Emma's War

Stephanie Zinn

Book Cover



    Core Theme



    19th Century











    Based on the life of a true patriot named Sarah Emma Edmonds, Emma's War follows the journey of Emma Dyke, who disguised herself as a man, and fought in the Civil War. The novel reflects the challenges she faced, living with thousands of men, the horror of battle and finally her trial by fire.

    Target Audiences

    Age: 18-34,35-54,55+

    Target Gender: Universal


    Detroit, Washington DC and Fredericksburg, VA

    Based on a True Story


    Publishing Details

    Status: Yes: self-published

    Publisher: Amazon

    Year Published: 2015

    Starting Description

    Prologue: The Hunter Beginning: Emma's dear friend, Ruben, tells her during a picnic that he is leaving to join the army. "I'm going to!" she said. After Ruben leaves she spends weeks planning her getaway: to find Ruben and leave her rigid father who wants Emma to marry a much older man.

    Ending Description

    Emma has become a hardened soldier, when,at Fredericksburg she is sent behind enemy lines (disguised as a woman!) to spy on the Rebels. She returns to camp, speaking of the danger of a Union charge, but the battle goes forward. Emma is wounded and those trying to save her discover she's a woman!

    Group Specific

    Millions of Civil War fans across the world. At most sites there are local groups fighting to conserve the battlefields.

    Hard Copy Available




    Mature Audience Themes

    Extreme Violence, Language/Profanity

    Plot - Other Elements

    Meaningful Message

    Plot - Premise

    Quest,Internal Journey/Rebirth

    Main Character Details

    Name: Emma

    Age: 20-21

    Gender: Female

    Role: Protagonist

    Key Traits: Adventurous,Aggressive,Complex,Patriotic,Selfless,Secretive,Heroic,Honorable

    Additional Character Details

    Name: The Beef

    Age: 47

    Gender: Male

    Role: Antagonist

    Key Traits: Badass,Confident,Decisive,Heroic,Leader,Masculine,Patriotic,Blunt,Outspoken,Skillful

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Sam

    Age: 29

    Gender: Male

    Role: antagonist

    Key Traits: Badass,Charming,Complex,Confident,Greedy,Masculine,Narcisstic,Uneducated,Sexy,Skillful,Funny,Unapologetic

    Additional Character Details

    Name: The Captain

    Age: 28

    Gender: Male

    Role: protagonist

    Key Traits: Charming,Complex,Empathetic,Heroic,Honorable,Leader,Masculine,Patriotic

    Development Pitch

    I just wanted to say (doesn’t need to be in the pitch sheet) that this story could be a blockbuster movie or miniseries because: 1. It’s a war epic. There hasn’t been a great Civil War movie since “Glory.” 2. It has a unique perspective. A war movie where the main character is a woman, and she’s not a nurse or a spy (although she does both) but a soldier. It is a plumb role for an actress. Strong women are being portrayed more and more in cinema, but so many are fantasy character or Marvel Comic cartoons. This is a real American hero. 3. This really happened! Emma’s War is based on the life of Sarah Emma Edmonds who disguised herself as Frank Thompson and made such a contribution to the War that she was the first woman to receive a US military pension.




    After losing her best friend to the Union Army, Emma Dyke disguises herself as a man to enlist. After adjusting to life as a hardened soldier, Emma is sent behind enemy lines as a spy only to have her intel go unheeded. After a charge gone wrong, Emma is wounded in battle and her secret is discovered by the men trying to save her.

    Overall Rating


    Point of View


    Narrative Elements

    Authors Writing Style: FAIR

    Characterization: FAIR

    Commerciality: GOOD

    Franchise Potential: FAIR

    Pace: FAIR

    Premise: GOOD

    Structure: FAIR

    Theme: FAIR

    Accuracy of Book Profile

    The Book Profile does a great job of selling the storyline and highlighting its uniqueness. That said, the Short Summary could use some work. It should be descriptive but succinct, like as follows: 'After losing her best friend to the Union Army, Emma Dyke disguises herself as a man and joins in the fight. Leaving behind a rigid father and an older man desperate to marry her, she becomes a hardened soldier dead set on defeating the rebels. But Emma gets more than she bargained for when she's sent behind enemy lines as a spy only to have her intel ignored. After being wounded in the very charge she tried to prevent, Emma's secret is revealed to those trying to save her.'

