On the first Wednesday of the month, Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) asked, “If you could live in any book world, which one would you choose?” If forced to choose one book world, I’d select Dan Brown’s thrilling Robert Langdon series.
What’s Special About a Book World?
Each book world created by Dan Brown included these notable patterns.
➨Book World Style
- The author consistently pushed all the right buttons for the thriller genre.
- Each story hooked you with narrative drive and quick pacing from the start.
- Brown presented mental images with vivid scene details.
- The writer captured the emotional nuances of the powerful characters.
- Brown balanced character action and dialogue (internal and external).
- The master villain represented a shadowy force, such as a secret society or government agency, that included brainwashed minions.
- In each book world, Brown pulled the hero, Robert Langdon, out of his familiar role as a world-renowned Harvard symbologist and threw him into an unfamiliar environment along with a fresh female partner.
- Each book world in the Langdon series included a treasure to find and a catastrophe to prevent.
- Brown included unusual symbols and an intriguing puzzle (e.g., a problem to solve, a treasure to find).
- The combination of characters and events created a ticking clock and life or death stakes.
- In a style that made Dan Brown famous, the author treated locations like characters, and included grand vistas and exotic venues that took readers on an exciting adventure.
- Brown identified a big idea with a moral gray area, and added something new or gave the old a unique twist.
- He planted a controversial question in the minds of readers, such as, Who should I trust — science or religion?
Personify Settings to Make Your Book World More Memorable
Dan Brown personified many of the key settings, making the description and role of a location as interesting as a key character. For example, the trigger event in The Da Vinci Code captured readers attention with the Louvre Museum, Paris.
You can make your scenes memorable by personifying locations. For example, infuse settings with noteworthy characteristics and events, similar to describing a character’s traits and behaviors.
Decide how each setting will:
- Move the story forward.
- Help you develop characters’ thoughts, choices, words, and actions.
- Influence the hero’s emotions, external goal, and inner need.
- Expand or exacerbate hero’s problems based on current or historical events.
- Increase the hero’s conflicts with people or the environment.
- Shape the hero’s actions toward others.
- Showcase the effect of weather and lighting on characters.
- Control the outcome of one or more scenes.
- Determine what characters will see, hear, smell, touch, taste, or sense in this setting.
- Create vivid images that evoke a visceral response.
Write Emotive Descriptions
To personify your story settings, describe a setting based on your style and genre. For example, here are a couple of ways you can satisfy readers’ expectations:
Write two or three paragraphs using vivid words that conjure up detailed images. The first time you introduce a location, use the long-form description, but instead of a single info-dump, creatively intertwine the paragraphs with action and dialogue.
Summarize your long-form description into one or two sentences, but leave in specific words that convey the desired mood and tone. Later, as needed, update and use short-form descriptions to remind readers of how a location remains essential to the story.
Studying the Practices of Bestselling Authors
Regardless of whether you like or dislike Dan Brown’s work, there’s no denying he knocked the ball out of the park with his Robert Langdon series. For example, The Da Vinci Code has sold over 80 million copies.
The point of discussing the book world from the Robert Langdon series is to understand how it was created. Then choose and apply patterns suitable for your stories.
Here’s my essential takeaway:
Dan Brown understood the patterns tied to his chosen genre and his audience’s expectations, enabling him to create a book world designed to captivate and hold readers’ interest from the first to last page.
You can do the same!
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If you could live in any book world, which one would you choose?
Visit the Insecure Writer’s Support Group
Take a moment and checkout Alex Cavanaugh’s popular Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I encourage you to sign up and take part in the monthly blog challenge. You will also find a list of bloggers signed up for the monthly challenge that are worth checking out. The first Wednesday of every month, we all post our thoughts, fears or words of encouragement for fellow writers.
Above all, the IWSG site is fun and informative!
I love the Robert Langdon series–the rest of Dan Brown’s books, too. You provide such a great list of ways to incorporate world building in our own books. Great post.
Great summary. You hooked me with the beginning–“The author consistently pushed all the right buttons for the thriller genre.” I don’t want to open a thriller and get Hemingway-esque evaluation of feelings. Well done, Grant.
The “Dan Brown” collection on my bookshelf serves as my reminder he was not an overnight success. Consistency wins the day!
Wow…Dan Brown’s books sound incredible. Thriller is one of my favorite genre. Will definitely have to check him out!
It’s the way Dan Brown covers all the essentials that caught my attention. Some excellent ways to see how all the elements come together for a bestseller.
Wonderful tips on using the setting to enhance the story. Whenever I hear a book has a well-described setting, I’m immediately interested! One of my favorite book worlds is Anne of Green Gable’s Prince Edward Island. I also love some of the book worlds that Elizabeth Goudge created, set in rural England.
Excellent points, Kelsey! Writers have so many ways to research landscapes and buildings, both urban and rural.
Subscribers to Amazon Prime and BritBox can access hundreds of videos featuring interesting locals. For example, I love seeing the homes and countryside featured in Escape to the Country. Likewise, you can follow Timothy West and Prunella Scales on their Great Canal Journeys.
So many possibilities, and if viewed on an iPad or desktop, writers can take screenshots (for personal use only) and use the images to create vibrant settings.