Where do your favorite books take place? A manor in Victorian England? The gritty back alleys of 1920’s New York City? A futuristic bus stop bathroom in Delaware?
Story setting is more than the time and place in which a book’s characters stumble around. Many authors utilize setting to express mood. Great authors use it to give the book a heartbeat. They show you not only the sights, but the smells, tastes, and sounds of the location. A shantytown’s putrid odors and drunken arguments, or a meadow’s floral scents and twittering birds. Sometimes the setting is so brilliant that it almost becomes a character, such as Stephen King’s Derry, Maine or JK Rowling’s Hogwarts.
A JK Rowling/Stephen King collaboration anyone?
Approximately 11 gajillion books take place in New York City (give or take). Some romance stories take place in suburbia, while Science Fiction and Fantasy books typically live in entirely imagined universes (though not always). Gillian Flynn novels take place in fictional towns in the American Midwest, but they come to life with her words. Whether an actual location on our globe or a figment of the writer’s creativity, it’s important for the reader to have a place to go in their mind.
The two Ruth Ware books I’ve read make fantastic use of setting. In a Dark, Dark Wood takes place in, you guessed it, a dark, dark wooded area. The feeling of isolation is palpable. Her most famous book, The Woman in Cabin 10 mostly takes place on a luxury cruise—pleasant at the start, but increasingly claustrophobic as the story unfolds.
I haven’t reached my goal for the setting in The Mousetrap Killer. I didn’t put much thought into the story’s setting when writing the first draft. Sure, it takes place in Phoenix, with a mixture of real and imaginary locations. Each scene has some description. But so far it’s just background. I want to inject the reader into the world of the Mousetrap Killer. As I edit, I’m trying to note where I can implement characteristics of a stimulating setting.
It’s not there yet, but creating a compelling setting is at the top of my to-do list—just above writing a story about a robot bathroom attendant in a futuristic bus stop bathroom in Delaware.