    Draw of Story

    The first few pages do a fantastic job of putting us in the heart of the story and generating tension and suspense. This section is written in such a way that the reader assumes the soldier is male, and we're rewarded with an intriguing hook when we're first introduced to Emma. It's quite cleverly done, and it leaves us wanting to continue the story. When we're thrust into Emma's pre-soldier life in Michigan, the initial hook does its job by satiating us with anecdotes from Emma's life on the farm. She feels stuck, and useless as a woman in a man's world, and we sympathize with her easily. We know she's tough and can relate with her need to defend her country, so we root for her as she prepares to leave her old life behind and fight with the vigor that's made her a lifelong oddity in her community.

    Possible Drawbacks

    Generally, the pacing is a bit slow and at certain points we are left waiting for the action and adventure we've come to expect from this genre. It might help to strike more of a balance between action and Emma's perceptions, in order to preserve the tension and create the suspense necessary to engage an audience over the course of the story. For instance, it feels like Emma is at camp for quite a long time, but most of the information we gather are anecdotes and small details that certainly make the setting shine, but may not do quite as much for the story structure overall. It could be beneficial to elevate the action at the camp, by focusing less on the rich, historical detail and more on Emma learning how to be a soldier. Seeing her struggle with some high-tension moments, be it with shooting or something like hand-to-hand combat practice is sure to ignite emotion in her. It might also give us the chance to see her improving, and thus her character progressing as she gets closer and closer to the battlefield.

    Use of Special Effects


    Primary Hook of Story

    Put simply, Emma is a woman in a man's world. This hook is timeless enough to be familiar and well-received, but elevated by the rich historical detail and the added oppression of being a woman in the nineteenth century. Emma has to face not only the Confederates, but the very men she fights alongside all while trying to prove her grit to her company and to herself. The fact that it's based on a true story is a draw as well, making this female-driven narrative all the more empowering and intriguing.

    Fanbase Potential

    Emma's character is ripe for Awards potential, based on the range of emotions she has to go through over the course of the story. Her character arc progresses steadily as the story unravels, which would give an actress room to grow and explore her psyche through many unfathomable situations. Old Man's character could be ripe for supporting Awards too, based on the bond he forms with Emma and the stoic but always warm calm he maintains throughout the story. Additionally, there could be below-the-line Awards potential. An adaptation like this would require clever cinematography, authentic costuming and certainly a memorable score.

    Awards Potential

    In many ways, this story has something for everyone. It could appeal to history buffs, anyone who enjoys female-driven narratives or films rooted in female empowerment, fans of war dramas and those who crave adventure and fish-out-of-water tropes. While it is suited mostly to a PG-13+ audience because of the carnage, the target demographic is likely large because the premise can be appreciated regardless of gender identity, ethnicity, religion or political leanings. That said, because of the US-centric subject matter it could have a more difficult time performing well internationally.

    Envisioned Budget


    Similar Films/TV Series


    What’s New About the Story

    The fact that this is based on a true, but mostly untold story is a huge draw. And the fact that it's a female-driven story in a male-dominated historical period makes it even more unique. The source material does a great job of getting into Emma's head enough to make the anecdotes feel rich, but also doesn't ever compromise her femininity to a point where it becomes unrecognizable. To make the story more unique would likely mean striking the perfect balance between action and reflection. Juxtaposing things like historical fact and character introspection against a dramatized action plot could help better structure the story and make it feel more succinct, and well-rounded. Juggling these facets in a war drama is a difficult task, but one that could really help this story stand out.

    Lead Characters

    Emma is tough as nails in a world where she's expected to be anything but, and that makes her likable right away. She's also wonderfully perceptive, which deepens the story as a whole and makes way for tremendously rich, meaty detail. She is easy to root for, with pure motivations and a good heart. Her bunkmates, Sam and Old Man, are both rich in development and juxtaposed against each other, help to round out Emma's world after enlisting. They are a great source of experience, and representative of the average civil war soldier with just enough uniqueness to make them memorable.

