, musket to musket.

At last, Jackson gained control of the situation and headed toward the Bend. After five hours of conflict, with darkness settling over the battlefield, the fighting ended.

Coffee’s men shot those who’d tried to escape across the river.


Chief Menawa, though wounded seven times in the battle, survived by playing dead till nightfall. He then crawled to the river and made his escape in a canoe. During Jackson’s presidency, he was sent to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears.

To get a proper casualty count after the battle, Jackson ordered his men to cut off the tips of the dead Red Sticks’ noses after the battle.

Fighting continued in other sectors, but the war was won. This fight vaulted Andrew Jackson to national prominence. It was the first step on his road to the Presidency of the United States.


Bunn, Mike and Clay Williams. Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812. Charleston: History Press, 2008.

Holland, James W. Victory at the Horseshoe: Andrew Jackson and the Creek War. Eastern National with the cooperation of the University of Alabama Press and Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, 2004

Waselkov, Gregory A. A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813-14. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006.