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

0 Replies to “David Morrell on Creating Vivid Settings”

  1. Hi Jo-Ann
    I love his advice. Now I’m off to work on being the best version of myself, writing and otherwise. Mornings are great. Just brushing my teeth and having coffee will do wonders for me as a person both for myself and anyone who crosses my path.

  2. Well, again, Jo-Ann, you’ve knocked it out of the park with this summary of the workshop. And thanks for sharing the clip. My goodness! His last words about writing something so that you get something from the work whether it is pubbed or not! My that’s powerful. And you know, I did get something from all those books before VERMONT ESCAPE. Gosh, that just puts all our efforts into such a different perspective. I’m rushed right now, but I’ve got to come back and reread and re-watch the clip. Seems really important stuff to share, especially with newbies. Thanks so much.

    1. Marsha
      You made my day. Thanks for the lovely comment. Morrell has a different way of looking at our writing – so healthy. Can’t wait to read your next book.
      Thinking about coming to the Lone Star conference. Jerrie said it was really good. Donald Maass too! Have you been?
      Best always

  3. Thanks for sharing your notes! I love his comments and feel he’s takes the pressure off. Just be who you are and don’t worry about the rest. Great article.

    1. Jean
      That’s exactly how I felt when I left his lecture. Relief. He put the whole “story writing process” into perspective for me. Truly a great writer and thinker.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
      Best always

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