8 Tips to Test Your Use of Setting in a Mystery Novel

“What’s the first thing a movie or comic book character is expected to say upon coming to after being knocked out?” asks Chris Roerden on page 133 of his book Don’t Murder Your Mystery. “’Where am I?’ We humans have a primal need to orient ourselves in our surroundings. A story that neglects to instill a sense of place leaves readers feeling unsettled and dis-oriented.

“Sometimes setting is mere orientation and backdrop; sometimes, just another pretty place. When used expertly, setting reflects a time and a culture and it unifies a story. It can even evoke the mood of a story, underscore its theme, and add depth to the characters and their behaviors. In some fiction, setting plays a role as significant as that of a character.”

How true. Consider a big city versus a small town. Each, in effect, has its own personality. When you imagine a city, you probably come up with descriptive words such as: bustling, noisy, busy, hectic. When you imagine a small town, you’re more likely to think: Slow -paced , friendly, easy-going, quiet. Naturally, such categorizations aren’t always accurate, but for the moment we’re discussing general perceptions.

To test your use of setting, here are eight tips you might try (courtesy of Chris Roerden):

1. Identify how you establish and maintain a sense of place.
2. Analyze how you use sensory details in setting your scenes.
3. Review the ways your characters are shown being affected by their environment.
4. Verify that the elements in your settings are presented as part of the action.
5. Evaluate how your interiors characterize their occupants.
6. Balance the amount of attention you give to describing a setting with its importance to the story.
7. Experiment by changing the locations of a scene that has little tension tone that adds its own conflict.
8. Don’t prolong scenes after they serve their purpose.


These tips came from the course Essentials of Mystery Writing

In this course you will:

  • Learn how to construct a compelling mystery plot
  • Develop fascinating characters
  • Plant clues
  • Keep your readers turning the pages, eager to find out what will happen next


Learn More About our Essentials of Mystery Writing Workshop!

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