David Morrell on Creating Vivid Settings - Jo-Ann Carson

David Morrell on Creating Vivid Settings


How to Make Your Novel Go Places

David Morrell, (Thrillerfest, July 11, 2013)

  • Introduced himself as “Rambo’s Daddy” and then told us about his academic studies (Hemingway scholar)
  • he’s also the co-founder of the International Thriller Writers association

About Writing

  • “BE A FIRST CLASS VERSION OF YOURSELF AND NOT A SECOND CLASS VERSION OF SOMEONE ELSE” he repeated this line several times during the session
  • It’s a sacred thing we are doing
  • You are the captain of the ship
  • What we write should be matched by how we write it
  • Use “stealth description” ( eg., when a a person enters give them one detail then add more later – avoid long intros)
  • Our task is to write what we need to write -Writers have daydreams – most people don’t
  • Recommends trying the traditional model of publishing first, but if that doesn’t work out go to Indie publishing

Stained Glass vs Windex Writing (Literary vs Genre…)

  • One way of looking at the difference between literary and genre fiction (he quoted the man who originally said it, but I unfortunately did not get his name)
  • Literary writing is like looking at the world through a stained glass window – the reader is aware of the writer embellishing the world he sees
  • Genre writing attempts to put the reader right into the story – windex writing
  • Mysteries – intellectual riddles that give an intellectual satisfaction
  • Thrillers – creates emotion and a sense of breathlessness – give emotional satisfaction


  • Setting as character – how do I make the place vivid for the reader?
  • Hemingway set the gold standard for how to do setting
  • Forget focusing solely on sight, and concentrate on feeling (created by the other senses – every scene should use 2 other)
  • Hemingway a master at sense details
  • Gave an example: “A boy walked up a hill.” Everyone will see that image differently in their heads – but if you add crunching leaves underfoot you have something quite different
  • The simplest device to create vivid stories is to let the reader feel the setting
  • Eg., gun shots deafening loud, smelly etc. (these details are often left out)
  • When talking about setting ask yourself  – what is the identifiable sense?
  • Odor is the most intimate of senses (e.g. Raymond Chandler said the eucalyptus tree smells like Tom Cats…
  • Setting can be metaphoric for topics

Any errors are mine. David Morrell’s lecture was flawless. The clip is one minute, 15 seconds and well worth the time.

Next Wednesday – Top Ten Ideas From Thrillerfest