Writing a story is an art in itself. Creating the right setting, the perfect characters, plot, believable dialogue and conflict. With those blended ingredients are what makes a story impact the reader’s imagination, mind and heart. The most important aspect of story-telling is to draw the reader in your character’s world. How are the stories written to do this and how does one make it work? Today, award winning B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree J.D.R. Hawkins shares with us her expertise on this.
Stephanie: What are the steps in creating a setting for your story?
J.D.R. Hawkins: Since I write about the Civil War, the settings are historically accurate. In my first book of the Renegade Series, A Beautiful Glittering Lie, the setting starts in Montgomery, Alabama, the first capital of the Confederacy, and moves with the story to various battlefields. I also chose an area in north Alabama as my protagonist’s hometown, so the story goes back and forth between north Alabama and Virginia battlefields.
Stephanie: There is a fine line between creating a visible backstory and a hidden backstory of your characters. What are the steps in balancing it out? What should you not do?
J.D.R. Hawkins: Because I have written a series, backstories become very complicated and intricately woven. Small details later resurface. One example is a buckeye that is given to the main character, David Summers, by his best friend’s father for good luck. This happens in the second book of the Renegade Series. Later on, the buckeye reappears, but this doesn’t occur until the fourth book. Another example is a peach pit that is introduced in the third book, and resurfaces in book four of the series. Visible backstories include David’s running from the law and how he deals with it after the war ends. I would avoid using too many backstories, because then it gets confusing. Some of my backstories are so subtle that it doesn’t matter if the reader doesn’t see them the first time through. They might see the backstories later on, which adds to the complexity of the story-line.
Stephanie: How much is too much conflict? And what do you do about it when it’s not working in the plot?
J.D. R. Hawkins: I think there is too much conflict when it muddies the plot and creates too much of a distraction from the story-line. I have read numerous books that get bogged down with too much conflict, and after a while, I just lose interest. Conflict is good, but it has to augment the story, not detract from it.
Stephanie: What are the steps in creating believable characters and dialogue?
J.D.R. Hawkins: For me, living in the South gave me the opportunity to learn the dialect and metaphors. I’m originally from Iowa, and lived most of my life in Colorado, so there was definitely a learning curve! I also studied speech patterns used during the 1860’s. Generally speaking, people back then spoke more eloquently than we do today.
Stephanie: What is the advice you would give to a writer when they get stuck on a specific scene or comes across a road block in their plot?
J.D.R. Hawkins: Leave it up to your characters! If you give them a chance, they will take on personalities and assist with the plot. On numerous occasions, my characters rewrote the story to fit their personas. I also try to envision different scenarios for the plot, and usually come up with three or four different ideas. Then I chose the one that fits the story most accurately, and also complies with historical accuracy.
J.D.R. Hawkins is an award-winning author who has written for newspapers, magazines, newsletters, e-zines, and blogs. She is one of a few female Civil War authors, uniquely describing the front lines from a Confederate perspective. Her Renegade Series includes A Beautiful Glittering Lie, winner of the John Esten Cooke Fiction Award and the B.R.A.G. Medallion, and A Beckoning Hellfire, which is also an award winner. Both books tell the story of a family from north Alabama who experience immeasurable pain when their lives are dramatically changed by the war.
Ms. Hawkins is a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the International Women’s Writing Guild, the Mississippi Writers Guild, Pikes Peak Writers, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She is also an artist and singer/songwriter. Recently, she completed a nonfiction book about the War Between the States, as well as two more sequels for the Renegade Series. Learn more about her at www.jdrhawkins.com
If you are an Award Winning B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, we would be delighted for you to participate in this new and exciting series. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information and to set a post date. We would love to hear from you!
Stephanie M. Hopkins