If you want to make a story fall flat, and get readers upset, then make a mistake with your setting.
When I'm creating fiction, I remember that my paradigm affects my reactions, my decisions, my word choice, and even my thoughts. It influences how I see the world around me, and the way I write about it. My mindset is created in part by my setting, which includes cultural influences, education, and socio-economic stand.
Mystery writing requires not only an apt for creating conflict on paper, but also an ability to dive into the research needed to make the crime pop and the solution fulfilling. Your mystery writing toolset contains a number of things, and when I am creating my own mystery, I refer to the 5-Ws and 1-H of storytelling. The 5-Ws are Who, What, When, Where, and Why; the 1-H is How.
Setting -- WHEN (which time period) and WHERE (location)--serves as the salt for our story. Story, like a good soup, takes the different components needed, and upon mixing them together creates something ready to be served. However, too little salt and your reader isn’t cemented in the story; and too much – well, it becomes unenjoyable.
Pop, Soda, Cold-Drink, Coke
In story, a character is in some situation, and without the place and time defined, the reader can be placed in limbo. Although we could probably guess as to the character’s background based on word-choice, syntax, and idiom usage, the fine dash of salt of setting will make it that much more enjoyable, anchoring the reader in the scene and story. For example, if a character says: “I’d like a glass of pop please.” Where is this character potentially from?
Let’s get scientific
Setting, which is the determined location and time period of a story, can also predetermine the definitive parameters of the story you’ll tell. Although the bending of scientific discoveries and uses have been breached before based on an author’s plot, to do so without care of the correct details can be problematic for the story and for the reader.
For example, try writing a Sherlock Holmes type tale that requires a DNA analysis for the detective to solve the crime, and set it in the 1940s. This will be a certain problem since DNA testing began in 1985. This does not mean that such a story could not be written. The author would only require the tool of How (research).
For this example, instead of DNA, one could use blood typing – still using the idea that a suspect was cut or left blood behind at a crime scene. The Kastle-Meyer test which discovered hemoglobin in a sample was used in 1903, and blood test typing was discovered in 1904. As such, setting a story that requires beginning forensics in the early 1900s, such as 1904 or later, would make sense. It would also cement the story in the reality of forensic science.
Weaponry determined by setting
Additionally, the setting will determine the weaponry used in murder plots – all based on the chosen time period of a story. If your story is set in China, and during the 13th century, then you might be using a Chinese fire lance, a predecessor of the modern day gun, to lay low your enemy. However, if your story is taking place in 13th century France, well, no guns allowed.
Often in storytelling only the physical characters are considered, but to forego the actually setting of the story, one can miss the opportunity of layering. Setting influences every aspect of storytelling, including dialogue, social and cultural expectations, and even the characters’ paradigms. Yet, what is most important is that it is the deciding factor of the author being able to choose and mask the perfect murder. By adding the salt of setting, the reader can be transported to a time and place, begin to root for characters and try to solve the mystery.
TINA GLASNECK is the author of the Spark before Dying Series, and has most recently released 7 Twisted Fairy Tales, a collection of dark flash fiction. When she is not creating dark stories, she is surely contemplating new ways to kill people, and how to solve their murder mysteries. It’s all about the research. Learn more about Tina at www.TinaGlasneck.com