    Uniqueness of Story

    While the source material is rich and the premise intensely intriguing, this doesn't feel like a rare gem quite yet. In terms of adaptation, the story seems to be lacking the necessary balance between introspection and action, which is widely expected in the genre. There's also a lot to keep track of here and the project could potentially benefit from a more streamlined focus and a quicker pace to preserve the tension. It may be worth revisiting a favored story structure method, like the Hero's Journey or the Save the Cat beat sheet. Though there is a commendable understanding of subject matter and storytelling here, it could help to cross-reference the scenes against the three-act structure to ensure that the story moves along without spending too much time on anecdotes, historical detail or subplots.

    Possible Formats

    Film - Studio, Film - Streaming

    Analyst Recommendation



    Although the source material is rich, it feels like a bit more streamlining is required in order to deem this suitable for consideration. Emma's perceptions and intense introspection often overtakes the action expected in a war drama, and the pacing sometimes feels slower than it should for a high-stakes, high-tension premise. The structure also feels like it's a bit shaky because of the deep attention to detail and the inclusion of anecdotes that, while interesting, don't quite move the story along.

    Tips for Improvement

    A strong balance between action and reaction would be a great first step in readying this for adaptation. Focusing more on the logistics of Emma's life as a soldier, and highlighting more of her struggles as plot points could be helpful. Watching her learn things like hand-to-hand combat, how to march, and how to ready for a life or death battle would likely go a long way in further developing the action plot so revered in war dramas. It would also increasingly raise the tension, and likely sustain it throughout. Additionally, streamlining the focus a little bit might help to solidify the structure and ensure that the pacing moves as efficiently as it should. Capitalizing on high-stakes, high-tension moments would offer up some of the familiar emotions we get in other stories of the genre, and work to keep the audience intrigued over the course of the entire story.


    After losing her best friend to the Union Army, Emma Dyke disguises herself as a man to enlist. After adjusting to life as a hardened soldier, Emma is sent behind enemy lines as a spy only to have her intel go unheeded. After a charge gone wrong, Emma is wounded in battle and her secret is discovered by the men trying to save her.

    What We Liked

    The project is based on a true, but not often explored story. It is a female-driven narrative with an intense female empowerment theme as it explores the trials and tribulations of being a nineteenth century, oppressed woman in the middle of a man's war. The story offers a fresh take on a civil war drama and a unique access point into a oversaturated historical period. It has all the grit, carnage and drama of a typical war story, but with the added femininity and deep, intense perception that only a CIS female protagonist can bring.

    Film: Based on a true, but often unexplored story, EMMA'S WAR tells the story of an oppressed, nineteenth century woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight for the Union Army. The project combines a female empowerment theme with a fish-out-of-water trope and offers a fresh, unique take on a civil war drama. Despite the female-driven narrative, the potential audience reach is wide based on the subject matter, the rich historical detail and the deep introspection that the protagonist delivers.

    TV: Its definitive start and end points wouldn't suit a dramatic series format sufficiently.

    Key points: Based on a true story.
    Female-driven narrative.
    Utilizes the familiar fish-out-of-water trope.
    Fresh take on a Civil War drama.
    Strong supporting cast.


    In August 1861, EMMA DYKE (20s) meets with her best friend, RUBEN CULP (20s). Secretly in love with Ruben, she’s dismayed when he reveals that he’s enlisting in the Union Army. Emma tries to stop him, but Ruben swears her to secrecy. With Ruben gone, Emma begins to feel restless.

    The war escalates as Emma continues to feel the overwhelming desire to assist in the effort. Her father warns her not to chase after Ruben, and she waits impatiently for news of him. She gets her news of the war from MR. ROOP, whom she peppers with questions only to learn that the Confederates are advancing. Just before she leaves, Mr. Roop remembers to give Emma her first letter from Ruben.

    Ruben begins to see action in the war and begs Emma to write him with news of home. Tension with her father escalates as Emma becomes more and more distracted. Mr. Roop pays increasingly more intention to Emma, and her father tells her that he will begin calling on her.

    Emma uses Mr. Roop to learn about that happenings on the battlefields, in hopes of hearing news of Ruben. After many nights of entertaining Mr. Roop, Pa informs Emma that he has asked for her hand in marriage. Although Pa gave his blessing, Emma vows never to marry him. She arrives at Mr. Roop's to inform him of her decision and learns that the Union Army is assembling a Michigan regiment. She tells Mr. Roop that she cannot accept his proposal and leaves at dawn. She shaves off her hair and struggles with how to conceal her breasts.

