Monday, May 5, 2014

Guest Post: A Bestselling Author's Secrets to Selecting Unforgettable Settings

Hiya peeps! The month of May will feature a variety of posts that will center on writing, books, authors, and reviewers. Things may be a little slower as I start the final draft of my current novel in progress, but be sure to follow me on Twitter (@MystiParker) or subscribe to the blog by email (*see the form in the right sidebar*). 
Please welcome author Christopher Kokoski to Unwritten, where he will share...
A Bestselling Author's Secrets to Selecting Unforgettable Settings
Whatever your opinion of him or his writing, Dan Brown is a juggernaut in the publishing industry. His novel series starring Harvard Symbolist Robert Langdon is a perennial bestseller. Personally, I think the man can write one heck of a thriller.
One of his many talents is selecting unusual and unforgettable settings to play out the scenes in his story. I am reminded of this strength as I read his latest blockbuster, Inferno.
Three of the most memorable scenes (in my opinion):
Map of Boboli Gardens
·        Evading security forces (including a miniature drone) in the Boboli Gardens
·        Sneaking across support beams high above famous Palazzo Vecchio
·        Dunking a death mask of Dante in a baptismal font under grotesque images of a three-headed devil in the Florence Baptistery...

These impressive settings escalate tension, intrigue readers (and characters) and enhance the conflict in the scenes. What is Dan Brown’s secret to selecting these remarkable settings? While personal preference and style likely play a role (among other things), perhaps the following tips provide a sneak peak into the mind of a literary master.
Explore Your Story World: It is no secret that Dan Brown thoroughly researches the settings of his books, even taking behind-the-scenes tours of hidden escape hatches and secret doorways. 
·        Odds are the global setting of your story (i.e. town, underwater, outer space, state, deserted island, castle, alien planet, etc) already includes many succulent settings. The key is uncovering and exploiting them in your scenes.
Devilish relief in the Florence Baptistery 
·        Do some investigation, dig for details and, if possible, visit the locations. Ask around. Take a tour. Read a book. Google it. Contact someone who lives in the area for background, history and insider information.
Story Web: Every character, scene and setting in bestsellers often connects (and interconnects) deeply. Dan Brown’s novels are no exception. Every setting relates to the overall plot.
·        Consider the goals, conflicts and characters in your story. Where would they have to go to accomplish the major objective of the story? Where would the antagonists go?
·        Dig into the education, experience and expertise of your characters. What places might they know about that others wouldn’t?
Emotional Magnification: The settings in Dan Brown’s books not only intrigue readers, they also magnify the emotional texture of each scene. Walled in gardens magnify tension. Creeping along support beams with the real fear of death by falling through ancient, irreplaceable art jumps up tension. The horrific depictions of the devil escalate fear and mystery in the Baptistery.
·        Consider the emotional objectives in each of your scenes. Name the feelings you want readers to experience (joy, fear, love, suspense, etc).
·        Now brainstorm settings that amplify and exacerbate those feelings.

By following these guidelines, you can select scene settings that readers will remember long after the last page of your story.

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See my novels, Dark Halo and Past Lives at my Author’s page:


Christopher Kokoski is a professional author, trainer and speaker. His published credits include the novels Dark Halo and The Past Lives series, the nonfiction book 101 Ways To Pray Better and Get Faster Results, the short stories Drown and By the Hair of My Chinny-Chin-Chin, national training materials, and dozens of articles, including one peer-reviewed journal article that he uses to impress people much smarter than himself. He is deeply grateful to God, his family and to the gift of storytelling, which he naïvely believes can transform the world.


  1. Great guest post! A very thoughtful post - thanks Christopher!
    Thank you, Mysti, for sharing Christopher's insights with us.

  2. I loved this post and learning about Dan Brown's settings. He is now on my TBR list. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Settings can really "set" the tone for a story. The setting can even provide conflict (ie ocean & tidal wave, mountain & avalanche). It's definitely important to get them right so they'll ring true to the reader. Thanks for the tips, Christopher!


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