Thursday, December 8, 2011

Novel Settings by Marilyn Meredith

Welcome to the mountain, Marilyn, on this last day of our "Mystery We Write" Holiday tour. It's been a lot of fun and it's great to have you here. Please tell us why novel settings are so  important.

I judge a lot of writing contests and read many books by new writers they’ve self-published and I often see the same problem—a lack of setting. It’s very disconcerting to read about two or three people having a conversation or doing something in an unmentioned location. I want to know where people are while they’re talking. Are they in a kitchen? If so whose kitchen and what does it look like? What does it smell like? So much can be added to what’s going on by including the setting.

Setting is important. Readers like to learn about new places whether they are real or fictional. If you’re going to use a real place be sure you are accurate when describing places and how to get there. If you aren’t, someone will let you know about your errors.

If you make up a place, be sure to keep track of where you put things, the names of the places, and the geography. If it’s in a certain place in a particular state, be sure to have trees and flowers and geographical details that are true to that area.

What’s in the location and setting can add another dimension to your story. Think about the obstacles your character will face because to what’s around him or her.

Don’t forget weather. Weather can add to the tension and the atmosphere of the story. Decide on the time of year for your tale and what weather goes along with it in the area you’ve placed your characters.

Smells can add a lot too. Take a deep breath every time you enter someone’s home. What does it smell like? What about when you’re in the city? Or the country? You are always surrounded by smells, use them in your writing.

And when is your story taking place? Is it a period piece? If so, be sure to be accurate about the technology that is or isn’t available, what is going on politically and historically, what kind of clothes people wear and foods they eat.

If it’s present day, let the reader know right away. Have your characters use the technology that everyone uses today—unless of course, one of them absolutely hates cell phones, or won’t touch a computer as one of his character traits.

My Deputy Tempe Crabtree series is set in the Southern Sierra of California. The town of Bear Creek has a definite resemblance to the town I live in though I’ve moved it a 1000 feet higher in the mountains—giving the area better trees and the possibility of more snow in winter. Another reason I wanted to change the name of the town was because businesses change too often in my town. By the time a book came out where I named a particular restaurant it might be closed.

Nearby is the Bear Creek Indian Reservation which is quite similar to the Tule River Indian Reservation that is close to where I live. In Bears Are Us, Tempe doesn’t have a reason to visit the reservation though she does in several of the other books in the series. I do use some of the Tule River Indian’s legends in my books.

Obviously, there are bears in Bears Are Us. We have an occasionally bear visit in the lower elevations—but having Bear Creek be higher makes if more plausible that bears would become a nuisance and in some cases a threat.

Deputy Tempe Crabtree has her hands full when bears turn up in and around Bear Creek, a young teen commits suicide and his parents’ actions are suspicious, a prominent woman files a complaint against Tempe and her preacher husband Hutch, a love affair from long ago comes to light, and a woman suffering from dementia disappears.

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Bears With Us from Mundania Press. Writing as F. M. Meredith, her latest Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel is Angel Lost, the third from Oak Tree Press. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Central Coast chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at and her blog at


  1. Thanks for hosting me today, the last day of our tour. And since I asked everyone to talk about setting when they appeared on my blog, it's only fitting that I sum up my thoughts about setting here.


  2. My pleasure, Marilyn. It's an excellent article from one of my favorite writers

  3. I always "feel" the settings in your two series, Marilyn. You know what you're talking about, and I couldn't agree more! Great post to end our tour on.


  4. Very interesting post, Marilyn. Setting is really important to most of us, I think. I use settings I know, although since I write historical novels, I have to do a lot of research. But that's just fun :-)

  5. Loved your post on settings. Well said, my dear cyber-friend.

  6. Thanks to all of you, Jean for hosting me today, Madeline, Alice and Jackie for your kind comments.

  7. Wow, that is one wonderful view. I agree Marilyn, if the setting is not provided by the author, I am curious why it has been omitted. Very often I check publication dates, as the time period can be confusing as well. I am inevitably looking toward getting an ereader, but I am concerned that I would be too easily led astray by googling for pictures of the setting, and terminology I don't know. (ie Doherty has so much info dump in the Mask of Ra, I am having a hard time concentrating on the plot).

  8. Hi Marilyn, I was able to use all of my senses when you described and illustrated your setting in Bears With Us. I felt as if I'd been there before...even though I haven't.

    Great final post for the Mystery We Write Blog Tour. Thank you!