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The Importance of a Great Setting in Crime Fiction

firstwriter.com – Monday April 1, 2024

Some years ago, I was working on a draft of my first real mystery thriller. In the opening pages, I included a bit of description meant to establish the location of the story (my hometown, Gainesville) and the time of year (late spring, the most miserable season in Central Florida). When I submitted the chapter to a writing workshop, one of the more experienced writers in the group immediately commented: “You need to cut all this setting stuff. Thriller fans don’t care about setting. They want to get to the action, quick.”

Like most writers, I passionately despise criticism of any kind, but this rankled more than most. It rankled, of course, because I knew that the writer who had made this comment (a very elegant and smart older lady with a couple of published novels under her belt) was partially right. Not about the “thriller readers don’t want to read about setting” part (I totally disagreed with that portion of her response; my disagreement is, in fact, the topic of this essay), but with the fact that I was rendering my novel’s setting improperly. That is, I was describing the setting in a very lazy and arbitrary manner, disconnected from what was actually happening in my main character’s mind or, for that matter, in the plot.

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