Today’s guest is Bill Hopkins, a good friend and a good writer from southeast Missouri. Bill and his wife, Sharon, are the Deadly Duo – of books, that is! Here’s Bill’s take on writing and lists:
I’ve attended many writing conferences in my lifetime, enough to have several lists of things a writer (especially a fiction writer) must do to have a successful story.
But first, let me tell you where you can find a real-life example of the list I’m about to share. My selection of books is wide-ranging. I read The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas when I was in high school. I read every one of the books in The Mushroom Planet series when I was in the sixth-grade. Robin Hood books were my favorite when I was even younger.
However, the book that has affected me and my writing most is one I finished recently. Stephen King’s 11/22/63 tells the story of a man trying to change the past by stopping the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It’s pure science fiction (flavored only the way King can do it) and it adds a new twist to the canon of time-travel stories. (I think I’ve read every time travel story available; trust me on this.)
That’s only part of what makes this book great. Things that King shows are elements that each scene of a successful story must have. A lot of these items are obvious, yet I’ve read books by high-powered authors who don’t include some, making for confusion.
(1) Source of light. Every scene must explain the time of day and, if the scene takes place inside, show the reader where the light comes from. Are we outside in the middle of the night? Full moon? New moon? Starlight? Clouds?
(2) Participants. Every scene must also tell the reader who is there and where “there” is. One novel I read recently started a new chapter that ran for over a page before I knew the who and the where. This is frustrating and irritating to readers (who are, after all, your main audience).
(3) Senses. Every scene should deliver the six senses. Six? That’s right. Not only smell, sight, hearing, touch, and taste, but the emotional state of the character needs to be explored. Briefly and surreptitiously, of course, unless you want to have a list at the beginning of every scene. (Not advisable.)
(4) Resolution. In every scene, somebody must want something, somebody must oppose that want, and there’s a clear winner and loser. Otherwise, what you’ve written is a lecture on morality. A good exercise is to write a scene about what Jack and Jill do with that pail of water. Each needs it and there can be no compromise.
There are tons of lists. Two more, by Kurt Vonnegut, can be found at these two sites:
And, to paraphrase Vonnegut, if you’re a great writer, you can ignore all those lists.
About Bill and his book:
After two decades on the bench, Bill Hopkins captures readers with his Judge Rosswell Carew murder mysteries. How does a judge manage to wrangle his way into investigating so many crimes? And can he do it without crossing into the dark side himself? Find out by reading the first book in the series, Courting Murder.
When Judge Rosswell Carew makes the gruesome discovery of two corpses on a riverbank in the Missouri Ozarks, he’s plunged into a storm of deadly secrets that threaten both him and his fiancée, Tina Parkmore. Unsatisfied with the way the authorities are conducting the investigation, Rosswell, who’s always nurtured a secret desire to be a detective, teams up with an ex-con, Ollie Groton, to solve the case before the killer can murder again. Rosswell uncovers a maze of crimes so tangled that he must fight his way to a solution or die trying.