April 10, 2019

Where Do Your Characters Live?

By Robin Barefield

Do you write novels set in the big city, on the farm, in the halls of an Ivy League college, or in the English countryside? Maybe your characters work in Hollywood or manage a huge hotel in Las Vegas. No matter where your books take place, you must submerge your readers in your story and make them feel a part of it. When a reader opens one of my books, I want her to see the towering mountains and rocky shoreline of Kodiak Island, and I want her to feel the salt spray from the white-capped waves slamming into her boat. I hope she also smells the salty ocean, the fruity tundra, or the steamy bear droppings on the trail in front of her. I encourage her to see, feel, and smell all these things and more in my novels. I need to open her senses to Alaska because my mystery novels take place in wilderness Alaska, not in an urban setting.

The setting of a novel is as important as the characters. Do you know your setting well, or does your story occur in a place where you’ve never been? A setting the author knows well provides the basis for a more authentic, vibrant novel. Even if you write science fiction, the setting can have elements of a place you know.

My husband and I live in the wilderness on Kodiak Island, and the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge surrounds our home. Kodiak sits in the Gulf of Alaska, 250 miles southwest of Anchorage. It is a mountainous island with steep peaks rising from sea level and a shoreline carved by glaciers into deep, fjord-like bays. In addition to this rugged geography, the Alaska Current, an offshoot of the warm Japanese Kuroshio Current, flows northward near Kodiak, bringing warm water to the frigid Gulf of Alaska and spawning weather conditions which are often violent, change rapidly, and may vary considerably from one area of the island to another.  In addition to its dramatic weather, Kodiak is famous for its huge brown bears, and more than 3,500 of these bears roam the woods of the Kodiak Archipelago.

As an author, I enjoy throwing my characters into this dangerous, inhospitable environment. The wilderness setting offers me ideas to move the plot of the story forward or to provide background and depth for my characters.

I have lived in the Kodiak wilderness for 35 years, so I know it well. If I tried to write a mystery set in Dallas or Paris, I’d be lost, but I find it easy to drop my characters into the wilds of Alaska.

Where your story occurs is one of the most important aspects of your novel, so I encourage you to consider your setting. Make it easy on yourself and use a location you know and can bring to life.
Robin Barefieldlives in the wilderness on Kodiak Island where she and her husband own a remote lodge. She has a master’s degree in fish and wildlife biology and is a wildlife viewing and fishing guide. Robin has published three novels, Big Game, Murder Over Kodiak, and The Fisherman’s Daughter. She draws on her love and appreciation of the Alaska wilderness as well as her scientific background when writing. Robin invites you to join her at her website:, and while you are there, you can sign up for her free, monthly newsletter about true crime in Alaska. Robin is also a charter member of Author Masterminds: If you would like to watch a short webinar about how Robin became a published author and why she writes Alaska wilderness mysteries, follow this link:

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