Setting within a Setting

September 22, 2016

As mystery writers, we are trained to place our sleuths within a distinctive milieu that becomes a character in itself. Whether it’s a small town, a neighborhood in a big city, or a regional locale, this setting imbues our stories with a unique flavor. Then we assign an occupation to our sleuth that further extends this world.

Recently, I realized that for each story, we add another circle. Think of concentric circles each enclosing the other with the sleuth in the center.


In watching traditional mysteries on TV, I’ve noticed how each show focuses on a narrow group of people, same as we do in a cozy mystery novel. It’s easy when we pick a setting with built-in suspects. Here are some ideas in no particular order:

Craft Emporium, Gift Shop
County Fair, Crafts Fair
Classes—Cooking, Crafts, Dance, Yoga, Acting, Quilting
Charity Organization, Fundraisers
Competition—Art Show, Bake-Off, Sports Tournament
Health Care—Clinic, Doctor’s office, Dentist, Hospital
Food—Catering, Cookie Store, Coffee Shop, Restaurant, Chefs, Winery, Farm
Museum or Historical Site
Theatrical Performance, Circus, Carnival, Concert, Live Stage Show
Holiday Event, Parade, Christmas Sale, Fourth of July Committee
Trade Show
School or College
Sports Team
Party, Wedding, Celebration
Bank, Financial Center, Insurance Agency
Transportation—Car Dealership, Bus Trip, Train, Road Trip
Tour Group
Cruise Ship, Private Charter Yacht
Hotel or Resort
Beauty Care—Salon, Day Spa, Wellness Clinic
Book Club, Knitting Club, Gourmet Club, Bridge Club
Conference or Convention

Anyway, you get the gist. Tell us where you’ve set your latest novel or where you might like to see one take place.





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0 thoughts on “Setting within a Setting

  1. My current series is set on a cattle ranch in Colorado, but it doesn’t take long to realize you have to get your characters to other places when there’s not much more than cows and grass to deal with.

    1. Yes, the ranch is the general backdrop for the series, but each story has its own focus. I can think of land developers, cattle rustlers, rival ranchers, a county fair. Maybe there’s a neighboring farm with its own set of problems. Or the cowhands are participating in a competition. Lots of possibilities.

  2. Hi Nancy,
    Wonderful list of sites for setting cozies. My latest, which my agent will be sending out soon, has many scenes in a library.

  3. The Tough Luck Lane series is set in a bar by the ocean & The Compound, a quirky Key West-style grouping of bungalows and apartments. My heroine, Stacey Jennifer Longacre, is a drunk wrangler more than a flash bartender. She gets to the bottom of situations and people’s secrets with her Tough Luck attitude and desire to do the next right thing.

  4. The circles were an interesting observation. I have a tendency to place my characters in foreign countries. The list helps to narrow down some of the inner circles for the location.

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