Monday, January 27, 2014

Setting the Story Stage

When I am asked where I get my story ideas, I never have a set answer. Having worked in TV news for many, many years I have always been an avid news follower so news stories have always gotten my interest. I take an interesting story and play what if as I develop characters.

But people too can catch my interest, either with a story of something that happened to them or someone they knew and then I begin considering how to twist it into something else.

But my main source of ideas seems to be places. A location grabs my interest and I want to set a story there. From the first moment I set foot in an old abandoned Victorian house when I was in grade school and thought of a story I became hooked on writing about locations.   

My first book, Love on Deck, was based on my spending time at a baseball Spring Training camp. I’ve often told the story of how a walk on the Vancouver Sea Wall gave me the idea for my book, Deadly Messages.

  And that brings me to my latest romantic suspense novel, Dead Man’s Rules, just released on Kindle. This book was based on another of those scary trips into the unknown with a bunch of friends. We were scoping out an old company store that was said to have bloody handprint on the wall. No one knew where it came from or how it got there. It was spooky, even if it was barely visible, but it got me to thinking…  Before long I concocted the tale of Marco Gonzales, a dying man with plenty of secrets and a reporter who wants to find out the truth about his violent end.  

It turned out I couldn’t tell the whole story in just one book,  because I fell in love with the little town I created and I found new characters with their own stories to tell.  So far I have written one book and parts of two others set in the little town I made up of Rio Rojo, NM

Setting plays a critical part in this story – not just from the standpoint of the old dance hall (which is what I turned the company store into). And I find it plays a big role in all my stories, whether it’s a spooky old house (like Red Fern Manor in Shadows from the Past) or a sunny baseball field.

But writing a good setting can be a challenge. Sometimes I think you need to be at a location, but I also think you need to pay attention to any location you visit. Any place can be a setting for  your next book. When I was writing Dead Man, I drew on my roots in a small town, remembering the old drug store with its soda fountain, remembering how you could walk from one end to the next and back in a little more than an hour, which shows you how fast you can drive through it. And I called to mind what you might see as you drove through it as well as the houses in the better part of town and in the  more rundown sections and how close they all were. I also recalled the people you might meet in that town, the friendly drug store owner, the grocery store owner who remembered your name.

What I have done over the years is not just bring all my memories back to my stories though, when I travel, I keep future stories in mind. A drive through the mountains means inhaling the mountain air for its particular bite or even a walk on a Denver street means soaking up all the sights, sounds and smells around me so that next time I sit down to write about a city street I can conjure that up. Sitting in Los Angeles traffic not too long ago had me thinking about my next book, Blues at 11, as did a visit to the beach and one of my favorite restaurants there.

Any place you visit can turn into a scene setter in one of your books. Pay attention next time you visit… well anywhere! It could become a location for your next book. By the way, that old company store is still standing though you can't get into it these days and my last visit there to take pictures prompted a whole new round of different story ideas.




  1. Great article!

    I also find story ideas coming out of places I've visited or things I've seen. My first novel, DREAM STUDENT, takes place at what's basically the school where I went to college, and the biggest thing that did for me was, it made the story and the characters feel more real to me. And in turn, that helped me make it more real (hopefully!) to readers.

    1. James -- Thanks. You make an excellent point. When the setting feels real, it does help you make the characters more real as well.


Lighting the Way

It's time to start building up your library for those cold winter months ahead--getting those books for you to read by a cozy fireplace ...