Sharan Newman: A Picture is Worth . . . the Life of Your Novel

During the month of May, I've invited a few authors to help me kick off my mystery-trivia book tour. Today my guest is Sharan Newman author of The Real History of the World. Read what Sharan has to say about the importance of setting in writing a novel. Welcome, Sharan.

Where to put your novel?  No, really.

                  Imagine Wuthering Heights without the moors or The Snows of Kilimanjaro set on the Kansas prairie. They would be entirely different books.  Setting can add much to the atmosphere of a story.  In many cases, the place can almost be another character.  A Victorian house overlooking the rocky coast of Maine practically screams dark secrets and haunting.  But I have read too many stories in which the author decides that, say, Istanbul would be a good place to write about.  So she gets a guide book and notes that the protagonist visits the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  But the story itself could really be anywhere.  Setting matters only if it helps to direct the action. 

                  In my own work I tend to set books in places that I want to visit or that I already know well.  The landscape, wildlife, weather: all of these become part of the book.  In Strong as Death a spring flood changes the lives of my characters, as does a trip through a foggy mountain pass.  A big city can become an adversary or a refuge.  Cara Black’s series set in Paris is a good example of this.

                  Locations don’t have to direct the mood of the story, however.   When I do workshops, I often hand out a photograph and have the participants describe it several different times.  They imagine setting the scene for a mystery, fantasy, science fiction, thriller or romance.  The choice of words and the focus are completely different each time.  Here is a sample of two photos for you to try out the process.  Think of the setting as a way to establish mood.  I guarantee that it can intensify the impact of your work, and save pages of boring explication.

Sharan Newman is a medieval historian who writes novels and non-fiction.  Her website is

She also blogs an update on the end of the world to keep readers apprised of anything that has happened since the publication of THE REAL HISTORY OF THE END OF THE WORLD.  HTTP://

Sharan has also realized that writers don’t get pensions or health insurance.  Therefor she is running for one term only in the Senate.  Read and comment on her platform and sign up for the proposed federal agency, The National Grammar Police.

Thanks, Sharan,
You've reminded us that setting is so much more than location.

Join me tomorrow. I'm a guest on writer Stephen Brayton's site. Stephen threw me some fun interview questions. In fact, they were so much fun, I decided to let Sherlock Holmes answer them for me. 

My three mystery trivia books have been updated and reissued by LL-PublicationsThe Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz BookThe Alfred Hitchcock Triviography and Quiz Book, and The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book.