    At enlistment, Emma watches an OLD MAN chastised by the officers for his age, but ultimately allowed to enlist. EMMA approaches the men and is chastised after she trips. The men, including THE BEEF, laugh at her. Emma spits on his shoe. Despite The Beef’s protests, CAPTAIN COOPER pushes her through after she struggles to come up with a name for herself. She ultimately settles on Emon, Em for short.

    Emma passes medical check by the skin of her teeth, narrowly avoiding having to remove her shirt. She arrives at the trenches, where she comes face-to-face with her fellow soldiers and worries about how she will relieve herself without giving away her identity.

    Emma receives her uniform and sets off to find her tent. There, she encounters the OLD MAN she watched at enlistment. She also encounters SAM ENGLAND (20s), a southerner and despicable human. Emma tries to settle into camp life, as Sam tries and fails to bond with her.

    The soldiers begin to march and Cooper takes a liking to Emma. They see beaten, broken soldiers marching through the streets and Emma looks away. Cooper instructs her to show the men respect for their sacrifices and Emma experiences her first carnage scene of the war.

    A shooting competition is arranged, and Emma is selected to represent company C. She goes head-to-head with her fellow soldiers until it only her and one other remaining. Cooper appears at the last second and distracts her long enough for her to come in second. While the rest of the soldiers enjoy what could very well be their last night of safety, the Old Man pulls Emma aside and asks to talk. She agrees to talk with him regularly.

    Word about the Battle of Antietam makes its way around the camp, and the soldiers prepare to join the fight. While they march, they spot Lincoln’s train and wave to their beloved president. They continue the march, as several sick men die and others desert. Emma finds what she believes is snow, but soon realizes that its ashes of letters of perished soldiers. She is dismayed at the sight and vomits when Cooper finds her trying to preserve what she can of the letters.

    The soldiers join the Army of the Potomac, warriors of the famed Iron Brigade. Emma discovers that one of the soldiers is a woman and asks for a word. MARY TRAVIS (20s) tells Emma that there are several disguised women in the Union Army, and Emma believes she’s found a confidante. But Mary is not very well-spoken and generally unpleasant. After a secret meeting with Mary, Emma is making her way back to camp when she is called over by a nurse. In the medical tent, she meets a MAJOR and learns that Ruben is alive. When the Major and his remaining men are discharged from the field hospital, Emma sends him with a letter to Ruben.

    The soldiers are marching when a Confederate sniper takes out a soldier two rows in front of Emma. His death unnerves her and she’s surprised to find herself ashamed for the man. When she relays this to the Old Man, he tells her that there is no shame in sacrificing your life for the greater good. They argue and the Old Man accidentally reveals that he knows her true identity. He promises to keep her secret, despite his better judgment.

    The Beef instructs Emma to visit Cooper’s tent at dawn. There, Emma learns that she is to disguise herself as a woman to spy in Confederate territory. Her bunkmates help with her disguise, and Cooper escorts Emma to Chatham, where she meets with GENERAL BURNSIDE.

    Cooper escorts Emma to Banks Ford, and along the way they both try to deny their chemistry. Emma crosses into enemy territory and is discovered by a sentry. When he realizes that she’s a Yankee, he directs her to his Major. She fabricates a story about looking for her beloved Ruben and the Confederates agree to show Emma the way to Richmond.

    After discovering intel on an impending charge, Emma rushes to alert the Union Army. The Army chooses not to heed Emma’s warning, and Emma realizes that she is among Ruben’s regiment. They reunite and Ruben urges her to abandon the fight. Battle rages on, and Emma is injured. As her fellow soldiers try to save her, they release the bindings on her breasts and realize that she is a woman. Cooper finds her, and she tries to apologize. But her war is over.

    Emma recovers, only to learn that Ruben has been killed in battle. Once she is able to travel, Mr. Culp arrives to take her home, with her very best friend’s body in the back of the wagon.

    About The Author

    A civil war buff, Stephanie Zinn has been researching her story for nearly twenty years. She wrote this novel as a way to honor an often-forgotten historical icon she admires.