Thursday, August 04, 2022


One the past month or so I (Donis) have been trying to start a new series set in a fictional resort town patterned after Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which if any of  you Dear Readers have visited, know is one of the most beautiful little mountain towns anywhere - a resort spa retreat for the wealthy since the mid-1800s. This has caused me to spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how to evoke the beauty of setting - and it's also driven him to me how important setting is to the unfolding of your plot.

In fact, setting is one of the most important characters in the book. (I stole that from William Kent Kreuger) Setting is the location of the plot, including the region, geography, climate, neighborhood, buildings, and interiors. A setting is more than just a place; it's layered into every scene. It's the season, the time period, the weather, the light, the people in the background, and the history. 

I always loved to read stories set in exotic locations and historical settings. I love to go to a place and live there for a while. I love a book that entices you into its world, that says “come in...join us...stay awhile”

Setting is more than just a backdrop to the plot; it’s part of the drama. It’s the autumn leaves crunching underfoot, the sunset in your eyes as you drive down the highway, the musty smell and dark shadows in the library stacks. Setting is about drawing the reader into a story, making them feel they are walking in the footsteps of the characters.

Things happen as they happen because of where and when the novel is set. Setting  acts on the characters. It’s where they live their lives, and you as the author had better know all about it--its rules, how it looks, who else lives there.

My two current series couldn't be more different in setting – one on a farm in Oklahoma, a world so real, so elemental, the other in the moviemaking world of 1920s Hollywood, a world so fake, a not-so-pretty reality hidden behind a beautiful illusion. Makes a huge difference in the way I evoke the two worlds.

Rhys Bowen said that when she begins a novel, she often doesn’t know the complete cast of characters, who’s going to get killed or how, or who did the deed, but she knows where the story will unfold.

The very night before I heard Rhys say this, I was reading P.D. James’ book, Talking About Detective Fiction, and came across this :“My own detective novels, with rare exceptions, have been inspired by the place rather than by a method of murder or a character." 

She then describes a moment when she was standing on a deserted beach in East Anglia. She could imagine standing in the same place hundreds of years ago, until she turned around and saw a nuclear power plant, and “immediately I knew that I had found the setting for my next novel.”

Even if the murder unfolds the same way in two novels you'll have two very different mysteries if the victim is killed in a beach house in Thailand or in a prep school auditorium (custodian find body of beautiful young girl stabbed to death and left on floor of high school gymnasium. Bum stumbles into trash filled alley and finds beautiful young girl stabbed to death and left by the dumpster behind the dive bar); if the suspects live deep in the moors, or in Manhattan across from Central Park; if the detective lives in a fifth-floor walk-up on the south side of Chicago or in a mansion in Beverly Hills. 

If Miss Wonderly had walked into Spade and Archer Detective Agency on the first floor of the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, The Maltese Falcon just wouldn't have been the same. 

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