The Hidden Treasures in Your Setting
When I first wrote mysteries, I was in awe of writers who could create clues out of the setting. I read Pompeii by Robert Harris and was astonished at how the clues in the story were directly related to volcanic action, mystifying the young aqueduct engineer.
The best way to discover clues in your setting is to go into the story. See what your protagonist sees. It’s easy to focus on dialogue and action and miss the ways setting can enhance your mystery. The details of the setting add breadth to your story and are the best place to plant clues.
Key places to add clues from setting.
While you are painting the big picture of your story, zoom in on details. The create a realism in your story and are a rich source of clues.
Focus on sensory details. What does your sleuth see, taste, hear, touch, or smell.
Go On A Treasure Hunt for Your Clues
Once you paint the broad strokes of your setting, the details bring the setting alive and are the perfect source for clues. Whether your story is set long ago and far away or in your hometown, spend time looking for details.
As you go through all the images, focus on details. Because 80 per cent of research is background, know that not everything you see will end up in your story. Be on the lookout for unusual details. Those are the details your sleuth notices.
Take it further. Does your perpetrator use a special scent? Get a sample so you can describe the scent in your own words.
Unique Clues Enrich Your Story
At the beginning, your search may seem overwhelming. But, as you practice looking - Yes, this! No, doesn’t work - you will get better at finding intriguing details to serve as clues in your mystery.
Setting - A Force In Your Story
Setting is like a character in your story that has no dialogue. Setting not only grounds your characters and your readers, setting interacts with characters to enhance your story. Setting is what makes readers feel like they are there.
Beginning writers often overlook the depth that setting adds to a story. Setting embellishes the storyline and characters.
Know Your Setting
First, know your setting. Don’t guess. Even if your setting is your hometown, you may need to do research. Remember, 80% of research never enters your story, but you, the writer, know the details.
Q&A Session on Video 18:22
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Elements of Setting
As an author you have many ways to include setting in your story because setting includes a variety of elements. You can use them all to give readers a sense of where your characters are in place and time.
Although you may think setting is the place where the story takes place, be sure to include all the elements of setting in your story. You’ll give your readers a sense of where your characters are and how they move through the elements of setting to achieve their goal.
These are main attributes of setting to color your story. Depending on your story other setting details such as population density or ancestral values from another culture can enrich your story even more.
How to Integrate Setting in Your Story
Setting is just about anything in the space-time continuum of your story. With so many details at hand, the choice for writers is how and where to add those setting details in the story.
Long, detailed descriptions are not the way to go. They slow down the story. Your goal is to keep readers reading. The more you integrate setting into the story, the less likely your reader will notice and skip.
Slips, falls, sneezes, social faux pas in unfamiliar culture or place, terrifying heights, dark caves, tornadoes, storms, rough waves, earthquake, menacing clouds. Your setting will have enough detail to add to every scene.
One caveat, be careful with extra detail that feels unnatural. Your heroine may teeter on the top of a 40-story building. It’s much more likely she will think 40 stories than 404 feet. Unless your have established your character as a compulsive number freak, an exact measurement like 404 feet will sound unnatural.
Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy. Her course for beginning writers Write A Killer Mystery is coming soon. Get on the notification list.
Photo by Joakim Honkasalo on Unsplash
Zara Altair, Author
The puzzle of politics, the mystery of murder in ancient Italy. After Rome, before the Middle Ages, Italy belonged to the Ostrogoths.