by Lillian Csernica on July 16, 2013
My recent trip to the Winchester Mystery House got me to thinking about the importance of setting. Having been a slush pile reader as well as a reviewer, I’ve read stories where the potential in the setting could have been put to much better use. I’ve also seen the setting dominate the action to the exclusion of a genuine plot. Unique locations can add considerable depth and atmosphere to a story, enhancing character and complicating the plot.
Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich The key setting in this installment of the Stephanie Plum series is the New Jersey pine barrens, complete with the Jersey Devil and a few other quite colorful characters. The plot twists and the comedy in the story could not happen the same way without being set in this lonely, spooky, and above all muddy location.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey The highly structured environment of a mental ward provides the critical setting for the clash of wills between Murphy and Big Nurse.
The Sonchai Jitpleecheep series by Jim Burdett The mysteries Det. Jitpleecheep must solve could only happen in Bangkok, that city of exotic splendor where to foreigners it seems like anything goes. Bangkok, with its particular style of Buddhism, its pollution and corruption and amazing beauty, is a character in and of itself.
The works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Here again we have a city that becomes a character in the stories set inside its alleyways and majestic buildings. Sir Arthur knew London so well, right down to the very timetables of the trains, that the city comes alive and is by turns both ally and enemy to Sherlock Holmes.
Stories that take place aboard the RMS Titanic. So much fiction and nonfiction has been written about the many tragedies surrounding the Titanic, its construction, its maiden voyage, and its disastrous end. Even though we know the ending, the Titanic continues to figure in the minds of storytellers.
The setting of a story can be so much more than just the backdrop, just the furniture on the stage where the characters act out their scenes. The setting can have its own vitality, temper, gifts, and demands. Such marvelous dramatic potential cannot be allowed to go to waste.
- A peaceful haven amidst Bangkok’s bustle (kiwigypsy.com)
- Visiting the Famous Winchester Mystery House in California (california.answers.com)
- Doctor who OK’d ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ hospital use dies (cnsnews.com)