Writing fiction


This week-end is the annual Deadly Ink mystery conference in New Brunswick, NJ. Long-time readers will remember previous discussions of Deadly Ink. It is an intimate gathering of writers, readers and fans. As I have said, elsewhere, “I love spending a weekend chatting about books with old friends and new, with readers and writers alike. Deadly Ink offers me a wonderful opportunity to do just that.”

On Friday evening, I’ll be speaking on a panel, JERSEY GIRLS (AND BOYS) discussing mysteries written by NJ authors. Saturday morning, I’m on the panel, MEET THE DAVID AWARD NOMINEES. The David is awarded annually at Deadly Ink to the best mystery published in the previous calendar year. It is, as they say, an honor just to be nominated. And I am. Deeply honored to be one of the nominees. And to share that honor with some wonderful writers

Saturday afternoon, I’ll be moderating a panel, LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. I’m in the process of putting together a series of questions that I hope will promote discussion among the panelists. And since I do my best work when I get other people to do my work for me, I’m using my blog today to think out loud about location in mysteries. Perhaps some of you, reading this, will leave comments that will transform my questions from merely good to great. So feel free to jump right in.

1. Anne Perry once said (and I paraphrase here) If you’re writing a book and the story is set in a sewer, you can do your research online, but if the story is set in Venice, you can fly to Venice and give your receipts to the tax accountant.

How important is it for you as a writer to be able to visit the setting of your story in person? And when that’s impossible (because, for example, the setting is an imaginary world, or a historical period) how do you research the story location?

2. Some stories are tied so tightly to a specific place and time that we talk about the location almost as if it were a character. Other stories draw their inspiration from something other than setting (eg. an event).

If your story could only be told in a specific location, tell us how the setting drives the story. If your story might have been set in another time and place, tell us how that change in setting would have changed the story.

3. If you set your stories in a real location, do you worry about getting details wrong? Have you heard from readers complaining that you’ve made a mistake?

4. If you set your stories in a real location, are there any circumstances under which you are comfortable modifying the setting to further the story. If you set your stories in an imaginary location, at what point in the writing process does the fictional location become so real that you face a similar dilemma?

5. We talk about how important it is for a writer to know a character’s back story, even if that back story never fully asserts itself in the story. Is the same thing true about location? Do you need to know the location’s back story? Tell us something fascinating about your setting that you have not revealed yet in your stories.

6. One of the issues that is driven by location is dialogue. It influences both what people say and how they say it. How do you approach writing dialogue that is true to the setting?

7. Is there a location you’re dying to use in a story, but you haven’t found the right story yet? Is there a setting that has been over-used to the point that you wouldn’t want to write (or read) another story in that location?



  1. Many questions, many possible answers. As a relative newb, I would be inclined to start writing using characters based on real prototypes, in settings with which I am reasonably familiar. Of course, I would let the story go where it will.


  2. My default location is Upper Montclair, NJ. It could boast a whites-only country club, a certified Nazi neighbor (Helmut Walther, creator of the mini-sub), and the very wealthy who suggested people of color would be happier “among their own kind.” Okay, it’s no longer that way now. We were sadly out of place in the late ’50s with our ’48 Caddy (no station wagon), cocker spaniel (no collie), 78 rpm turntable (no hi fi) and because I liked to go barefoot the neighbors thought we were poor. Dad was “just a minister” (and former college president and state senator).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s