Monday, November 23, 2015

No Exit

Settings play a key role in mysteries. Where do your mysteries tend to be set and why?

- from Susan

My stories are usually set in places I like, places I know well enough that I can let my eyes go out of focus sitting in front of my computer and step into the scene with all five senses. In some cases, the specific scene I’m writing is set in a place I’ve invented, but even then the fictional setting is likely an amalgam of real rooms, houses, streets, towns, parks, restaurants, offices, or cars I’ve been in.  Santa Fe, New England, Manhattan, San Francisco, Palo Alto – Dani O’Rourke tends to show up in a lot of the same places I do.

Because the setting can play such a large part in the reader’s emotional response to what’s on the page, I (like every other writer) pay attention to what surrounds the action and the dialogue.  It’s not rocket science. You can do it too.

Match the emotion in the space that can carry off the scene:

Room with closed door and smell of smoke
Room with smell of turkey, sound of chat
Room with a gun visible on mantelpiece
Room with a crackling fire in fireplace
Room with framed “No Exit” sign
Room with no light and no heat

See? Of course, if it were that easy, we’d all be Macavity, Edgar, Agatha, etc. award-winners (as many of my Mind colleagues are). I hope you’re already fans of their exciting and decidedly moody writing. But my point, however simplistically expressed, is that setting matters as much as dialogue, action, plot.

In Mixed Up with Murder (February 2 – please look for it!) I chose a New England college town in late May. Flowers, green grass, high spirits, a sense of optimism. Perfect place for someone to drown on a golf course the day he’s supposed to tell Dani what’s bothering him about a big gift to the college. The serene overall setting provides contrast to the bad things that darken the campus mood. The golf course late at night, the empty classroom building after closing, the claustrophobic little room Dani finds herself in at one point in the narrative were all chosen to help create the sensations I want readers to feel as they get caught up in Dani’s scary encounters so far from home.

Mixed Up with Murder comes out early next year in print and e-book formats. Soon, I’ll share the cover, post some excerpts on my own website, give some copies away, and otherwise try to interest you in reading it. Until then, try sussing out what a writer is trying to convince you to feel in the next book you read, scene by scene. It’s an added layer of pleasure in a good read.


Meredith Cole said...

Writing about places you know well can be so much fun--like going to visit again!

Looking forward to more exciting news about Mixed up with Murder as your launch day approaches...

Susan C Shea said...

Thanks, Meredith. You're right: It's a great way to revisit favorite places and put your personal spin on them.

RJ Harlick said...

I whole heartedly agree on the importance of setting in the telling of a tale. I find those stories that are told with little attention to a sense of place lack depth. Good post, Susan.